What's the impact of multicultural diversity in the workplace (i.e. having people from different countries working together in startups, corporations, co-working studios, etc) and how does it affect parameters such as productivity, creativity, well being, awareness, motivation, and so on?

More specifically, I'd like to know what the benefits are of having people from different countries working together in the same teams/companies. Is there any research on the fields of social sciences that approaches these matters? I'm running a workshop with a colleague about the importance of having people from different cultures working together and we could really use some insight. I would also be interested in finding research or studies that studied the benefits of multicultural environments compared to mono-cultural workplaces.

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    I removed the request for a list of stories... that is not what SE is about. I think you have a good question here when you ask for the facts. Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 14:10
  • Scientific facts aside, It can certainly make for a more interesting work environment. If everyone shares the same set of cultural norms/habits/ideas , this seems less exciting than a workplace with a variety of norms/habits/ideas . Commented May 10, 2015 at 21:30
  • A key word for your googling is diversity
    – mart
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 7:16
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    A drawback would be that there would be difficulties communicating, more possibilities for cultural practices to conflict with one another, people may take offense at common cultural quirks of others, etc. Commented May 11, 2015 at 13:29
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    Harvard Business Review has covered this extensively, including the negative aspects, thats's where you should focus your reading. Most articles or at least summaries are available on their website. It's worth noting that the original push for diversity was to avoid an "echo chamber" effect that could blind an organisation to threats or opportunities. Diversity as a goal in and of itself regardless of tangible benefits to the organisation came much later.
    – Gaius
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 21:47

4 Answers 4


I found this:


And this just looked like interesting reading, but has no metrics:


And I wouldn't be surprised to find that Google will turn up more - my successful search was "diversity metrics productivity", and I bet "diversity, metrics, retention" may yeild more.

My impression is that how diversity program success is measured is something that is very much in flux, so I am willing to bet that standards haven't really become clear.

It's a pretty hot area, so I'm willing to bet there's more - but my process would be the same as yours:

  • Google it

  • do a lot of reading to confirm it's not air-ware

  • look for independantly driven research, with good sample sets and actual statistical analysis

  • be really, really wary of anything that implies causation when it's really just correlation

  • Thanks, @bethlakshmi. I was looking for something more related to diversity in terms of having people from different countries working on the same place/team. Any suggestions?
    – João
    Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 8:49
  • Not off the top of my head, but this looked pretty interesting: diversityinc.com/diversity-management/… Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 14:12
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    I ended up on "case studies" because it occurred to me that the really compelling research would probably be how a company improves as a result of a diversity program. Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 14:13

I think this is a bit backwards. Diversity on its own doesn't do much to improve performance, but high-performing teams tend to be diverse. That's what happens when the hiring criteria is focused around a candidate's skill and fitness rather than their minority status. In this situation, the resulting demographic make-up of the company will tend towards the make-up of the society the company draws workers from.

Now consider someone like Google or Microsoft: Big enough to have the luxury of engaging with candidates from all around the world. They too want the very best in their team no matter their visa status, and they have the power to make it so. When you have a company which values skill above all else and has the ability to reach out of the local hiring pool, you end up with a more diverse roster.

Diversity just for its own sake can actually hurt a company. Consider a hiring quota mandating a 50-50 representation of demographics A and B, where A is dominant in the field and locale. Since you want to end up with more of B, you will lower the bar for them. You now have people working for you who shouldn't be, according to the skill-based priority mandate.

Employment is a zero-sum game, which means that when you lower the bar for B, you raise it for A. What you end up with is a 50-50 representation of both, but with A being a lot more skilled in the same field. Assuming a meritocracy (accomplishment-based promotion scheme), more people from A will tend to get promoted to higher rank. Someone will notice the disparity and, like the good-hearted people that they are, will rush to heal the injustice, by (what else?) mandating quotas for the higher ranks. Having prioritised properties over qualities, you end up with a weak leadership.

To answer your question:

[What are the ] benefits of multicultural environments compared to mono-cultural workplaces

I have no studies to back any of this up, but I can run the same thought-experiment with a hiring demographic mandate for A. First, let's assume that your workers are blind to this. At T=0, your 100% A workers form a nice bell-curve over their skill level. You take the good with the bad, everything evens out. As time progresses, skilful people (those with a passion) will want to challenge themselves and go higher, and those in lower skill levels will want to become entrenched to achieve job security. From this point on, your organisation will tend towards toxicity, which will turn away any skilled pigeon that happens to fly in the hole.

