Imagine a Black employee comes to you with complaints of their manager being discriminative against Black employees with natural afros. And then an LGBTQ+ employee complains fellow employees are being discriminative. These are both barriers to DEIB. But then, imagine that you’re not sure how to handle the 2 situations.

Why? Because you might not have a DEIB policy in place.

Several studies show the benefits of removing barriers to diversity in the workplace. A Gartner study found:

“75% of organizations with frontline decision-making teams reflecting a diverse and inclusive culture will exceed their financial targets.”

And a study by McKinsey & Co found:

“companies whose boards are in the top quartile of gender diversity are 28% more likely than their peers to outperform financially.”

What is diversity conflict in the workplace?

Diversity conflict in the workplace happens when people from different backgrounds or identities clash over ideas, beliefs, or actions. 

This conflict can arise for many reasons. Sometimes, it’s because of misunderstandings or stereotypes. Other times, it’s due to differences in values or communication styles. But, hatever the cause, diversity conflict can create tension and disrupt teamwork.

For example, imagine a team where one member makes a joke that offends another member because of their ethnicity. Or, maybe there’s a disagreement about how to approach a project because team members have different cultural perspectives.

So, how do we address diversity conflict in the workplace?

It starts with understanding and empathy. Instead of jumping to conclusions or getting defensive, we should take the time to listen to each other’s perspectives and try to understand where the other person is coming from.

Communication is also key. Open and honest dialogue can help resolve misunderstandings and find common ground. So, this might involve having difficult conversations or seeking mediation from a neutral third party.

Additionally, organizations can take proactive steps to prevent diversity conflict. This might include providing training on cultural sensitivity and unconscious bias, promoting inclusive communication practices, and fostering a culture of respect and understanding.

Even though there’s been a push towards creating more diverse and inclusive teams, barriers still remain. Here you’ll find 6 main barriers to diversity and tips on how to break them.

Let’s dive in.

1. Lack of diverse leadership

The lack of relatable role models in senior positions is one of the biggest barriers to employee inclusion.

A Women in the Workplace 2021 report by McKinsey shows:

The percentage of women of color in the C-suite is 4%, 62% for white men, 20% for white women, and 13% for men of color.

Because of the lack of diverse leaders, employees from underrepresented groups are less likely to feel comfortable or included.

Lack of diversity in leadership also keeps candidates from applying to work at your organization.

So, how can you create a diverse management team? Here are 4 ways:

  • Develop a bias-free recruitment strategy
  • Invest in DEI training for your existing employees and leaders
  • Get buy-in from key stakeholders make the process easier
  • Promote existing employees from underrepresented groups


2. Cultural misunderstandings

Cultural misunderstandings based on religion, ethnicity, generation, and language are common when you bring employees from diverse cultures together.

For example, patting someone on the back, or greeting someone with your left hand is offensive in some cultures. So, to prevent barriers to cultural diversity in your organization:

  • Create sensitivity training programs. This form of training will help your employees develop a sense of empathy towards each other and their different cultures.
  • Create communication and cultural events. Employee resource groups (ERGs) are an excellent resource for this. For example, have your ERGs alternate to host events like a lunch party where everyone can come with dishes from their traditional culture.
  • Implement diversity reporting and policy procedures to address cultural differences or issues.


3. Inequitable inclusion

The concept of an inclusive workplace may mean different things for different people. 

For example, equitable inclusion for transgender employees may mean including gender-neutral bathrooms or having a chance for them to add their pronouns on workplace platforms. 

And for Black employees, it may mean wearing a natural afro in the office.

Then, for employees with a disability, it may mean increasing the screen sizes during work presentations.

So, to implement an equitable workplace, get feedback from your employees and pay attention to what will impact them.  But also focus on feedback from underrepresented employees who might feel like least included or supported.

We talked to Trey Ferro, CEO at  Spot Pet Insurance, to learn about steps they’ve taken to ensure equality for all. This is what he said:

“Oftentimes companies forget the accessibility factor of an inclusive workforce and end up focusing on only race and gender. Our non-discrimination workplace policy ensures impartial access to equipment, procedures, and systems. And, we seek to ensure that employees of all abilities are able to access the information and resources they need to perform their jobs.”


