Top DEI Challenges Facing Employers

November 15, 2023
9 min read

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are designed to cultivate a more inclusive workplace. Employers implementing such programs face challenges in several aspects of their business, from recruiting and hiring policies, to tuition assistance benefits and talent succession planning, to pay equity and benefits, and struggle to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of their DEI initiatives. They also face considerable DEI  challenges stemming from lack of awareness, unconscious bias and resistance to change. 

In this article, we will take a close look at the DEI challenges facing today’s employers, and how they can overcome them in their quest to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace culture.   

Lack of Awareness and Understanding 

Looming large among DEI challenges in the workplace is a basic lack of awareness of the impact of DEI issues. An inclusive workplace is one in which everyone feels a sense of belonging. They feel valued, and they feel as though their voice is heard. This isn’t always the case for members of underrepresented groups, or those who may simply be more introverted by nature. A successful DEI initiative is one that considers every individual’s point of view.

Unconscious bias is a powerful but intangible force that lurks just beneath the surface, deeply ingrained in human nature. Defined simply, unconscious bias is the prejudicial and often instinctive feelings we have towards other people, or groups of people, based on physical, cultural or other differences. Stubbornly resisting even the most thorough and well-intentioned inclusivity training, unconscious biases reinforce cultural or racial stereotypes and affect a broad swath of decision-making processes in recruiting, hiring, promotions, talent succession and other areas.

Recruitment and Hiring Practices

In various aspects of the recruiting and hiring process, such as job descriptions, interviews and candidate selection, organizations desiring a more inclusive culture should be taking strides to attract diverse talent and keep unconscious bias at bay. Job descriptions should be written using inclusive language and tested with a diverse group of people before posting. 

In the interview process, unconscious bias can be stifled by standardizing interviews so that the same questions are asked of every candidate, in the same order. Rather than relying on candidates’ self-assessments, case-based interviews, whereby each candidate is asked to solve a problem similar to one the company might actually face, could be a way to evaluate candidates more objectively.

Related Content

Inclusive Company Culture

One of the DEI challenges facing organizations of any size is how to create a culture of inclusion,  in which all employees are valued, respected and made to feel welcomed. Maintaining a sense of community when teams are likely to be working entirely remotely, or under some hybrid arrangement that mixes remote work with on-site work, can be a major challenge to employers’ inclusivity efforts. If employees aren’t working in the same location, they may struggle to feel a sense of belonging, be less inclined to voice opinions or provide feedback, or be subject to something called “proximity bias” – the tendency to be biased in favor of those employees who work physically closer to senior decision makers. 

A 2021 Gartner survey validates this concern, revealing that 64% of managers and executives believe in-office employees are higher performers than their remotely-working counterparts, and 76% believe the in-office workers are more likely to be promoted. In hiring and promoting from within their organizations, employers must ensure that promotional opportunities are based on objective standards and that work location is not a factor in their decision making.  

Advancement and Retention of Diverse Talent 

In a 2022 lawsuit, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores alleged the NFL and its teams systematically discriminated against him and other Black personnel. The high-profile suit cast a harsh spotlight on the league, its teams and their owners, and renewed focus on DEI in hiring, advancement and retention of people from underrepresented groups. 

Flores claimed the NFL violated section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act, as well as state and local discrimination laws, in their hiring, promotion, retention and compensation decisions. He alleged that, while 70% of the league’s players at the time identified as Black or African American and that former players routinely pursue coaching or management positions in the league, this systematic racism resulted in an alarming lack of Black representation at the coaching level. At the time of the suit, the NFL had among its 32 teams only one Black head coach. Only 4 teams employed a Black offensive coordinator, 11 employed a Black defensive coordinator and 3 employed a Black quarterbacks coach. 

Flores sought monetary damages and asked the court to order the NFL to give Black individuals greater influence in hiring and termination decisions for head coaching jobs and other key positions, and to increase the number of Black offensive and defensive coordinators.

America’s racial reckoning during the 2 years leading up to the Flores lawsuit motivated many organizations to acknowledge the vast wealth gap between white and Black Americans, and that corporate efforts to address racial inequality in the workplace had, for the most part, come up short. 

Along the DEI journey, a focus on belonging, support and trust is the key to making tangible progress in attracting, retaining and advancing diverse talent. The Flores suit and its characterization of the NFL painted a highly detailed picture of the breakdown in belonging, support and trust between the NFL’s leadership and its Black players and coaches.  Most of America’s C-suites lack diversity, so many executives find it difficult to understand how their companies’ structures, processes or environments fail to offer that belonging, trust and support equally to all members of the organization. 