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    First, nobody is suggesting 50-50, so you're beating the heck out of a straw man. Second, if say 12% of grads are in the smaller group, but only 10% have meaningful good jobs, you could in fact achieve 50% representation from that group without lowering the quality bar at all by scooping up the best people from that group since you don't have competition to get them the way you do from the larger group. And I wouldn't care but you assume that people exist on a single better/worse scale leaving you blind to the real advantages of diversity Commented May 10, 2015 at 20:54
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    @Kate Gregory: It's not a straw man, it's a thought experiment. There's a difference. And as to being blind to the advantages, wasn't that what the OP was looking for, actual advantages? So if you have some, trot them out :-)
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 18:10
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    @KateGregory competition goes both ways. There will be other firms possibly trying to get more of B and therefore they have the ability to command higher salaries than A, so A will possibly end up being paid less for being equally skilled. This will probably create a toxic dynamic in your workplace.
    – user32931
    Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 11:59

Especially when your work force has to guess what your customers want, having a monoculture in your work force is a bad thing.

Hiring only people who prefer keyboard shortcuts may produce a UI that is hard to use on phone or tablet, or with a mouse. Hiring people who only speak English as a first language may produce UI and documentation that is opaque to those who learned English as a second (or 5th or whatever) language. Hiring people who have only taught themselves may cut you off from useful skills and information delivered in universities and colleges, while hiring only those with formal education may cut you off from amazing self-taught people. Hiring only young people may lead to decisions that alienate older customers (around privacy, say, or automatic updating) and hiring only older people may lead to decisions that alienate younger customers. Hiring only people who've worked in small companies cuts you off from skills and techniques developed in large firms, and hiring only people who've worked in big entities cuts you off from some of the pragmatic approaches common in smaller places.

Everyone brings a number of strengths to the workplace and many are hard to measure. The more variety you have on the team, the more chance you have someone who knows something nobody else knows. The more your team has people from all walks of life, from a variety of work styles and educational backgrounds, from a variety of team sizes and languages, from a variety of countries, then the less likely you'll get locked into "how we do stuff here" and miss something that you really should have done.

It's really hard to predict in advance what particular unusualities will be helpful to your team. Maybe on one project having a colour blind team member will save you from major embarrassment. Maybe on another it's that programmer who majored in Actuarial Science but decided not to go into the insurance industry. Maybe on another it's that developer who grew up on a farm, or the one who speaks fluent Korean, or the one who spent some time on welfare, or who has actually used whatever it is you make. Since you can't know, the best you can do is hire people from a variety of backgrounds, of a variety of ages, genders, orientations, and so on. In some cases you won't know these things about the people when you hire them, and in others you will. But the less you want "someone just like the rest of us on the ten or twenty things we can measure" the less you'll get someone who's just like you on the other hundred things as well.

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    The problem I see here is that the criteria by which 'diversity' is measured for legal/social purposes don't really reflect actual diversity all that well. My experience, at least, is that programmers/engineers of any race/sex/nationality are far more like each other than they are like non-programmers.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 18:15
  • @jamesqf Your company shouldn't be composed entirely of programmers, either, unless you're a startup just getting started and can't afford anything else.
    – JAB
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 4:04
  • @JAB: I wouldn't be surprised if the same applies to other fields as well, but I don't have enough first-hand experience to say. Still, the outwardly obvious things like race & sex aren't always a good guide. For instance, I have a lot more in common with my female horse-riding friends than I do with their golf-playing, football-watching husbands.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 19:16

Perhaps consider taking a college course on diversity in the workplace. Many schools offer them. Check for programs in women's studies or race/ethnicity studies, and they will likely have a course that is focused on diversity and employment.

Also, focus your research on information from peer-reviewed journals. These are certified as meeting the research standards of their respective fields and are frequently available through your local university's library. Diversity is a volatile field, and you want to ensure that your information is grounded in science, rather than being based on someone's opinion.

A few textbooks that include information on gender, race, and working include:

Paula J. Dubeck & Dana Dunn, "Workplace/Women's Place" - also includes information about race. Contains more direct information about how to set up a workplace to promote productivity, prevent discrimination, and increase retention (turnover is higher for oppressed groups).

Teresa Amott & Julie Matthaei, "Race, Gender, and Work" - more focused on a historical, policy perspective

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