Diversity in the Workplace

For individuals who have an interest in cultivating their understanding of diversity in the workplace.

Barriers & Challenges
Barriers and challenges along the way to establishing and developing diversity in the workplace

Diversity can be a tough issue for organizations to deal with. Although many companies want to foster diversity, they often encounter barriers and challenges along the way to establishing and developing diversity in the workplace.

 

Every company is different, but most encounter a few common barriers to diversity: all types of prejudice and stereotypes, cultural expectations, jealousy and defensiveness, and resistance to change.

 

A - Prejudice and Stereotypes

 

Prejudice and stereotypes can lead to discrimination and unequal opportunities. Prejudices of all types are still the biggest barrier to most companies' efforts to develop diversity.

Most people, perhaps yourself included, think they're fair. You don't consciously judge people based on race, age, or gender.

But prejudice is often unconscious, which is why it's so difficult to overcome. Essentially, prejudice is perpetuating negative stereotypes instead of accepting differences.

 

Prejudice within the workplace is especially challenging:

 

  • It's common for some employees and managers to lack certain skills – political or corporate skills, for instance. This can make them feel uncomfortable, which hinders their chances of success.

  • It can separate information from the people who need it most and prevent them from obtaining the resources they require to get ahead in their careers. Many employees struggle to get the experience and development opportunities needed to compete for senior positions.

  • It can be difficult for some employees to find a balance between their work and personal lives. This is especially true for women and men who are the primary caregivers for their children.

  • In general, people are more comfortable dealing with others who are similar to them. A diverse workforce can enhance creativity, but it can also create fault lines that split a group into subgroups.

 

To overcome prejudice and stereotypes, you can become aware of your own biases, assumptions, and social and racial prejudices. By questioning yourself, you can figure out if you're acting on assumptions or facts.

 

B - Cultural expectations

 

In general, people who come from different cultural backgrounds have different expectations about management styles, work rules, and even appropriate behavior. When expectations among group members differ, it can have a negative impact on the group's cohesion.

 

It's crucial that a group can communicate effectively about values, objectives, and tasks. But cultural expectations can make it difficult for group members to come to any sort of  agreement about these issues, and this can eventually destroy the team.

If your company wants to avoid these negative consequences, it must figure out a way to manage cultural differences. This is where the challenge lies.

Often, some employees find their ideas and opinions dismissed in favor of the more dominant point of view.

To be successful, your company needs to determine how to create a model of success that incorporates diversity instead of forcing all employees to fit into traditional ideas and visions.

 

Even though many employees tend to accept the dominant culture, it's important that your company find a way to incorporate the cultural differences.

 

As an individual, you can take actions to overcome cultural expectations. You can improve your intercultural literacy by getting to know your colleagues' cultures and differences. By talking about expectations openly, you replace judgments with curiosity. This will help you connect with your coworkers and better understand their behavior.

 

C - Jealousy and defensiveness

 

People often feel threatened when they think their advantages will be taken away. If your company doesn't encourage and embrace diversity properly, employees who have traditionally been advantaged might feel that these advantages are being threatened.

 

Employees who have traditionally been handed promotions might feel resentful that they now have to compete for those jobs. This can lead to jealousy and defensiveness – both of which can negatively impact your team's productivity. Jealousy and defensiveness are most likely to become issues when diversity is forced.

 

If employees are made to work with people they normally wouldn't socialize with, they may feel they need to change their behavior – which, over time, leads to resentment. It can be difficult for you, as an individual, to overcome this barrier.

It's natural to be jealous or defensive when you feel threatened. But by becoming a "diversity advocate," you can get past these negative feelings. Try bridging differences and building understanding, or discussing diversity openly. Instead of viewing diversity as negative, try to find the positive aspects.


 

D - Resistance

 

No matter how much enthusiasm your company has for diversity and how much effort it puts into developing diversity, it might still encounter resistance. Resistance can happen for two reasons:

 

  • Some people feel there's no need to change – It's common for some employees, especially executives, to feel that there's no need to change because the company is successful just the way it is. They believe the culture should stay the same, even if the current structure might not be working. It can be difficult to overcome this resistance, but it's worthwhile to put in the effort. Those in opposition need to be convinced that the traditional way of doing things isn't going to help the company get ahead – even if things seem to be going along just fine.

 

  • Others just can't understand the benefits of developing diversity – Some executives have a difficult time understanding the benefits of diversity. They tend to think in terms of profit versus social responsibility – and profit wins out. It's not that they don't believe in social and ethical responsibilities, it's just that they can't see how diversity can offer measurable financial gain. This means resistance to investing in diversity initiatives because the benefits of doing so are vague. Overcoming this obstacle is possible, but only when the organization has clearly defined its objectives with regard to diversity. The company must show executives how the expected payoffs of developing diversity are worth achieving.


 

Diversity Challenges and Barriers - Conclusion

 

Overcoming resistance might seem like an impossible task for you as an individual. But think about how you learn to accept any change – you focus on the benefits. If you focus on the benefits of diversity instead of thinking of all the reasons it might not work, you'll probably find the resistance becomes less of an issue over time.

Diversity is a tough issue for many organizations to deal with.

Companies want to foster diversity, but they often encounter barriers and challenges along the way to establishing and developing diversity in the workplace.

 

The most common barriers to diversity are prejudice and stereotypes, cultural expectations, jealousy and defensiveness, and resistance to change. Overcoming these barriers will help your organization become a leader in its industry.

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