top of page
  • Writer's pictureTheunis van der Linde

Overcoming barriers to diversity

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Previously I wrote about what is meant and understood by Diversity, and how organizations can create value by actively focusing on being more inclusive. This also means to consciously increase one's understanding, knowledge and awareness of diversity, as well as act on it, in the organization. This time, I am exploring the topic of how to overcome some barriers that organizations may face, when trying to increase, or leverage Diversity.

To achieve a truly multicultural organization, that values diversity and employs flexibility, requires structured and persistent change over a set period of time. Leaders must be aware that the progress and advancement in diversity management will continue to move forward, and they must react accordingly as and when needed to keep pace with these changes in society.

Below I discuss 3 basic things that organizations can do to zoom in and focus on diversity, and enhance diversity management and drive progress.

Start with organizational culture

Organizational culture is often firmly rooted in the existence of the organization and originates from its values. It is often an unconscious postulation about what is and what is not valued in the organization. Therefore it cannot be changed rapidly or in short periods without serious effort and sustainable attempts. In order to ensure that an organization's appetite, and therefore culture for diversity exists, there are three factors that managers can focus on and manipulate or control directly. These factors need to be aligned and they include Leadership, Strategy, and the Human Resource Systems.


Firstly, leaders must absolutely be concerned about diversity and commit to a deep level of change. Otherwise, effective change will not occur. Constant communication that shows that they care on a sincere level, coupled with actually showing such care, must be done consistently. This is followed by the requirement that right throughout the organization leaders and managers must take ownership of the executive level's commitment to diversity. This can only happen if they are equipped with the knowledge and tools to manage diversity and are held accountable for success with a diverse workforce.


Secondly, diversity must be aligned with the organizational strategy seamlessly integrate into the way things are done daily. Leaders must determine how workforce diversity enhances the organization’s ability to achieve its strategy and the message must be communicated to all employees on an ongoing basis. Each and every leader and manager must develop the ability to motivate a diverse group of workers to ensure the best results are achieved. They must be taught to value new ideas that may seem peculiar at first and they must possess group facilitation skills to ensure that different views are heard and processed.

The Human Resources Systems:

Lastly, the systems must be aligned in order to ensure that recruitment practices ensure a steady flow of diverse candidates through the organization's career system. This can be done by creating four focus areas namely:

  • Hiring top candidates,

  • Ensuring that talent is equally distributed amongst all groups,

  • Placing value on the unique set of skills and attributes that individuals bring to the table,

  • Recognizing that unless some of the new hires brought in to each group are different from the historical majority, the first three principles are probably being violated, and the system needs further work.

Hire for talent and develop skills

When an organization employs a strategy to staff with diversity being top of mind, such processes require a systematic and sustainable method for attracting, screening, training and developing chosen individuals. It also must incorporate the need for career progression, and ensure that retention strategies are effective, functional and relevant.

Also, organizations must understand the internal environment, structure, teams and positions that are less diverse than the available external talent or potential candidate pool. This is typically a good starting point to employ some of the following practices:

  • Understand how value is derived within the organization, and specifically in the different teams/departments.

  • Realize that increased diversity in groups enhances unique abilities and skills to create and help drive value in the organization (also, see the previous blog about Diversity as a Value Driver).

  • Focus on hiring the best to drive such value, regardless of what that (talent) looks like in comparison to the demographic majority

When followed in chronologic order the principles above provide a solid platform to ensure a sustainable diversity-based approach to recruitment and staffing. In the area of recruiting, organizations often find that they need to establish additional synergies to tap the utmost best out of the potential labour market to ensure that they create a more diverse set of qualified candidates than they have done in the past. When in the process of recruiting and selecting individuals, analyzing and understanding whether certain demographic groups are more likely to apply or make themselves available versus others, is important. This allows the organization to focus on different strategies to entice diverse candidates to show interest, and perhaps start the process of applying.

Organizations can also make sure that their interview teams are of a diverse nature as well to ensure a balanced approach is maintained and that a structured interview technique is used. This will help with uniformity and fairness to guide the process for all candidates. When employing training and development techniques or processes, organizations should provide leadership development training also and ensure that a diverse group is included in the training programme. When it comes to developing skills, one option is to enforce high potential programmes which are operated based on identifying and evaluating individuals that show potential. It involves earmarking people with the ability to advance at least two levels up and making the structured training and development programmes available to them and mentoring them for opportunities that come up.

