What is Surface-Level Diversity? Challenges and How to Avoid It

Back to Blogs

What is surface-level diversity?

Diversity is a term tossed around to cover a broad range of characteristics, behaviors, and mannerisms. And what many people understand as diversity is actually only the tip of the iceberg or surface-level diversity. 

You might be asking yourself—what does surface-level diversity mean? Are there other types of diversity? 

Let’s answer the second question first. Yes, there are two types of diversity—surface-level and deep-level. 

Surface-level diversity is the character traits that are visible. These characteristics are age, ethnicity, sex, gender diversity, visible disabilities, body shape, and size. These characteristics are what typically drive diversity initiatives in workplaces from New York to Sydney! 

Unfortunately, focusing only on surface-level diversity is a toxic view of the concept. It’s an oversimplification of the experiences and intersectionality of individuals. Instead, concentrating on deep-level diversity contributes to the richness and depth of your workplace culture. 

We explore surface-level diversity and the pitfalls associated with this shallow approach in this article, as well as some benefits of authentic, deep-level diversity. Of course, you don’t have to make the changes alone. CoachDiversity Institute is here to help guide you with plenty of lessons and resources to support your diversity journey

Surface-Level vs. Deep-Level Diversity

As we examine the levels of diversity and explore their impact on organizational behavior, we need to really grasp what the differences are between surface and deep-level diversity. Surface-level diversity is the visible characteristics of individuals. That includes someone’s age, ethnicity, gender diversity, visible disabilities, body shape, and size. 

As the name suggests, surface-level diversity is only the tip, like an iceberg, and its usefulness ends at the waterline. As a result, surface-level diversity doesn’t positively contribute to overall workplace diversity and inclusion. 

Organizational culture blossoms by looking under the waterline and discovering what’s hiding under the waves. Here we find deep-level diversity, which is individual differences that aren’t visible, such as attitudes, values, beliefs, opinions, sexual orientation, health status, neurodiversity, socioeconomic background, and invisible disabilities. 

In research cited in doi-sourced articles, authors like David Harrison explore various hypotheses on the effects of surface-level diversity. These authors found that the distinction between surface and deep-level diversity is helpful in understanding how the different types of diversity impact businesses. 

Further reports in the Journal of Management Studies found that organizations that focus on deep-level diversity experience various benefits. In contrast, surface-level diversity provides no benefits and even occasionally negative impacts. 

Challenges with Surface-Level Diversity

Surface-level diversity management tricks top management into thinking they’re doing enough. Still, the reality is that many businesses only focus on one or two diverse groups and let others down. Companies that focus only on surface-level diversity tend to over-diversify purely for the public image while not seeing any benefits. Here are a few challenges organizations face when only focusing on surface-level diversity. 

It’s been considered a “cheap” solution.

Organizations can appear to have a diverse workforce on the outside, but what happens behind the scenes is anyone’s guess. That is until team members come forward to illuminate the actual practices of many surface-level focused organizations. 

Surface-level diversity only checks boxes, and that workplace diversity rarely extends beyond demographics. When you seek a quick solution to diversity, you end up with sub-par quality workplace diversity that invites more negative effects than positive ones. 

Organizations often only reach the bare minimum.

Businesses spend millions marketing their cultural diversity. Human resource management and departments receive extra party budgets and titles, but ultimately that money ends up wasted. Without real, systematic change, the money spent promoting organizational diversity is all for show, and the cookie-cutter metrics reveal the shortcomings a company has regarding diversity.

Expect real change from your organization, and with the guidance of CoachDiversity Institute, you can instill deep-level diversity initiatives that provide a tangible return on investment (ROI). Apply for one of our organizational programs and take extra steps to build a diverse and inclusive work environment! 

It lacks intersectionality.

Intersectionality is the combination of cultural differences, experiences, attitudes, beliefs, and mannerisms. Surface-level diversity ignores this complex fusion, choosing to distill diverse teams to a single or handful of traits. 

When you celebrate intersectionality, you achieve a rich and diverse company culture where work teams are free from categorization. Intersectionality aids in bringing an end to homogeneous work groups, even in the most traditional industries, such as tech. 

Benefits of a Truly Diverse Workplace

Research shows many benefits of diversity, with the most successful organizations establishing deep-level diversity initiatives. Everything from elevated decision-making and problem-solving skills to higher team performance and creative cohesion is possible with skillful deep-level diversity. Let’s take a look at a few of the positive changes you can experience!

Increases productivity and engagement

While the workplace is never a stress-free environment, investing in deep-level diversity can significantly reduce stressors related to bias, harassment, and discrimination. In turn, you create an environment that allows everyone to perform their best because no psychological blocks stand in the way of team performance. 

Employees who don’t feel like they belong perform worse and engage less than colleagues who feel like they do belong. They’re less likely to provide feedback, input, or ideas that help group members succeed. These types of non-diverse, non-inclusive workplace environments lead to higher turnover rates, lower job satisfaction, reduced morale, lower performance, and overall lackluster engagement. 

More opportunities for innovation

A profoundly diverse team performs better, makes better decisions, engages in effective teamwork, and earns more revenue. These benefits are possible because diverse workplaces provide a platform for employees to comfortably share ideas and solutions without the fear of harassment or bias. 

Diversity boosts creativity and unconventional thinking. Because individuals experience a wide range of background experiences, a solution or innovative idea may not be apparent to everyone on the team. Through deep-level diversity, you can unlock new innovation by supporting diverse backgrounds, experiences, cultures, and skills that translate into new ideas. 

Attract top talent to increase revenue

An article published by the Washington Post in 2021 cited that nearly 76% of survey respondents reported that a diverse workplace was a top priority when making employment decisions. That means diversity is crucial in attracting the best talent, especially in industries where public perception leans toward homogeneity. 

You can further attract top talent by examining hiring, recruiting, onboarding, and training procedures to revise practices that are non-inclusive or non-diverse. Differentiate your organization and make your company more attractive to top talent by partnering with CoachDiversity Institute, which offers accredited programs that produce certified diversity coaches. Your competition will wonder what your secret recruiting weapon is! 

Build a Truly Diverse Workplace with CoachDiversity Institute

Diversity comes in two levels, with surface-level diversity being individual traits that are visible, such as age, gender diversity, visible disabilities, ethnicity, and body shape. The other side of the iceberg is deep-level diversity which covers the non-visible characteristics that make everyone unique. These characteristics include attitude, beliefs, non-visible disabilities, sexual orientation, and health status. 

Investing in deep-level diversity prevents several of the pitfalls that surface-level diversity brings, like over-diversification, bare minimum results, and a lack of intersectionality. And in return, you’ll experience benefits from a more effective team to more substantial bottom-line profits. To make deep-level diversity easier to achieve, partner with CoachDiversity Institute. At CoachDiversity Institute, we have all programs designed for one-on-one executive leadership training to comprehensive group seminars. Apply today to get started investing in true diversity with CoachDiversity Institute!