Barriers to diversity in the workplace  

March 2023

Encouraging diversity in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, but studies also show it provides a host of business benefits too.

Want to disrupt or innovate in your industry, attract millennials or improve your financial performance? Improving diversity has been shown to help. 

We have looked at diversity and inclusion best practices, but what are some of the things that can stop businesses from achieving diversity? Your business may be aware of some, but others might surprise you. By changing these practices your business is starting its journey towards a more inclusive work environment.

Distinct from a formal mentoring program, informal mentoring occurs when a senior employee chooses to guide, advise and assist in the career development of a junior team member. The unplanned nature of this kind of mentoring can be a barrier to diversity because, unconsciously, we are more likely to assist a colleague in this way if we can see ourselves in them. Change this natural tendency by making employees aware of it. Challenge your senior employees to confront any unconscious bias that may be at play, and to focus on equity and inclusion when choosing a junior team member to mentor.
Review social traditions and commentary in the office for insensitivity or inappropriateness from day-to-day interactions to bigger office events. Everything from ‘boys only’ drinks, to social events revolving around alcohol or gathering in private clubs or venues may discourage diverse employees from attending or leave them feeling excluded if they do. Plan events carefully and communicate clearly what is and is not acceptable ‘banter’ in your office environment. Ensure that people feel safe and encourage employees to interact with every group, so everyone feels included.
Creating a diverse workforce is something that can be achieved relatively quickly if there is a strong consensus to do so. However, unconscious bias and a lack of employee engagement can be barriers to boosting diversity at work. A study by McKinsey found inclusion within an organisation can take many years to achieve. It requires continuous commitment from the top. Management should work on linking inclusion to the growth of the business and building an inclusive workplace culture where every employee feels a sense of belonging.
A higher percentage of women, people from ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ+ community report facing microaggressions at work. These could be derogatory comments about how they dress or exclusion from social events. Over time, these small knocks prevent these employees from feeling comfortable sharing their ideas with other employees for fear of judgement or contempt. This has been shown to impact the performance and wellbeing of diverse employees.

Having diverse leadership and middle management is a key component to supporting diversity. Seeing those of the same race, gender or background succeed is reassuring and empowering to others in your organisation. Having diverse role models will positively shape the experience for younger, less experienced diverse employees. Building a work environment where diverse employees know they will be supported if they experience a microaggression is very important. This is a massive step in how to create an inclusive workplace.


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