Signs of Lack of Diversity in the Workplace

There are two critical questions company leaders should ask. Does your company lack diversity in the workplace? Does your company report diversity numbers but has workplace inclusion issues? Pointing to the numbers that show your company’s recruiting and hiring efforts have successfully met diversity goals is admirable, but it’s only one step in the right direction. If your company struggles to meet diversity goals, it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate your talent management processes. 

Many companies struggle to meet recruiting and hiring diversity organizational goals. Others meet recruiting goals but not hiring goals, or they meet both but experience a high turnover rate of diverse employees, including minorities and women. It’s important to understand that hiring diverse employees doesn’t mean you can retain diverse employees or that your organizational culture is inclusive.  

Workplace Struggles Point to Lack of Diversity

One of the signs a company has a reputation as having a culture that isn’t inclusive is when it can’t attract diverse job candidates in the first place, or talented and diverse employees leave for other jobs. There are many signs of a lack of diversity in the workplace. Some are obvious, and some are not so obvious, and the same is true for workplace inclusion and belonging. Counting heads based on personal characteristics for reporting purposes provides virtually no information about things like microaggressions, bias on a day-to-day basis, and the organizational culture.  

Following are some of the signs an organization has a lack of diversity in the workplace or has a lack of diversity and inclusion.   

8 Signs There is a Lack of Diversity in The Workplace 

Diversity is Mostly About Demographic Numbers

Though hiring diverse employees is necessary to develop a diverse workforce, focusing on headcount numbers doesn’t demonstrate inclusion. Without inclusion, talented and high potential diverse employees aren’t likely to remain with the company to develop a career.  

Ask your millennial employees, and you’re likely to discover they aren’t interested in head counting or statistics focused on demographics. They are interested in the level of employee engagement, workplace inclusion, employee voice, and the organizational culture. As a diverse population, they believe that diversity and inclusion should embrace people with different life experiences, perspectives, and ideas that come naturally with workforce diversity. 

Difficulty Attracting Diverse Candidates 

To develop a diverse workforce, you must become an employer of choice. The goal of diversity recruiting and hiring is not to simply increase workplace diversity for the sake of increasing diversity. It is to identify and reduce as much as possible the biases in the recruiting process and then assess all job candidates without bias. A lack of diversity in the workplace is a sign there are barriers in your talent management system. Perhaps your recruiters aren’t recruiting in the right places, or your hiring managers have unconscious biases and always find reasons to exclude job candidates different from themselves. 

Suppose your company has difficulty attracting diverse job candidates. In that case, it’s either because biases are built into recruiting systems, recruiters express unconscious bias when personally recruiting, or the company has a reputation for lack of diversity or inclusion. A SurveyMonkey poll reported by CNBC found that employees who don’t believe their company is doing enough to prioritize D&I have a lower Workforce Happiness Index score of 63, which is below the average score of 72. These kinds of issues influence people’s choices of the companies they are willing to work for.   

lack of diversity

High Turnover Rate for Diverse Employees  

If the turnover rate is higher for diverse employees compared to non-diverse employees, there is a problem. The turnover rates should be figured at the company, functional, and department levels. One supervisor may have an inclusive department culture and a diverse workforce. In contrast, another supervisor is biased, has few diverse employees, and cannot retain the employed employees. It’s important to drill down and produce metrics that pinpoint specific areas where D&I in the workplace is lacking.  

The Leadership Pipeline Lacks Diversity

A lack of diversity in the workforce can take several forms. For example, companies continue to struggle with increasing diversity in their leadership pipelines. Gartner surveyed heads of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and found they were prioritizing the advancement of underrepresented talent (or at least thought they were). Yet, at the senior level, only 10 percent of positions were held by women of color and only 18 percent by a man of color. Advancement barriers include a lack of mentors, too little exposure to senior leaders, and unclear career paths. True employee support is missing.

