Junge Menschen vor einem Whiteboard
Veit Mette

In historical terms, Germany has long been a culturally diverse society. Yet the question has repeatedly been asked of how the country should deal with this diversity. The 2018 Reinhard Mohn Prize on “Living Diversity – Shaping Society” is bringing new momentum to this debate, for example with The Diversity Factor, a study which shows that culturally diverse workforces have a positive impact on innovation.

To carry out the study, a team from VDI Technologiezentrum GmbH (VDI TZ) led by Dr. Silke Stahl-Rolf analyzed existing research on our behalf, then discussed the results with experts from academia, NGOs, businesses, public administration and civil society.

Cultural diversity makes a difference

The examined research reveals a moderately positive correlation between cultural diversity and innovation, showing that cultural diversity has a stronger impact on innovation than other diversity indicators such as age or gender.

Another key finding is that the diversity of an organization’s teams also plays a crucial role: The more varied a team’s members are in terms of their countries of origin, the more positive the impact on its ability to innovate.

There are several possible explanations for why cultural diversity increases the innovative power of companies and regions. Employees with varied backgrounds have specific cultural knowledge which they use to assess and solve problems in different ways. Moreover, they are often more willing to take risks. Culturally diverse workforces, however, also pose challenges. These include language barriers and the possibility of conflict, since different cultural values or methods of interpretation can lead to misunderstandings that, at least initially, make cooperating more difficult.

One manager in two sees a link between cultural diversity and innovation

As part of the study, the opinion research organization YouGov surveyed 500 executives. Almost one respondent in two believes there is a correlation between cultural diversity and a company’s ability to innovate. At the same time, 42 percent say that their own organization does not focus on hiring a diverse workforce.

A comparison of midsized enterprises and major corporations reveals a clear difference between the two: While 56 percent of the respondents at large companies say their organization considers cultural diversity when hiring employees, only 46 percent at midsized companies express the same view.

When asked if there are obstacles to assembling a culturally diverse workforce, two out of three respondents say that no such problems exist in their own organization. Those who do perceive obstacles identify them, first and foremost, as language barriers (76 percent), followed by extended periods of adjustment (62 percent) and difficulties recruiting employees (53 percent).


In order to promote workforce diversity and make optimal use of diversity’s ability to ensure innovative power, the study’s authors recommend that small and midsized enterprises in particular introduce diversity management measures which take cultural diversity into account, in addition to gender, age, sexual orientation and disabilities. Since resources are limited, communities and regions could play an important role here. Especially promising are multifaceted approaches that combine efforts to promote economic activity, community development and the education and training of potential employees, while also involving actors from business, the policy sphere, public administration and civil society. Midsized companies in particular would benefit if such activities were coordinated on a regional level, facilitating an exchange of experience.

Similar Articles


Excerpt from change Magazine 2/2017

Cities are “laboratories” of communal life

Germany has long been the country of immigration that it doesn’t yet officially want to be. An unbiased reality-check of one’s own personal environment as well as countless social-science studies provide ample proof of this. read more


How German SMEs can benefit from the Startup Nation Israel

Our new study shows far-reaching potential in the close cooperation between German and Israeli businesses – efforts which, to date, have been underutilized. Highlighting Israel's innovative dynamism, the study also offers German businesses engagement strategies facilitative in securing potential Israeli partners. read more

International research

Living in cultural diversity: Samen Inburgeren

The city of Mechelen cultivates intercultural understanding by emphasizing empathy and shared interests across communities. Celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, the project can point to 257 intercultural friendships that have developed since 2012. read more

International research

Tot Raval – We are all Raval!

Barcelona's Raval district is one of Europe's most densely populated neighborhoods. Nearly 50,000 people live here in a space of around one square kilometer and its residents originate from more than 40 countries. The Tot Raval Foundation works to promote harmonious coexistence within this local diversity. read more