The Commonality of Difference

the commonality of difference

In a recent post, I asked some questions regarding conversations organisations are having on cultural norms and expectations in their workplaces.  Since then I have done further reading on cultural differences and how they may impact employee expectations.

My first conclusion is – there is a vast amount of content on the topic of diversity that I would never be able to read it all.  I wanted to though because I find it interesting. So, I narrowed my reading and want to share an aspect of diversity in the workplace that I believe will interest you.

Ways Diversity is Represented

It is well documented that diversity can be represented in many ways. Some examples of diversity may be obvious such as:

  • age/generational
  • ethnicity, gender
  • physical abilities or disability
  • language 

While others may not as so visible such as:

  • sexual orientation
  • educational background
  • political or other ideologies.

Each of these are elements that contribute to the development of a person’s identity.

What is Diversity?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “diversity is defined as being composed of differing elements.” In a work context, it means understanding that each individual is unique and our individual differences need to be recognized and valued.

Ireland has become home to a transient and globally mobile workforce. Workplaces are evolving as vibrant, multicultural mini-societies of their own. We need to recognize and respect “ways of being” that are not necessarily our own. 


Because understanding other people’s ways of being helps dispel negative stereotyping or forming biases about different groups or individuals – and helps find our commonality.

Where there is understanding,  there is communication.

Where there is communication, there is openness.

Where there is openness, there is inclusion.

Where there is inclusion, there is belonging.

If that is not enough of a reason, research points to the business case for increased diversity.  Culturally diverse organisations report higher productivity and employee engagement. 

Exploring Cultural Integration 

It may not always be easy or straightforward integrating people from different cultures into a common work culture.  As a leader or manager in your organisation, how can you effectively navigate cultural differences to make your workplace more inclusive?

Here are four behaviours to consider when integrating different cultures:

  • Be genuinely interested
  • Learn about different cultural values that are represented in your workplace
  • Ask smarter questions
  • Listen more than you tell

Culture and Mental Health

Through asking questions to increase understanding of social norms present in different cultures, managers can ensure all team members feel included. For example, how does culture affect how mental illness is viewed?

In her article Cultural influences on mental health, Sofia Andrade stated that culture can influence how people describe and talk about their symptoms.  It will impact whether they choose to talk about their mental health, when and with whom. She continues by saying

“… some Asian groups have been shown to prefer avoidance of upsetting thoughts with regards to personal problems rather than outwardly expressing that distress.

African American groups have been shown to be more likely than whites to handle personal problems and distress on their own, or to turn to rely on their spirituality for support.

Cultural factors often determine how much support people have from their families and communities in seeking help.

Hot Take

I find this interesting when applied to a work context and think it important to be aware of differences.  

It can help workplaces to be more supportive of employee wellbeing. Behind these differences, we are all people who want decent work, be paid a decent wage, to be treated with dignity and respect – this is our commonality.

Additionally, It can help open lines of communication – and keep them open. When people are communicating, they are engaged, contributing and productive.

Workplaces that have created their own culture based on inclusion, openness and trust have employees who are more likely to feel safe to talk about their challenges and how they are potentially impacting on their work. 

These are workplaces that have embraced diversity – diversity of thought, experience, values, ideas, expectations and people.

Workplaces promote strong relationships amongst team members where there is a feeling of belonging and respect of different cultural habits and needs.

These workplaces are becoming places of interest to potential new recruits as they search for new challenges in organisations who demonstrate commitment to employee wellbeing.

Effective strategies for Managing Multicultural Workplaces

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with 4 strategies I believe will achieve the best outcomes when managing multicultural workplaces.

  1. Value Diversity – Respect all cultures.
  2. Self-Awareness – Recognize any personal biases against people of different cultures and work to eliminate them
  3. Awareness and Acceptance of Difference.
  4. Adaptation – Be flexible.

Let’s Wrap Up

For those of you who know me, you will know that I continue to seek out conversations regarding how workplaces are addressing and supporting employee wellbeing. 

Which of the four points I concluded with (or the four behaviours referenced earlier in the article) are you going to pay particular attention to in the coming days? 

Please do share your thoughts.

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