• Estimated read time: 6 mins
  • Date posted:16/12/2019
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Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook stated that “We need to resist the tyranny of low expectations. We need to open our eyes to the inequality that remains. We won’t unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are” (Thrive Global, 2017).

Diversity is taking the Human Resources (HR) world by storm; many life science organisations are recognising the benefits of a diverse workforce. However, it’s not without its challenges. With employees working upwards of 35 hours a week, in close proximity to one another, conflict will inevitably arise, and without a little due diligence on your side, workplace diversity can fan the flames.

There’s no denying the many advantages of workplace diversity; increased productivity, better problem-solving abilities and financial growth. For more benefits of workplace diversity, read our blog: The Ultimate Business Case For Diversity In The Workplace. However, what a lot of hiring managers and CEOs don’t realise is that, while workplace diversity sounds intuitive, it can be challenging to put into practice. Decision-makers must be aware of the potential issues they face so that they can be prepared with strategies to combat against them and ensure diversity initiatives take account of:

  • Acquired diversity: This involves differences in skills, education and experiences. Acquired differences help to produce constructive debate amongst employees when problem-solving to help them arrive at the best solution. For this reason, debate based on differences should be encouraged as it can be advantageous to the organisation and, provided it is moderated isn’t harmful.
  • Inherent diversity: This involves differences in gender, race and age. However, this type of diversity can create interpersonal conflict amongst employees due to biases and prejudices against those who are different. Conflicts based on inherent diversity can be lengthy and require careful management to avoid low performance and morale.

It may seem surprising that in this day and age diversity is problematic, but here are a few facts to keep in mind when considering introducing diversity into your organisation:

Here are several challenges that can arise with diverse workforces:

1. Communication issues

When you have a diverse workforce, communication between team members can become challenging. For many members of your team, English might not be their first language. Language barriers could mean that team members ineffectively communicate and have difficulties understanding one another. Failure to fully comprehend instructions could lead to a significant drop in productivity and team synergy.

Organisations with diversity plans strive to tackle the gender and age gap. Employees may find it challenging to understand each other if differences in demographics encourage them to use slang or particular kinds of language. For example, female employees may talk more politely, avoid swear words and use more tag questions than male employees, which could lead to misunderstandings. Or younger employees may use different terminology and slang which older generations are unfamiliar with. Communication issues like these can crop up all the time, not just in the workplace, but outside of it too.

    • Agree on a common language and an appropriate workplace discourse to avoid miscommunication.
    • Although this can be difficult, try to hire as many bilingual employees as possible. It’s also a significant competitive advantage having employees with advanced bilingual abilities, especially if you’re an international organisation. Be patient with employees; understandably, it might take them a little while to adjust. Even if their English is basic, they will soon learn if given the chance. Offer support and tell your employees to do the same.
    • Encourage your employees to ask for clarification if they are unsure about what they’re being asked to do. Better to clarify matters at the outset then rectify faults later.

2. Too many opinions

With their different backgrounds and experiences, diverse employees have different ways of approaching the same scenario and putting forth their ideas. Employees who do so are extremely valuable to your organisation; they will keep driving innovative ideas and identify issues. However, an excessive number of opinions can lead to failure to reach a consensus. Particularly innovative solutions to problems may go unnoticed amongst the plethora of other ideas. Too many opinions can compromise the organisation’s ability to stick to tight deadlines due to this reduction in productivity.

      • Elect a committee of high-performing executives who will hear every opinion and make the final decision themselves. If a consensus cannot be reached, the committee can evaluate all of the options and identify the best one. Once a majority has been established amongst the committee, then you have your decision.

3. Hostility

As much as we hate to admit it, humans make decisions based on biases, rather than on facts and logic. Sadly, this is no different in the workplace; employees will base their decisions and judgements on unconscious biases despite their best intentions. Distrust can arise as employees doubt each others ability to do their jobs. “They’re different to me so I can’t trust them” or “They don’t know what they’re doing” are common thoughts.

      • Hiring managers need to be able to recognise the signs of hostility. Diversity training for employees can also help to educate them and mitigate any bias. With awareness training, employees will understand that differences between colleagues are beneficial and nothing to fret about.
      • Communicate your company values; resistant employees will eventually realise that their values no longer align with that of their employer and leave. If you’re concerned about losing star employees, just remember that quality employees who align with your values are more beneficial to your mission and vision.

4. Diversity implementation challenges

Creating a diverse workforce looks good on paper, but it can be challenging to effectively implement it. Although there’s plenty of diversity guides out there, there’s no one-size-fits-all diversity plan that works. That is because diversity means different things to different people.

Enforcing diversity is the responsibility of hiring managers and senior decision-makers. In fact, 38% of executives reported that the primary sponsor of diversity and inclusion efforts is the CEO. If your CEO isn’t on board with creating a more diverse and inclusive atmosphere then how do you expect to convince your employees of the new direction your organisation is heading? The only problem is, with 41% of managers reported being “too busy” to implement diversity initiatives, progress can quickly stifle. With their own agenda, managers don’t always have the time to manage such a large and time-consuming operation, meaning that diversity plans don’t receive the attention they deserve and require.

Your employees will feel frustrated if the transition to a more diverse future isn’t a smooth one. For many established life science organisations, implementing a diversity initiative can be a complete 180 from the origins of the organisation. A lot of people are resistant to change, so don’t be alarmed if you receive some initial hostility. Humans are creatures of habit; they won’t want to change their way of doing things, especially if this is deeply ingrained in their mind.

      • It is of paramount importance that you communicate to employees the value in pursuing workplace diversity. Once your employees understand the benefits that diverse employees could bring to the organisation, they’ll be much more willing and patient during the implementation process.
      • Arrange diversity training so that employees can learn about the benefits and how to respect their colleagues.
      • Make no mistake, diversity plans shouldn’t be rushed. You must spend quality time crafting them to ensure that you achieve your goals, but are also prepared to resolve challenges should they arise.

5. Retain bad talent

If your goal is to diversify your workforce, you might hold onto diverse employees that currently work for your organisation simply because they boost your diversity figures. However, with poor performers, comes a reduction in productivity, morale and innovation.

      • It’s counterproductive to hold onto employees who are unable to do their job effectively. If an employee isn’t performing and no amount of additional training is helping, you should consider letting them go. The ideal replacement could be just around the corner. Don’t sacrifice the success of your organisation for one underperforming employee, regardless of their diversity.

Diversity in the workplace can bring positive changes to your organisation, but it also has the potential to introduce challenges. While these challenges can be extremely inconvenient and damaging to your entire organisation, they can be avoided. Be prepared to combat the challenges listed above before your diversity initiative is implemented. If you rush your diversity plans, you risk causing even bigger challenges that are harder to resolve.


For more hiring advice tailored to hiring managers in the life science industry…

* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.