The company experiences a high number of complaints concerning discriminatory behaviors by managers, supervisors, and/or coworkers 

As companies become more aware of issues like unconscious bias and microaggressions, they recognize that discriminatory behaviors are not always expressed in obvious ways. One of the signs of a lack of inclusion in the workplace is a high number of complaints or grievances filed by employees who believe they are experiencing discrimination in some manner. It could be anything from daily microaggressions, like unsavory jokes at the expense of Black or Asian employees, or supervisors who consistently give white employees more training opportunities or recommendations for promotion and find ways to justify their behaviors. Perhaps your managers unintentionally talk down to diverse employees without even realizing it, relying on preconceived notions about people.  

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Address Complaints of Discrimination

When your company experiences regular complaints of discrimination, it indicates your organizational culture and supervisor diversity training needs attention.

It’s important to address each complaint and identify the base issues. Ignoring the complaints will assuredly lead to a toxic culture. A Rice University study found that the language leaders use when employees come to them with gripes or ideas influences whether others will approach them. The study found: 

  • Organizations can offer leadership training and development on maintaining voice exchange relationships even when the leaders don’t support the employee suggestions.  
  • Leaders need to express sensitivity in their responses when they don’t support employee suggestions. 
  • Employees are much more likely to engage in the conversation when leader explanations are delivered in a sensitive manner. (voice safety)  

Gartner’s recommendation is to fix the manager-employee relationship through leadership development programs. Your leaders need positive employee relationships that lead to advocacy and advancement of all employees, including underrepresented ones. Your managers and supervisors need to develop an awareness of the employee experience of staff and build trust.  

It’s likely your managers and supervisors need D&I training to strengthen their understanding of biased behaviors and how their language and communication style influences employee personal relations. 

Your leaders need positive #employee relationships that lead to #advocacy and advancement of all employees, including underrepresented ones. #employeerelations #diversity #leadershiptraining

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Diverse Employees Have Low or No Representation on Important Projects or Fail to Speak Up When They are Included  

You may not have a lack of diversity in the workplace, but you might have a lack of diversity in participation. For example, do diverse employees get equal opportunities to participate in project teams? If they do, are they willing to speak up? 

University of Pennsylvania study explored what prompts people to speak up or stay silent. The people who speak up are the ones who are confident their ideas will impact the organization, the team, and themselves. They believe they are safe in expressing themselves. People who stay silent fear being shunned. Your employees who are afraid to speak up can’t express their authentic selves, and it’s missed opportunities to identify biases and hear new perspectives. It’s new perspectives that are the source of innovation. 

No Mandatory Training on D&I or Respectful Workplaces  

One of the reasons companies fail to train leaders and employees on D&I is because the top leaders don’t understand what it means to the company’s ability to innovate and achieve long-term success. D&I should be a strategic business imperative with an operating plan for diversity and inclusion, and it’s your managers and supervisors who ensure diverse employees are able to fully contribute their talents, perspectives, and creativity.  

Your leaders need skills in cultural sensitivity and the ability to identify and address cultural differences. They should understand what defines a respectful workplace and inclusion. 

Today, it’s easy to train your leaders and track their participation in training. For example, A Better Leader offers self-paced online leadership training courses that cover a range of topics. This type of leadership training is crucial to ensuring they understand how to engage all employees in an inclusive manner. 

Employee Engagement Surveys Reveal Diverse Employees Feel Less Engaged

Suppose you conduct employee engagement surveys, and there is a disparity between white and diverse employees, with diverse employees experiencing less engagement. In that case, it’s a sign there is a lack of inclusion and belonging. In the Proactive Era, you must proactively develop positive employee relations with all employees. Belonging takes inclusion to a higher level, in that employees can bring their authentic selves to work knowing their perspectives, ideas, and contributions are valued.  

Start with Leadership Training

A lack of diversity in the workplace should be addressed strategically. This means doing things like evaluating the current Human Resources policies, developing objective data for decision-making, and recognizing the existence of conscious and unconscious bias. Setting shared goals is important, but tying all this together is leadership training on Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace. Top-down messaging supporting D&I is critical, but it’s your managers and supervisors who maintain the inclusive culture every day. 

The A Better Leader Team has developed a Diversity & Inclusion training course for your leaders at all levels. The training includes the challenges your leaders face making D&I operational realities, effective communication, and overcoming biases. Without ongoing leadership training, you leave your organization vulnerable in so many ways. 

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Director of IRI's Digital Workplace Solutions Group, and the founder of A Better Leader. Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.