An important step that must be in place to ensure progression is to have a career development process or platform instituted. Organizations can institute career planning for all employees and it involves the leaders having to meet with each individual employee which they mentor, or are ‘responsible' for, on a frequent basis to coach, guide and discuss the career options. These structured meetings facilitate the participation of the employees in the progression of their own individually tailored career plans, and it helps develop an understanding of the skills they will have to develop and the achievements they aim for.

To sustain high retention rates, organizations must be are growth-orientated and show fairness. For an organization to demonstrate fairness in all its processes it must ensure that decisions are made through a structured rational process that is transparent and strives to reward ability and achievement. Treating employees with dignity and respect will result in and providing them with reasonable and relevant explanations concerning tough decisions made that affect them adds to being perceived as fair. A diverse workforce will perceive an organization as being fair when a demonstration is shown that a flexible environment can be maintained with regards to leadership styles and that they value the ability to employ different work methods, as long as the value is added and targets are met.

Retention strategies may include examining the turnover frequency for demographic groups in order to establish whether some groups have a tendency to leave the organization more than others do; exit interviews could provide invaluable information regarding why employees are leaving the organization and strategies for improving retention in the future.

Leverage flexible work options

We have all seen the various modes in which work can be done in modern times. Long lost is the absolute need to live close, work in designated and non-flexible spaces and align to strict timetables. Organizations can now offer and provide a range of aspects to improve the work-life environment for individuals. This in turn increases the potential candidate pool for organizations, allowing them to cast the net far wider than previously possible. For workplace flexibility to work, it's important that nobody feels marginalized in the workplace and that employees feel appreciated, which will assist with the ability to achieve a healthy balance between their work and life.

An organization that is looking to provide equal opportunities for all of its employees will have no choice but to implement workplace flexibility in their workplace. This is because it will provide an opportunity for people from different backgrounds and parts of the population to meet their individual needs while at the same time being productive for the organization - in other words, adding to the diversity. There is a diverse range of options affordable as a result of workplace flexibility and this could be any form, examples being job sharing, flexible working hours, work from home, telecommuting, providing on-site childcare facilities and allowing part-time working, etc.

Employees can work with the organization to create a flexible arrangement after factoring in their role in the organization, and whether or not this will afford them the opportunity to have a flexible work time. For instance, the needs that a flexible workplace can accomplish for a young unmarried man or woman are different from those that it can accomplish for a family man or woman. Thus, each employee has to make a flexible work arrangement that aligns with and will help them fulfil their individual needs. After all, is said and done, workplace flexibility can and will encourage diversity in the workplace. It can be the reason why an organization can and will retain its talented workforce.

Workplace flexibility is very important for the growth and development of an organization due to the fact that it can lead to a boost in the happiness and satisfaction of the workforce. This will, in effect, result in them being engaged in their work such that they will be more productive for the organization. More productivity by employees will inadvertently lead to more profit for the organization. For things to work smoothly, however, organizations should ensure that leaders and managers are receptive to the changes that will be brought about by a switch to this arrangement. Communication, training and awareness are key here.

In conclusion

There are many reasons why implementing diversity in the workplace is difficult. One of them is that humans prefer working in homogeneous groups, and another one is that it is in the nature of humans to question, avoid if possible and resist change. Human beings are creatures of habit. In order to ensure that successful diversity management practices are entrenched, it requires leadership, organizational development, change management, psychology, communication, measurement, and assessment.

Such cross-cutting skills might seem broadly useful to the success of any business initiative. However, there is a key difference with diversity management. For organizations to profit from diversity, the people in those organizations must change how they interact. Diversity's focus on changing human thought and behaviour requires and defines the role of humans, specifically leaders, in diversity management. A successful diversity culture is often built from the small, everyday actions taken by people at all levels of an organization. Fostering sustainable results and changing the behaviour of individuals must be reinforced by changing the organizational policies and procedures, which define how people operate.

Culture drives the strategy, which shapes the structure.

Need help when it comes to figuring out how barriers to Diversity in your workplace are hindering you from unlocking talent, fostering innovation, and tapping into creativity?

Reach out - a phone call doesn't cost a thing!

51 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page