In the past few years, diversity and inclusion have taken the corporate world by storm. With studies proving that diverse and inclusive organisations are more profitable, D&I initiatives have become a top priority for competitive companies and business leaders.
At the same time, employees are looking for clear indications that organisations not only have diverse hires but are also committed to fostering inclusivity.
But while D&I initiatives may sound intuitive, many hiring managers and CEOs underestimate how challenging implementing them can be. There are various barriers that make it difficult to achieve meaningful D&I results. Let’s take a close look at these barriers and how to overcome them.
Barrier #1- Internal Resistance to Diversity and Inclusion
Like any other major organisational change efforts, diversity and inclusion initiatives are often met with internal resistance. That is because change can evoke fear of the unknown, mistrust, and psychological distress.
In some cases, employees might feel that focusing on diversity means sidelining a certain group in favour of another. For instance, men who’ve held positions of power may feel threatened by initiatives geared towards having more women in organisational leadership.
Resistance can particularly be an issue where D&I is seen as tangential to broader corporate goals. When some departments are left to push diversity and inclusion while others aren’t required to do the same, employees are unlikely to respond favourably.
A research conducted by Prosci found that mid-level managers were the most change-resistant group, followed by front-line employees. The study shared numerous ways employees can express resistance including lack of participation, openly expressing negative emotions about change initiatives, absenteeism, and decreased productivity.
To overcome internal resistance to diversity and inclusion initiatives, here are a few top strategies:
- Make a case for D&I: Often, resistance comes from not understanding the value of D&I. Make a case for diversity and inclusion, highlighting how the company and employees stand to gain. For instance, you can quote McKinsey’s diversity report that shows that diverse organisations outperform their more homogenous counterparts by 36%. For employees, working for a more prosperous organisation translates into higher salaries, improved job security, and the likelihood of professional advancement.
- Engage and listen: A key part of addressing resistance is through engaging and listening to employees. Leaders can learn their employees’ pain points through one-on-one conversations, focus groups, and analysing of data from surveys. With an understanding of their concerns and needs, organisations are better placed to address them without compromising D&I goals.
- Embrace transparency and fairness: In cases where employees are concerned about preferential treatment of certain groups, creating transparency and fairness in your recruitment, compensation, and promotion processes can help reduce resistance and build trust.
- Incorporate D&I into the broader strategic plan: Make diversity and inclusion part of your larger corporate goals and strategic plan. Doing so communicates that D&I initiatives are important to the organisation, which reduces resistance. Consider training and deploying change agents in every department to help in implementing diversity and inclusion.
“Resistance can particularly be an issue where D&I is seen as tangential to broader corporate goals. When some departments are left to push diversity and inclusion while others aren’t required to do the same, employees are unlikely to respond favourably.”
Barrier #2- Unconscious Bias Towards Diverse Individuals
Many harmful behaviours that undermine D&I efforts occur at an unconscious level—making them even more difficult to address. Unconscious prejudices may include unfair assumptions about the competency of an individual based on stereotypes about their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, religious affiliation, and so on.
For example, when given a choice between two similar candidates, Yale researchers found that college faculty overwhelmingly preferred male candidates. They perceived the male candidates to be more competent and deserving of higher salaries.
Unchecked, these unconscious biases contribute to the perpetuation of an inequitable status quo in the organisation. Subsequently, they can permeate all aspects of organisational culture and have a detrimental effect on your D&I initiatives.
Here are a few practical steps for dealing with unconscious bias when implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives in your organisation:
- Identify unconscious biases: The first step in combating unconscious biases is by being aware of their existence. Organisations committed to D&I must provide training to help their teams identify common biases. When individuals are aware of their unconscious biases, they can counter them with critical thinking.
- Use data in decision-making: Leveraging data in decision-making is another great way to overcome implicit bias in an organisation. However, bear in mind that there are two types of data—qualitative and quantitative, while qualitative data is based on observation and focuses on numbers and statistics. Use both kinds of data to make less biased decisions.
- Set clear diversity and inclusion goals: Without clear goals in place, it’s easy to pay lip service to D&I while allowing unconscious biases to go unchecked. For instance, set the percentage of diverse hires you aim to achieve by a specific period. Each department in an organisation should have its own D&I goals that contribute to and reflect the organisation’s efforts.
“Unchecked, unconscious biases contribute to the perpetuation of an inequitable status quo in the organisation. Subsequently, they can permeate all aspects of organisational culture and have a detrimental effect on your D&I initiatives.”
Barrier #3- Skill Gap in Diversity and Inclusion
Managing diverse teams can be challenging—especially for managers who aren’t properly trained on how to capitalize on the diversity dividend. Without the necessary skills, diverse teams may not perform as well as homogenous teams.
In addition, organisations need to have D&I change leaders at different levels. These are people who act as change catalysts by inspiring and influencing their peers to embrace positive transformation.
To close the skill gap in implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives, organisations must invest in proper training. Specialised training equips business leaders and other members of your team with the knowledge and skills they need to implement D&I initiatives.
Here are some tips for having successful diversity and inclusion training:
- Encourage voluntary participation: Forcing members of the team and business leaders to take part in D&I training is likely to be met with resistance. Instead, reiterate the benefits of diversity and inclusion and encourage team members to participate voluntarily.
- Provide ongoing training: Many organisations provide one-off D&I training. However, for the success of diversity and inclusion initiatives, organisations must build programs for ongoing learning to foster diversity and inclusion.
- Hire trained change leaders: Hiring trained change managers is a great way for organisations to support their D&I initiatives. Consider recruiting a diversity and inclusion manager to oversee diversity and inclusion initiatives in the organisation.
A heterogeneous workforce has been proven to boost innovation and effectiveness, leading to more profits. The barriers we’ve mentioned above are, however, likely to hinder the success of your D&I initiatives.
At Cedar Africa Group, we’re here to help your organization every step of the diversity and inclusion journey—from attracting and recruiting diverse talent to training change managers and agents. Cedar Africa Group is the centre for Prosci® and change management in East Africa.
Contact us and speak to one of our recruitment experts to get started.