4. Communication problems

All co.s face problems with communication. And poor communication can lead to unconscious bias, unintentional offense, and mistrust.

So, as you increase diversity, you’ll also experience challenges communicating with international employees who have different time schedules and languages. Also, you can easily cause unintentional offenses in this kind of situation.

To overcome language barriers in the workplace, ensure you:

  • Help your workers achieve common language proficiency through training
  • Research the local customs of your international employees or learn how to speak to them in their first language
  • Avoid jargon or cliches, and encourage clear language instead

The map below shows the phrase “make hay,” “peel the onion,” “drill down,” and others are at the top of the list of corporate cliches found in U.S.-based JDs. These might create communication barriers when hiring diverse candidates:

canva job ad cliches
source: Ongig


5. Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias means attitudes and judgments about certain groups, often based on inaccurate information.

So, this judging and stereotyping is a big barrier to workplace diversity. These unconscious biases are also difficult to manage because, by nature, they happen unintentionally.

But, by educating all of your employees about the different types of unconscious bias, you’ll be making steps forward in your DEIB policy. And you’ll see an improvement in diversity when it comes to matters like promotions, onboarding, and using inclusive phrases in your job descriptions.


6. Lack of training

All of the above are caused by the biggest barrier: a lack of training designed for inclusion and diversity.

When done well, educating both your existing and future employees, will lead to a more inclusive and balanced workplace. This is because all employees will have learned to act with empathy towards each other, regardless of differences.

We talked to John Ross, CEO of  Test Prep Insight, to learn how he implemented a diversity and training program at his company. This is what he said:

“One thing that became immediately clear as we tried to adopt a more robust DEI policy this past year was that we had no internal expertise. So to get around this, we hired a DEI consultant. 

We found her on LinkedIn and paid her to assess our organization’s current efforts, make recommendations, and craft a new policy for us. Honestly, without outside input, it would have been impossible.”

Creating an inclusive workplace is a work in progress. It takes time (and commitment) to get it right.

Systemic Discrimination

Systemic discrimination refers to deeply ingrained unfair practices or policies within organizations or society. These barriers hinder diverse teams, ethnic minorities, and individuals of different backgrounds, impeding DEIB initiatives and an inclusive work environment.

In real life, systemic discrimination manifests as a minority member hitting a glass ceiling or seeing a lack of diversity in leadership roles. It often operates subtly through implicit biases, influencing hiring and retention.

Overcoming systemic discrimination demands systemic change, addressing power dynamics, and holding leaders accountable. Organizations can implement DEIB initiatives, provide informal mentoring, and prioritize inclusive cultures.

Recognizing that change takes time, organizations can actively address systemic discrimination to foster diversity, engagement, and business success. By making systemic changes, we create workplaces where everyone can thrive.

Lack of Representation

Lack of representation is a significant barrier to diversity and inclusion. It means certain groups, like ethnic minorities or those with diverse backgrounds, aren’t adequately seen or heard. This can lead to homogeneous teams, where diverse perspectives are lacking, hindering innovation and understanding.

Addressing this barrier requires active steps. It means actively seeking diverse talent for leadership roles, implementing DEIB initiatives, and fostering a culture where everyone’s voice is valued.

Mentorship programs and blind hiring processes can help break down barriers and promote diversity. By prioritizing representation, organizations not only do what’s right but also improve business performance.


Microaggressions are subtle yet impactful remarks or actions that undermine inclusivity. These small comments, often unintentional, can erode trust and morale among diverse teams.

To address microaggressions, education and awareness are key. Providing training on implicit bias helps employees recognize and understand their impact. Leaders must lead by example and address microaggressions promptly.

Clear reporting mechanisms empower employees to speak up. By tackling microaggressions, organizations foster inclusivity, engagement, and ultimately, business success through diversity and inclusion.

Barriers to Accessibility

Barriers to accessibility hinder full participation in the workplace and society. From physical obstacles to technological challenges, they limit diverse perspectives and contributions.

To address this, we must prioritize empathy and understanding. Conducting accessibility audits and providing training on best practices helps ensure inclusivity.

