Common barriers to equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives and how to overcome them
It’s becoming harder and harder to find an organisation that doesn’t have an equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) policy.
But it’s not so difficult to spot those that have yet to fully embed ED&I into their culture. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed by employees.
A McKinsey survey found that nearly half of respondents, from all demographics, encounter barriers to feeling included and have taken organisations’ inclusiveness into account when making career decisions.
A sense of inclusion is strongly linked with employee engagement and satisfaction, and therefore performance and retention.
Given the clear benefits of ED&I initiatives in hiring and retaining diverse talent, why are many organisations not meeting their staff’s expectations of an inclusive workplace?
Common barriers to equality, diversity and inclusion at work
There are several factors that could be acting as barriers to your organisation’s ED&I success:
Policy without action
A common pitfall is the belief that creating an ED&I strategy or policy alone will be enough to build lasting cultural change. Action is often missing or where there is action, it is not guided by clear knowledge of what works to make informed, evidence-based decisions (CIPD, 2018).
Another challenge organisations face is the use of outdated methods to enact ED&I policies. For example, many traditional tools used to address conflict, such as training, seminars and negotiating sessions are relied on by organisations for diversity and inclusion conflict resolution, but these may be ineffective or even counter-intuitive (Korn Ferry, 2022).
Human resource (HR) leaders and other People professionals have a responsibility to make sure that policies are enacted and to monitor their effectiveness.
Biased recruitment practise
Before an employee has even signed their contract, they may face unequal treatment or bias during recruitment. This could mean that the candidate no longer wishes to continue their application, causing the company to lose out on diverse talent. Or, in many cases, an organisation may not realise their recruitment policies are discriminatory and put suitable candidates off applying in the first place.
Although around 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies swear by them, the use of personality or psychometric tests in recruitment is now coming into question, given their potential to discriminate against neurodiverse or disabled candidates (Employment Protect, 2017). It may seem as though these tests could reduce bias in hiring as they take away human subjectivity, but they simultaneously decrease diversity through the requirement for one type of ‘ideal candidate’.
Although positive steps have been made to diversify the modern workplace, inequality, prejudice and bias still exist. This results in discrimination and the associated negative outcomes for employees, like feeling excluded or poor wellbeing.
A huge 84 percent of survey respondents, from every subgroup (gender, gender identity, minority status, or sexual orientation), reported having experienced microaggressions at work (McKinsey, 2020). These everyday slights are rooted in bias and can build up to significantly affect feelings of inclusion and equality.
Research has also shown that the perceived impact of someone’s disability on their work performance was related to their acceptance by co-workers (McLaughlin et al., 2004). Changing such misconceptions is therefore vital in reducing inequality and improving the work experiences of those with disabilities.
Tips for driving forward your equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives
So, how do we overcome these common barriers to equality, diversity and inclusion?
One of the best things you can do is include your employees in the conversation. If they feel heard and their opinions valued, they are more likely to involve themselves in the ED&I dialogue and feel able to be part of the change.
Banging the diversity drum without showing any dedicated action towards change will only distance your employees from contributing to an inclusive culture.
Another major element that organisations cannot ignore in their ED&I strategies at work is neurodiversity. It may be one of the most challenging areas within diversity and inclusion, given its complexity and often invisibility (CIPD, 2018). But by not acknowledging neurodiversity as a part of ED&I, businesses will not be able to achieve the inclusive workplace they are striving for.
An organisation that can demonstrate its neuro-inclusive culture is more likely to attract diverse talent – one of the key drivers of innovation.
Not only that, but all employees – neurodiverse or not – will feel more able to express their true selves at work, be more open with their colleagues and employers and respect each other’s differences.
Take our free Neurodiversity in the Workplace Masterclass
To discover more about neurodiversity and breaking down barriers in the workplace, sign up to our free, on-demand masterclass to help you increase neuro-inclusivity in your workplace.