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Biggest challenges to workplace diversity

April 5, 2021

The interest in workplace diversity continues to increase for organizations in various industries. A report done by Deloitte found that 69 percent of executives reported diversity is an important issue. 

According to McKinsey, companies that have more racial and cultural diversity in leadership roles are 35 percent more likely to have higher financial returns.  Those businesses that have more women in executive positions are 25 percent more likely to earn more. But it is not just a matter of companies with strong diversity doing better financial; companies that rank near the bottom for workplace diversity underperform by 27 percent. It is clear to see that organizations that employ diversity programs are bound to see payoffs. Yet, getting these types of programs off the ground can be a challenge.  Here are some of the biggest challenges to workplace diversity that companies will face and how to overcome them.  

Biggest challenges to diversity at work

Although a more diverse workplace has plenty of advantages, there are some challenges to getting there. Some employers may be concerned with overcoming these hurdles, and some may even doubt they can be, but diversity is a goal worth aiming for. While there can be any number of challenges to cultivating a more diverse workplace, here are some of the biggest ones that organizations will face. 

Communication - Many organizations face communication issues, but these problems are bound to arise when you ask people from different backgrounds, cultures, genders, ages, etc., to work together. Misunderstandings, clashes, and conflicts will happen. Companies can take a number of steps to overcome this hurdle, such as conflict training or communication workshops. Ensure that your employees have the skills and abilities to communicate well with one another. By enhancing communication at your workplace, you’ll also start to have a more positive environment for everyone. 

Prejudice - Unfortunately, stereotypes are often ingrained in us and overcoming them can take some extra effort. You may find employees not wanting to engage with one another. They may have a prejudice against another employee, and working at overcoming the stereotype may feel uncomfortable. It might seem easier for employees to use their prejudice as a reason to not cooperate with others on the team. When these situations arise, it is essential to handle them quickly, so they don’t interfere with your business goal of improving diversity. If left unchecked, stereotypes can cause divisions at your company. They may even result in some employees leaving your company and other candidates not wanting to work at your organization. Ensure that employees are given the opportunity to get to know each other. Build understanding between team members. By confronting these harmful stereotypes, you’ll be able to cultivate a diverse culture at your company. 

Lack of consensus - While employees with different perspectives can feed innovation at an organization, it can also lead to paralysis. With too many ideas or solutions on the table, finding a consensus about the direction of a project can be put in jeopardy. It is difficult to get employees to buy into the project if they don’t believe in its direction. One of the ways that organizations can overcome this is to set up a small committee. If there is no consensus among the team about the right solution or idea, the committee can examine the solutions put forward. It will be up to the committee to decide how the team will move forward. 

Resistance - It is natural for employees to resist change, and employers who want to implement diversity initiatives may come up against some resistance to their plans. Some people may cling to how things have always been done because we are creatures of habit. However, with some persistence and good leadership, this resistance can be overcome. When you face resistance, discuss the values of having a diverse workplace. Ensure that employees understand the benefits that will result from diverse initiatives. You may also want to have employees undergo diversity training to understand better what changes may be coming.  When people understand the value and importance of having a diverse workplace, they’ll be more accepting and patient with the process. 

Tips to improve workplace diversity

There are several ways that companies can improve diversity at their workplace, including:

  1. Respect - All employees must be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their cultural background, gender, age, etc. 
  2. Good leadership - Company leaders should be good role models for employees. Be intentional about building a safe space for all employees. 
  3. Invite discussion - Employees need to feel that they are heard. It is important to be transparent and to invite discussion among team members. 
  4. Mentorships - Build understanding and growth through different workplace mentoring programs. Mentors and mentees from different backgrounds can be paired together to help each gain a deeper understanding of different perspectives. Mentoring programs can also be used as tools to develop diverse employees for more leadership positions. Starting and managing diverse workplace mentoring programs is simple through mentoring software. 

Research has found that companies with a higher diversity ranking do better. While there are some challenges to implementing these programs, the payoff for organizations and employees makes it worth the effort. 

Click here to find out how workplace mentorships are key to achieving your company’s diversity initiatives. 

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We interviewed and surveyed employees from 50+ leading North American Companies including McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, IBM, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Capital One, Norton Rose Fulbright, Mackenzie Investments. Get the results below.

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