Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) Obstacles

26th September 2023

Article by Meg Shona Halpin-Webster, Graduate eLearning Content Writer at Marshall E Learning Consultancy, a Ciphr company 

This week is National Inclusion Week, which encourages organisations to focus on fostering greater inclusivity within their culture; and offering support to those feeling excluded. This year’s theme is Take Action, Make Impact – a firm message telling us that greater inclusivity requires much more than just words and promises; it requires real action to have a meaningful and lasting impact.

Making a meaningful impact in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) can be tricky for some organisations, with many facing challenges and obstacles that restrict their progress. Here at Marshalls, we’re committed to empowering organisations with knowledge and resources to foster a positive environment that promotes equality and inclusion, which is why we’ve outlined the key challenges that organisations often face below, and provided actionable solutions.

What is the impact of inclusion on a workplace environment?

Greater inclusivity has a positive impact on a workplace environment, giving employees a strong sense of belonging, supporting them and encouraging them to be their authentic selves. This is extremely important to staff wellbeing, as determined by Ciphr’s study on employee experience in the UK.

Ciphr surveyed 1,000 employed adults and found that 82% of employees agreed that people who feel a sense of belonging are more likely to enjoy their job. The study also highlighted that a sense of belonging is more likely to make employees feel engaged and motivated within their role (with 80% agreeing) and feel loyal to their organisation (with 78% agreeing).

What stops organisations from taking action?

Many organisations face a wide range of obstacles that prevent them from improving their inclusivity, diversity and equity initiatives. Understanding these challenges is important for finding appropriate, actionable solutions to improve inclusivity and organisational culture.

  1. Lack of DEI resources or DEI professionals

DEI-mature organisations embed inclusivity initiatives across all business functions and within organisational values and culture – and achieving this is a long-term goal. They seek expertise from DEI professionals, and incorporate a robust DEI governance structure to advise, drive, coordinate and monitor activity and progress.

Unfortunately, many organisations allocate inadequate resources in this area, and recent research suggests that those that do hire a DEI manager or head of diversity (often with the best intentions) fail to appreciate the scope and complexity of the role and the tasks at hand. Unrealistic expectations regarding the pace of culture change can mean that these people either burn out or quit when faced with impossible targets and workload, inadequate financial resources and/or lack of senior support. So what can be done to ensure your DEI initiatives are set up to succeed?

Firstly, allocate appropriate time and money to make a real difference.  This includes recruiting an experienced DEI professional that has the authority and experience to make changes. Secondly, think carefully about your priorities, come up with a solid strategy and avoid implementing ineffective initiatives that are knee-jerk reactions to high-profile events.  And finally, take the time to understand the challenges that your DEI practitioner will face every day, and support them appropriately.

  1. Lack of senior buy-in to the inclusion agenda

Dismissal of the inclusion agenda is another common obstacle preventing organisations from taking action. In many cases, senior leaders are either unaware of an inclusivity issue; dismissive of the importance of addressing it or recognise the problem but find themselves unable to prioritise it or provide increased resources.

Countering this challenge requires education. You can try to educate senior leaders by openly discussing the problem of lacking inclusivity or diversity, bringing key talking points that will resonate with their key challenges, and providing statistics or testimonials to support your case.  Be aware of how a DEI strategy would align with corporate strategy, vision and priorities, from a ‘business bottom line’ to a ‘moral case’ that aligns with organisational values. That way, you are more likely to capture the attention of senior leaders and come closer to improving the culture and the inclusivity of your organisation.

  1. Not knowing how or where to start

Another key roadblock is simply not knowing where to start when it comes to DEI initiatives and making significant changes. If you do not have a DEI professional within your organisation, you may struggle to identify where or how to make impactful changes in your workplace.

You can improve your position by conducting some research into your organisation’s potential problems or lacking areas. Both qualitative and quantitative data is valuable for effectively measuring DEI. You can also research other organisations to learn about the actions they took to make key changes.

Another route is to consult with external DEI professionals and asking them to provide resources or in-person training. Marshalls offers an accessible, informative and engaging microlearning diversity training suite that can help identify a starting point for improving your organisation’s inclusivity and wider culture.

What stops employees from taking action?

Not all impactful change has to come from the wider organisation itself – individual employees can also have a significant and meaningful impact on cultivating an inclusive environment. But in the same way that organisations face obstacles preventing action, so do employees. Some of the most common include:

Not recognising a lack of inclusivity

Sometimes employees can struggle to identify the lack of inclusivity within their work environment. If exclusionary behaviour is normalised, and heavily embedded within an organisation’s culture, it’s understandable that some employees may be unable to recognise it. For example, harassment and bullying – for the people who experience this, it may be so normalised that they struggle to understand that it’s inappropriate or blame themselves rather than seeing that someone else is ‘the problem’.

If you are able to identify a lack of inclusivity, or find that your workplace culture discourages openness, authenticity and learning, do not be afraid to voice your concerns and use all the support options in place across your organisation.

Education can have a significant impact on an organisation’s culture; it is often the first step to inspire action. Take the time to inform your colleagues, peers, managers and senior leaders about any problems you identify to kickstart meaningful conversations and discussions that could enact real change. For example, consider suggesting that your employer set up a staff network, if one doesn’t already exist as they contribute to building a strong sense of belonging through a communal, collective voice for staff members.

Not knowing how to consciously include or lead inclusively

Individual employees may not know where to start when it comes to taking action. You might not be sure how to cultivate greater inclusivity in your everyday role and responsibilities or, if you’re a manager, you may not know how to lead inclusively. You can change this by asking questions and trying to educate yourself. Do some research and consult your organisation’s DEI professional (if there is one) to find out how your behaviour can contribute to cultivating an inclusive culture where everyone feels that they belong.

As a manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that each of your employees feel valued, accepted and engaged. You can ensure this by asking them how they are feeling or asking for their opinions on ways in which you could be more inclusive.

Here are some conscious inclusion actions to consider implementing:

  • Prioritise and promote equality and inclusion as much as possible
  • Be aware of your personal biases and your potential to display micro-aggressions
  • Be curious about, and seek to understand experiences that are different from your own
  • Spend more time making your ‘out-groups’ feel more included
  • Find out how to be active bystander
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable
  • Don’t overthink or worry about language and terminology – try your best and be sure to learn from corrections and avoid repeated mistakes or misuse of language
  • Be ready to make mistakes – we all do! Mistakes are how we learn and grow

How Marshalls is marking National Inclusion Week

To mark National Inclusion Week, we have launched our new diversity microlearning elearning course suite, comprising of five accessible, engaging and informative courses:

These microlearning elearning courses are targeted at employees in different roles, exploring how they can take action and make a positive impact on DEI. They are important and helpful resources for organisations to proactively work towards improving their culture and prioritising inclusivity. To find out more about these courses and how you can hear them, or to hear more about most popular diversity in the workplace eLearning course, please do get in touch with our experienced team.

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