Diversity Fatigue: Take a Breath and Keep it Moving
A common theme I hear in organizations is leaders expressing fatigue about all the focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
People of color are exhausted from carrying the uneven burden of keeping diversity dialogue and programs going. Some are also exhausted from the effort it takes to compete for management’s attention when one diverse community has been prioritized over another. White leaders express exhaustion—and even reverse discrimination—and wonder why there is so much attention on diversity. In a recent survey conducted by Deloitte (Build trust in diversity, equity and inclusion commitments), 40% of respondents in upper management roles said there is too much focus on diversity.
The fact of the matter is exhaustion exists because of the on-and-off nature of diversity programs over the past twenty years that have produced incremental up-and-down results at best. DEI, and especially “equity,” is not yet embedded in many organizational practices, and leaders have not created a sustainable diversity strategy. It is not a surprise then that when market downturns occur, DEI often gets deprioritized by the leadership team while performative programs and employee resource group activities continue without management engagement. It is a frustrating cycle—hence fatigue sets in.
DEI is hard work!
It takes heart, commitment, and action, especially in the current political, social, and economic climate. While many may be fatigued, this is a time to push forward, not to retreat. Companies who achieve success in this space will do so because they persevere through the fatigue. At Elloree, we have observed that leaders that successfully pushed through fatigue have a few things in common:
– A clear and deep understanding of their organization’s demographics and pockets of inequity; the determination and commitment to address them. They are looking at disaggregated data across all levels of their organization, so it is easy for them to see and deal with the facts. When leaders work with us through Elloree’s independent equity assessments, they walk away with eyes wide open that inequity is still alive and well in 2022.
– A greater cultural awareness and knowledge of historical context of inequities that have persisted fuels them to drive change. They may have experienced inequities themselves or have taken the time to educate themselves on past inequity and how it persists in the current day. They have made educating themselves their responsibility. At Elloree, we see evidence of this in a program we co-created with the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. called the Corporate Equity Center C-Suite Initiative. The program is designed for CEOs and their executive leadership teams as a two-day offsite event. It begins with a private tour of the museum. On the first day, participants engage in an enriching education of the African American experience. The program culminates with eye-opening business case examples of inequities that still exist in corporate America based on the themes we see in our independent equity assessments. Leaders leave the program awakened to history’s impact on the practices of organizations today, reinforcing that fatigue is not an option.
The most awakened leaders driving change have both historical context connected to modern day facts specific to their organizations and a commitment to driving change. These leaders understand that their organizational culture and outcomes will benefit when they act and not acquiesce to their own fatigue or the fatigue of others. Leaders leave Elloree’s independent equity assessment with a clear understanding of the gaps, opportunities, and actions they can employ to advance equity in their workplaces. Without it, it is easy to dismiss inequity as another organization’s problem and one not worth spending any more time on.
Leaders can take a rest only when their businesses have achieved parity. If equity is embedded in all policies and practices, diverse talent, reflected in cohorts such as, Black, Latinx, Asian and women will be hired, advanced, and retained at comparable levels. If that is not the case in your organization, then take a breath and keep it moving. Your diverse talent is more fatigued than you are.