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Break Down Barriers to Implementing a Successful DEI Strategy

What are the main barriers to executing an effective diversity, equity and inclusion strategy and how can businesses overcome them?

Barriers to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Our 2022 report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in IT found that 96% of IT professionals say leadership at their company makes it clear that DEI initiatives are critical aspects of company strategy. The benefits of DEI are clear, but for many organisations there are still barriers when it comes to strategic implementation and practical application. So, what are some of these limitations and how can businesses overcome them?

Boardroom diversity

Real change takes time to operationalise and embed. Many companies are moving the needle on internal diversity, but tangible results are not always instant. According to Egon Zehnder’s Global Board Diversity Tracker, measurable progress has been made in gender diversity at board level, with women accounting for 27% of board positions – up by 3.7% from 2020. The same report suggests that progress is also being made in the representation of minorities, although this data is still emerging.

However, the report explains that while boards may be getting more diverse, they aren’t necessarily becoming more inclusive. “While it is more difficult to measure, inclusion is what brings the power of diverse representation to life. You can gather a diverse group of people in the boardroom, but if the environment is not fully welcoming of their perspectives, then you have missed the opportunity to create a more effective board.”

Unconscious bias

Throughout the hiring, onboarding and employment lifecycle, opportunities for bias exist. Although widely recognised that diversity of thought and innovation can benefit productivity and the bottom-line, our unconscious preferences for people who reflect ourselves can negatively impact our ability to create these conditions in practice. Biases can exist in every encounter – from the language used in job specifications and decisions on who to hire or promote, to managers overlooking poor performance of those who they know and like.

Leadership accountability

To truly execute a DEI strategy, ultimate accountability is required. In this Allegis Group survey of 500 senior talent decision-makers, only 4.6 percent of respondents worked for companies that linked executive compensation to diversity, equity and inclusion objectives. With the biggest decisions in any company being made at the top level, it’s not just about diversifying leadership teams, but also holding them accountable to driving change throughout the organisation’s culture and operations.

Break down barriers to implementing a DEI strategy

Start from where you are. Implementing a DEI strategy can be overwhelming. Where do you begin? By starting with the outcome in mind, you can focus on recruiting and retaining people from diverse backgrounds and experiences and, most importantly, set goals for increased representation across various demographics. Expand the pools from which you historically recruit to include nontraditional sources. Remove degree requirements for certain roles. Continually leverage insights from your human resources team to uncover where you might be underperforming against your targets and recognise the importance of talent acquisition teams in the process.

Secure senior leadership support. Commitment to DEI is the the first step of towards change. Turning commitment into action, and action into results involves understanding current state, setting strategic objectives, defining metrics for success and ensuring executive sponsorship to hold business leaders to account on those objectives.

Grant Wafer, regional vice president at TEKsystems EMEA says, "DEI is essential for companies to remain competitive, but it’s not something that can be a bolted-on. It must underpin the strategy, be led by and sponsored from the top down, and inherent in a business’s core values. Our Executive Inclusion Board allows us to be intentional with our plans, but also accountable."

Manage unconscious bias.In hiring and people management, it is important to recognise that everyone has unconscious bias. This is not a bad thing per se, but considering how to educate your team to eliminate it from decision-making is key. We suggest the following steps to overcome unconscious bias and promote diversity and inclusion from within:

  • Educate employees on the types on unconscious bias and negatives consequences that can arise from allowing such behaviour to become normalised
  • Monitor each other for unconscious bias and question comments or remarks on cultural or gender stereotypes
  • Reconsider the rationale behind an initial decision to establish if all facts were considered or if biases have crept in.
  • Deliberately slow down decision making to reduce the likelihood of a making a snap decision.
  • Invest in setting up a DEI committee to build and maintain processes and enforce cultural behaviours that align with the diversity goals of the company.

Focus on an inclusive employee experience. A positive employee experience is vital to attract and retain diverse talent. The next wave of talent to hit the workforce is already here, so ensuring your company culture and best practices are open and inclusive is key not only to tap into this candidate pool, but to realise the productivity benefits diverse thinking that future talent can bring. 

"Focussing on employee experience is crucial when it comes to the long-term success and sustainability of diversity within a business. It helps attract and retain our workforce, enhances creativity and innovation, improves decision-making through diverse perspectives, boosts employee morale and productivity, and better reflects our diverse customer base," says Kay Adams, talent delivery manager and Executive Inclusion Board member. "Additionally, it contributes to a positive company culture which can lead to better business outcomes and long-term success for all. Working on inclusive practices which are void of unconscious bias to recruit is the start of it, but how employees feel when they are at work is just as important. It’s futile hiring diverse talent if you can’t retain those people."

Leadership involvement, mentorship, training, employee resource groups, fairness in compensation, and opportunity for advancement are all key ingredients in building an inclusive company culture. 

Think beyond gender and ethnicity. Understanding the full breadth and depth of diversity and different backgrounds that exist is key to maximising the business benefits of diverse teams. New studies suggest there is opportunity for employers to capitalise on the analytical minds and problem-solving skills of individuals who are neurodivergent. Neurodiverse groups may struggle with certain conventional interviews or tests, but according to the World Economic Forum, are a group that bring real value to the workplace due to their ability to problem solve, reason differently and come up with new ideas and overcome biases.

Organisations should be encouraged by the possibilities of a diverse workforce. But to attract, retain and develop this future talent, it will be critical to consider how the barriers apply within their organisation and ensure steps are taken to overcome them.

Find out more about diversity, equity and inclusion at TEKsystems.