By identifying and addressing barriers to advancement and implementing equitable performance evaluation and promotion processes, employer organizations can make strides in not only retaining diverse individuals, but proving pathways for advancement.

This advancement can be further nurtured by mentorship and sponsorship programs and employee resource groups that allow underrepresented employees to feel that sense of belonging, bring their “whole selves” to work and experience the support that is crucial to their success. 

Pay Equity and Benefits

Equal pay for equal work is a principle that many of us assume is being upheld in the modern, inclusive workplace, but the reality is that the “gender pay gap” persists. According to Payscale’s 2023 Gender Pay Gap Report, women are still being paid less than men when doing the same jobs, and the pay gap is wider for women of color. The Payscale report further reveals that women of color see the fewest opportunities for advancement and Asian professionals, despite higher earnings in general, lag far behind other groups in attaining leadership roles. Employers can make strides toward pay equity by evaluating and addressing these disparities and promoting transparency in salary structures and promotion criteria. 

Because closing the pay gap is so essential in recruiting, retaining and advancing talent, HR professionals can play a critical role in advancing pay equity initiatives and making sure that pay equity is a plank in their organization’s DEI platform. Some of the actions HR professionals can take include:

  • Getting buy-in from executive leadership by detailing how inequities negatively impact the organization and its culture.

  • Conducting pay audits to analyze the size and scope of the gap in their organizations.

  • Thoroughly scrutinizing their diversity landscape to get an accurate picture of DEI efforts and an assessment of racial, ethnic and gender representation in different job groups at different levels.

  • Ensuring employee benefits programs like tuition policies are aligned with company DEI initiatives. 

  • Determining if diverse groups of employees are included in high-profile work or in publicity about company achievements.

Measuring and Evaluating DEI Initiatives

The results of a 2022 diversity, equity and inclusion study indicate that companies struggle to measure the results of their DEI progress. Among those using metrics to measure the current status of DEI efforts in their organizations, more than half rely on basic compliance-oriented workforce data. Fewer organizations evaluate diversity in their leadership ranks, recruiting outcomes and diversity goals related to succession planning and equal job titles.

Knowing what to measure is a good place to begin gaining a better understanding of what a more diverse and inclusive workplace looks like, and how the organization can continually improve. The process begins by establishing the metrics and benchmarks that allow them to measure the results of their DEI efforts. Regular assessments can then provide the basis for adjustments.

Here are some important inclusivity metrics:

  • Diversity of employees vs. applicants: If your applicants for open roles are extremely diverse but your workforce is not, examine your recruiting process to see if various types of biases have come into play. 

  • Diversity and inclusion across organization levels: An entry-level team that is extremely diverse managed by a leadership team that doesn’t reflect diversity could be an area for improvement in the way your organization promotes from within. The percentages of women and minorities in leadership roles should be measured independently.

  • Job satisfaction: The subjective nature of satisfaction makes this metric a bit challenging, but you can measure happiness, inter-team relationships and recognition through surveys to gauge how employees feel about their jobs. 

  • Job retention: If you find that a large number of diverse hires are leaving, then you might have an inclusivity problem, or something deeper. High employee turnover may be an indication that people have felt unfulfilled or lacked a sense of belonging. 

Overcoming Resistance and Building Commitment

Some organizations may struggle to launch and sustain their DEI programs because of employee resistance or leadership’s failure to champion the effort internally. Managers may be resistant to change based on a perceived increase in job responsibilities without additional compensation.

Resistance to diversity itself is another challenge. To some, DEI initiatives may look like a form of reverse discrimination. This perspective may be influenced by misinformation or a misinterpretation of the program’s goals. To overcome this challenge, it’s crucial to communicate the program’s benefits accurately and often, including the business case for diversity

Rather than being a top-down decree, it’s important for employees at all levels to be involved in the planning and implementation process, as this could go a long way in building support and a sustained commitment to the program. 

Without the full-throated support of executive leadership, any DEI program could be perceived as just another HR department project. Company leaders must prioritize the program and consistently communicate the importance of its goals. Members of the company’s senior leadership team must also model inclusive behavior, engaging with and valuing the contributions of underrepresented individuals. A long-term goal should be to weave DEI principles into the organization’s cultural fabric, so that it is no longer considered a “program” or “ initiative” but a guiding and enduring core principle. 

Pay Equity and Benefits

At DeVryWorks, we can design customized learning pathways that help you close talent gaps and addresses your talent succession challenges while aligning with your DEI initiatives. Maximize employee engagement, retention and advancement with a smart, inclusive tuition benefits program. 

Discover what DeVryWorks can do for your organization. Contact us today.