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Top 10 Cultural Awareness & Diversity Topics in the Workplace (2018)

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Read Time: 10 min
This post is part of a series called How to Improve Diversity in Your Business (Essential Guide).
What Is Diversity & Inclusion Training? (+Why It’s Important)
What Is Unconscious Bias? +Top Strategies to Help Avoid It

In this tutorial series on diversity in the workplace, we’ve looked at some important best practices for everything from recruitment to effective diversity training

Today, we’re going to get topical and look at some of the biggest issues in workplace diversity right now. There have been a lot of developments recently, such as the infamous “Google memo” and the inspiring #MeToo movement, and in today’s tutorial, we’ll look at how these events and recent research affect you and your business.

Cultural awareness and diversityCultural awareness and diversityCultural awareness and diversity
Cultural and diversity issues can affect you and your business. (Image Source: Envato Elements)

As we’ve already seen, workplace diversity can have some powerful benefits, but you've got to manage diversity and inclusion efforts actively and effectively to reap the full rewards. This tutorial will help you to do that by introducing you to ten key cultural awareness and diversity topics to be on top of in 2018.

1. The Gender Pay Gap

On current trends, it'll take 217 years to close the global gender pay gap. That’s a statistic to remember the next time someone tells you things are better than they used to be. 

The latest research by the World Economic Forum finds that the economic divide is widening in many regions, and even where it’s closing, progress is too slow. 

In the UK, new rules oblige larger companies to calculate their gender pay gap and publish it on a government website. The revelations have focused attention on the gender pay gap, particularly in high-profile areas such as the TV news. A BBC editor resigned in protest at being paid less than her male colleagues. Meanwhile, a well-known presenter Jon Snow recently took a voluntary 25% “gender pay cut” to help close the gap. 

If you want to tackle the gender pay gap in your business, start by measuring it. A minimum requirement is that you pay men and women the same amount for doing the same job, but also look at how many women are in senior positions, eligible for bonuses, etc. You can find more suggestions here:

Also remember that there are other pay gaps for other dimensions of diversity. For example, racial inequality in the UK is reflected in an 11% pay gap for workers with basic high-school qualifications, a gap that widens to 23% for workers with university degrees. You can apply similar techniques to deal with these gaps: measure the problem and set goals to reduce it year by year.

2. Gender Identities

If you want your business to be truly inclusive, you need to go beyond thinking of gender as a binary divide between men and women. People can have different gender identities, which may or may not match their assigned sex at birth.

As you’ve probably seen, transgender people have been in the news lately over things like attempts to ban them from military service or public bathrooms. If you want to support transgender people and make your workplace more inclusive, start by taking the following steps:

  • Make sure you've got a diversity policy that specifically mentions transgender people and makes it clear that discrimination won't be tolerated. Then follow through by investigating allegations seriously.
  • Allow people to take time off for surgery or health issues during transition, and cover these things under your health insurance policy.
  • Avoid reinforcing the gender binary in your language. Read this useful guide to trans-inclusive language.

3. Harassment Policies

The #MeToo movement has led to a long-overdue focus on sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood and beyond. This is a great time for businesses to revisit their own HR policies and make sure they’re doing all they can to stamp out sexual harassment and support those who have experienced it.

The bare minimum, of course, is to have an official anti-harassment policy and a process for people to report any harassment, violence or other incidents that occur. But a truly supportive and inclusive business will go beyond this and take further steps, such as:

  • Provide comprehensive training to employees to educate them on sexual harassment. 
  • Make sure your HR staff are fully equipped to investigate allegations of harassment, taking them seriously and giving the necessary support to the person reporting it.
  • Create a full set of resources for people to access, helping them to understand sexual harassment, how to recognize it, how to report it, and how to support colleagues who have experienced it.
  • Encourage employees to report workplace harassment, possibly by providing access to apps such as Spot, a chatbot that helps people record what happened and take the appropriate next steps.

For more tips, see the following tutorial:

4. Evolving Job Benefits

Many job benefits were designed with a more homogenous workforce in mind. You can develop your employee benefits packages to be attractive to and support a more diverse workforce.

For example, UK consulting firm Accenture offers enhanced parental leave of up to 32 weeks on full pay to both mothers and fathers, as well as flexible-working options such as part-time working, job shares, career breaks, and study leave. And in 2016, Lloyds Banking Group started giving employees access to private gender reassignment surgery through its healthcare scheme.

Meanwhile, BNP Paribas has enhanced its emergency back-up care services for childcare and eldercare and emphasised that same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as opposite-sex couples.

It’s important, however, not to make too many assumptions about the particular benefits that certain groups need. The best way to find out is to ask them through formal employee surveys and informal meetings. What are the issues they face, and which employee benefits would be most useful to them?

