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Diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

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7 Other barriers

As well as the emotional and psychological barriers already described this week, there might be other barriers to nurturing diversity in your workplace that you can have less of a direct influence on. In this section you’ll explore two of them.

Illustration of different physical barriers.

Occupational segregation

The American Psychological Association (APA, no date) defines occupational segregation as

‘the extent to which people of the same gender or ethnicity are employed in some occupations to the exclusion of others.‘

Many sectors experience the impact of occupational segregation for a variety of reasons, but it is commonly discussed in the context of gender and the gender stereotyping that begins with young children.

Lakritz (2019) describes ten occupations that are still dominated by men in the US, including:

  • Software developer (19% women)
  • Construction industry worker (9.9% women)
  • Aerospace engineer (7.8% women)
  • Aircraft pilot and flight engineer (5.2% women)
  • Firefighter (3.5% women).

If your organisation represents one of these industries, you may struggle with maintaining a positive gender balance within your workplace, but there are things your sector can do (and is probably doing already) to broaden its talent pool. For example, Williams (2019) explains what the UK’s tech industry is doing to tackle gender imbalance, including introducing:

  • mentorship schemes
  • enhanced parental benefits and shared parental leave
  • flexible working and a ‘work from anywhere’ culture
  • fair recruitment processes
  • unconscious bias training.

Occupational segregation can also be relevant in other contexts. For example Vieira (2016) highlights the overrepresentation of gay and lesbian workers in psychology, law, social work, and university teaching. Their research concludes that these are careers requiring above average task independence and/or social perceptiveness.

Geographical location

The geographical location of your organisation is another factor that can influence the diversity of your workforce. If you are based in an area where a particular demographic is more or less prevalent, this could have an impact. If most of your sector is traditionally based in a particular location, this could have a wider impact on the diversity of your industry.

Mazur (2018) explains that in the US, many jobs ‘simply aren’t accessible to the majority of American workers. For example, an office located in a predominantly white suburb is probably going to attract only employees from that suburb.’ He also makes the point that ‘being located in close proximity to public transit […] will make your workplace much more attractive to many different populations’.

To expand your horizons, Mazur recommends:

  • researching data on demographics, education levels and income disparity in the area where you are located – a wider range of demographics will make it easier to recruit a diverse set of candidates
  • explore public transport proximity and transit times – this might give you some clues about new, potentially more diverse areas you could target for future recruitment
  • make contact with appropriate talent pipelines in the areas you identify – are there any educational institutions you could work with to raise awareness?

However, following the COVID-19 pandemic, research by Kura (Churchill, 2021) suggests that one in five workers hope they will never return to commuting, with others looking to commute for a reduced number of days per week. This could potentially have a positive impact on the diversity of your workforce, if you are able to offer flexible working or a ‘work from anywhere’ approach.

Activity 5 Reflecting on the impact

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes for this activity.

Spend a few minutes considering whether your sector or organisation is impacted on by either of these issues.


If there is an issue in your sector, it can be worth visiting the website of your professional body, or any other sector representative organisation, as they will probably be addressing it. For example, they may have a focus group looking at the problem. Is this a discussion you’d be interested in joining?

If you can’t find anything relevant – perhaps you could raise the issue with your managers and start a conversation.