Creating a culture of inclusion involves actively involving individuals with disabilities in decision-making. By prioritizing accessibility, we not only do what’s right but also foster a more engaged and diverse workforce, leading to greater success for all.

Barriers to Career Progression

Barriers to career progression hinder diverse talent from reaching leadership roles. So, challenges include implicit bias, lack of representation, and power dynamics.

To overcome these barriers, organizations must prioritize diversity and inclusion. Training on bias recognition, mentorship programs, and intentional succession planning are key.

By breaking down barriers, companies not only foster inclusive cultures but also drive business success through diverse leadership teams.


Tokenism, a common barrier to DEIB, occurs when organizations superficially include individuals from diverse backgrounds without addressing deeper issues. It can lead to feelings of isolation and fails to address systemic inequalities.

In addition, to overcome tokenism, organizations must prioritize genuine diversity and inclusion. This means going beyond symbolic gestures and actively addressing systemic barriers.

Concrete actions include setting diversity targets, providing bias training, and implementing mentorship programs for underrepresented groups.

So, by moving beyond tokenism, we can create workplaces where everyone feels valued and empowered to succeed.


Intersectionality is about understanding how different aspects of identity intersect and shape experiences. So, it acknowledges that each person’s identity is multifaceted, encompassing factors like race, gender, and sexual orientation.

To apply intersectionality, we must value diverse perspectives and recognize the unique challenges faced by individuals with intersecting identities. Therefore, organizations can promote equity by implementing inclusive policies that address systemic inequalities.

So, by embracing intersectionality, we create workplaces where everyone feels valued, heard, and included, moving beyond simple categories to recognize the full complexity of human identity.

How to overcome barriers to DEIB?

Breaking down barriers to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) is essential for creating a workplace where everyone feels valued and respected. But how do we do it?

Let’s explore some practical steps we can take to overcome these barriers.

  1. Educate and Raise Awareness: Start by providing training on DEIB topics such as implicit bias, cultural sensitivity, and inclusive communication. So, this helps team members understand the importance of diversity and how their actions can impact others.
  1. Promote Inclusive Leadership: Senior leaders play a crucial role in driving DEIB initiatives. So, encourage them to lead by example, championing diversity and creating a culture of inclusivity from the top down.
  1. Implement Effective Practices: Incorporate best practices for DEIB into your organization’s policies and procedures. This might include inclusive hiring practices, diverse talent development programs, and regular assessments of workplace culture.
  1. Foster Open Dialogue: Encourage open and honest communication about DEIB issues within your team. So, create safe spaces for employees to share their experiences and perspectives, and actively listen to their feedback.
  1. Provide Resources and Support: Offer resources and support for employees from diverse backgrounds, such as mentorship programs, affinity groups, and access to professional development opportunities.
  1. Take Action on Feedback: Actively seek feedback from employees about DEIB initiatives and listen to their suggestions for improvement. So, use this feedback to make meaningful changes that address the needs of your team.
  1. Hold Everyone Accountable: Hold everyone accountable for promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace. This includes setting clear expectations, recognizing and addressing instances of bias or discrimination, and fostering a culture of accountability.

Organizations that take these proactive steps can overcome barriers to DEIB and create a workplace where all employees feel valued, respected, and empowered to succeed. It’s not always easy, but by working together and committing to change, we can build a more inclusive future for everyone.



Ongig’s mission is to create effective and inclusive job descriptions. Learning about the barriers to diversity above helps you understand areas where you might need improvement, including in your JDs. This is where Ongig can help! Please request a demo to learn more.



  1. Diversity wins, how inclusion matters by McKinsey
  2. Diversity and Inclusion: Build High Performing Teams by Gartner
  3. Women in the Workplace 2021 Report by McKinsey
  4. Trey Ferro, CEO at  Spot Pet Insurance 
  5. John Ross, CEO of  Test Prep Insight 

This is a guest post from Harrison Mbuiv, a freelance content writer for HR Tech and B2B SaaS brands. Harrison helps HR Tech and B2B SaaS companies create better content.

by in Diversity and Inclusion