5. Dealing With the Diversity Backlash

The Google memo from last year was an example of how some people can react badly to diversity initiatives. Its author complained that the company had become an “ideological echo chamber” due to its attempts to promote diversity.

Although there are serious problems with the scientific claims in the memo, it represents a resistance to diversity efforts that’s quite widespread. As I noted in my recent tutorial on diversity and inclusion training, research has shown that much of the training fails because of its negative messaging, which makes many people respond with “anger and resistance.”

How do you overcome this? My training tutorial gives some tips—here’s a summary:

  • Explain the purpose and business benefits of diversity.
  • Provide a mix of raising awareness and teaching concrete skills.
  • Frame it in a positive way, as a voluntary opportunity to learn new skills, rather than a punitive exercise.
  • Encourage mentoring.
  • Include training on all of the different dimensions of diversity.

Read the full tutorial for more detail:

6. Bridging the Generation Gap

When you think of diversity, you may well think of things like race and gender, but ageism is often overlooked. Yet it’s a real problem, with thousands of employment tribunal claims filed every year.

Bridging the generation gap and achieving true generational diversity, however, means more than just avoiding age discrimination. It means overhauling your recruitment strategies, achieving a healthy balance of different generations within the organization, and putting strategies in place to encourage better communication and effective cooperation between people of different ages.

For more on generational diversity and how to promote it, see the following tutorial:

7. Disability Rights

Studies show that disabled people are still woefully under-represented in the workforce, with valuable skills going to waste. They’re also paid less and experience frequent discrimination.

Yet, according to the UN:

“National employment studies, including a 30-year analysis by DuPont de Nemours, show that persons with disabilities have equal or higher performance ratings, better retention rates and less absenteeism.”

So, you can gain an advantage by seeing past people’s disabilities and appreciating the skills they can bring to the job. You can start with the following steps:

  • Revamp your recruitment, making sure that everything from how you write your job ads to the interview process is fair to all applicants.
  • Make your workplace accessible (It doesn’t cost as much as you might think).
  • Provide assistive software and equipment.
  • Identify and deal with your own biases.

You can find more tips and advice here:

8. Corporate Governance

Diversity isn't just about the overall levels of different groups within a company—it's also about representation at the highest levels, where the most important strategic decisions are made. 

Although progress has been made, women still make up only 21% of the boards of directors of S&P 500 companies. And, as this PwC survey shows, diversity of thought can come from various different types of diversity.

PwC survey on board diversityPwC survey on board diversityPwC survey on board diversity
Source: PwC

This diversity of thought can have powerful effects. There’s lots of research showing that companies with diverse leaders perform better. For example, a McKinsey study found returns on equity for companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity were 53% higher than for those in the bottom quartile. 

What applies to large companies and their boards of directors also applies to small businesses and their leadership structures. The more diversity of thought you have, the better your results are likely to be. 

Fortunately, this is a simpler thing to fix than some of the other areas we’ve looked at. Just look around you at your leadership group, whether that’s a formal board of directors or just the senior employees who help run a small firm. How diverse are they in terms of representing the various dimensions of diversity? If the answer is “not very,” then make a conscious effort to bring in new blood at the earliest opportunity.

9. Diverse Representation

How does your company represent itself to the outside world? Companies use advertising to tell stories about who they are, and those stories are often not very inclusive. 

To take just one example, plus size women feature in only 2% of advertising images, despite making up 67% of American women. But research has shown that consumers want more diversity in the advertising they see.

Even if your company is too small to be producing glossy billboard ads and TV commercials, you still probably produce materials in which you use images to represent your company. That could be on your website, on social media, in brochures and sales brochures, and elsewhere.

Be aware of your choices, and make sure to select a diverse set of people and imagery. You can find thousands of diverse images on sites like PhotoDune and Envato Elements.

10. Reaping the Benefits

Research shows that simply hiring diverse groups of people isn't enough: to get the benefits of diversity, companies need to train their employees and encourage open communication. 

Harvard academics found that racial diversity has tangible performance benefits, but only when the work culture means that employees are “encouraged to bring all relevant insights and perspectives to bear on their work.” In other cultures, in which race isn't discussed or in which diversity only exists in certain parts of the organization, there was no sustained performance improvement.

That’s why this series has attempted to cover some of the best practices to help you get your diversity efforts right and reap the benefits. Read the rest of the series to learn more.


In this tutorial, you’ve learned about some of the key diversity issues and topics to be aware of in the workplace right now. We’ve looked at current events like the Google memo and the #MeToo movement, as well as some recent academic research, and we’ve seen the implications for getting diversity right in your business.

I’ve also linked to other resources to give more detail in particular areas, so I encourage you to read some of those articles if you want to go into more depth. In the meantime, please leave your own comments and suggestions below, and stay tuned for the next article in the series!

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