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Frequent DEI Barriers from Business Leaders

And How to Overcome Them

By Dima GhawiPublished 4 months ago 3 min read

Pitching a new diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy to business leaders can be stressful. In addition to presenting the countless benefits of DEI, we must also be prepared to overcome the executives’ fears and their unconscious biases. Here are four of the most common pieces of resistance I face from executives and advice for addressing them.

“Implementing a DEI strategy will push our traditional clients away. We cannot afford to talk about these subjects internally or externally because we may lose business.”

These executives do not realize that the majority of customers are now looking for companies with a strong DEI strategy, diverse employees, and a focus on inclusion. In addition to strengthening employee engagement and teamwork internally, DEI programs are great for public relations and outreach to minority communities. Big companies like Exxon and BASF consider the DEI strategy of each organization they work with, preferring inclusive teams with racial and gender diversity. Furthermore, a recent McKinsey study found that “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” Recruiting a diverse team is proven to benefit the bottom line and increase client relations and employee retention.

“We don’t see color. We hire based on qualifications only!”

While “not seeing color” is a great idea in writing, it fails in practice. If we fail to see color, we fail to see the disadvantages faced by our minority peers. We fail to see the homogenous office culture we are creating. We fail to see areas where we could advance our DEI strategy and create a more inclusive workplace for all. For these executives, I advise looking at the recent years of hires and evaluating their racial and gender diversity. Do these statistics match up with the demographics of the surrounding community, state, or nation? Do recent hires have a common link like attending the same university or having similar ethnicity. While leaders may have good intentions, “not looking at color” allows our unconscious biases to take the reins and influence major decisions. We must make a conscious and intentional effort to increase diversity within the workplace; this includes a strong DEI strategy. Rather than looking past color, let’s evaluate how race plays into our recruitment and hiring procedures and account for these challenges. By treating all candidates with equity, we can foster inclusion within the workplace.

“Are you telling us that we have to start hiring people that are not qualified just because they are minorities?”

This question is laced with unconscious bias and stereotyping. Before even considering diverse candidates in the field, some hiring managers believe these unique individuals will be underqualified. These leaders want their company to be functioning at the highest capacity; however, by overlooking minority candidates because of negative untrue assumptions, they are actually hindering their teams.

This issue can be faced with unconscious bias training, encouraging hiring managers to evaluate their internal prejudices and better understand discrimination within the workplace. Through this process, leaders can gain awareness and a more diverse team.

“Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) will create a greater divide in our office!”

This statement couldn’t be further from the truth for a well-structured Employee Network. ERGs are a great way to increase diversity, encourage healthy dialogue, and supplement an ongoing DEI strategy. These organizations revolve around minority groups, like parents, people of color, or LGBTQ individuals. Through open events and meetings, ERGs stimulate conversation, create a safe space for difficult discussions, and stimulate relationship building. However, I frequently get this comment when an executive has seen these networks integrated wrongly. If both members and allies are encouraged to attend events and excited to participate in open discussions, these networks will breed teamwork and integration rather than exclusion.

While many of the business leaders may not be aware of their own biases when making these statements, we must have the courage to highlight how these biases have a negative effect on the work culture and the bottom link. With intentionality and determination, we can influence a positive change and create a ripple effect of inclusion within the workplace and surrounding communities.


Dima Ghawi is the founder of a global talent development company with a primary mission for advancing individuals in leadership. Through keynote speeches, training programs and executive coaching, Dima has empowered thousands of professionals across the globe to expand their leadership potential. In addition, she provides guidance to business executives to develop diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and to implement a multi-year plan for advancing quality leaders from within the organization.

Reach her at and

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About the Creator

Dima Ghawi

Dima is an award-winning author and a three-time TEDx Speaker. Through keynote speeches, workshops, training programs, and executive coaching, she has honed a keen expertise in developing leaders to meet the demands of the global workforce.

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