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8 Ways CEOs Build DE&I and Prevent Diversity Fatigue

What We Are Talking About

Let’s Face It - Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Can Get Tiring

What is Diversity Fatigue?

How Diversity Fatigue Affects Employee Engagement

8 Acts of Inclusion That Prevent Diversity Fatigue

Let’s Face It - Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Can Get Tiring

Diversity & Inclusion is a high profile, yet prickly subject - especially talking about D&I, or the company’s lack of it. The topic itself is an ever changing alphabet soup of acronyms covering Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, Accessibility, Justice, Belonging, Wellbeing, etc.

Think about the times you or your colleagues wince when gender, race, or disability is mentioned. Picture the rolling of the eyes, followed by the deep sigh and muffled thought of “oh, why are we talking about this again”.

When the weariness turns into ambivalence, that’s when you have a problem. It’s known as Diversity Fatigue.

By the end of this article, you will learn what Diversity Fatigue is, how it affects us (even this D&I strategist isn’t immune to it) and ways to prevent it from choking off your company’s growth. We’ll also share some simple methods that can shift your executive team from indifferent to engaged around the topics of D&I.


What is Diversity Fatigue?

Diversity fatigue is the exhaustion, frustration, and isolation people feel when they actively attempt to build D&I in your organization, yet see minimal results.

Diversity fatigue is found in all levels of business.

To be clear - Diversity Fatigue is a heavy burden for the colleagues, who have put substantial time and energy into D&I initiatives, without being supported with sufficient funding or acknowledgement for their efforts.

Who organized your last PRIDE, Women’s Day or D&I related event?

The inconvenient truth in many companies is that employees consider D&I agenda comparable to the “Christmas” party planning committee. Find a few passionate and social folks to volunteer their time to sort it all out for the company.


How Diversity Fatigue Affects Employee Engagement

Diversity Fatigue - Straight from the CEO

Here are some inadvertent, yet clear signs from CEOs that their D&I agenda is going to run out of steam.

  • “We are not convinced that D&I should be a priority right now. We’ve tried some initiatives and programs but they just didn’t work.”

  • “As for our Diversity agenda, well we’ve still have some work to do.”

  • “We have a women’s network and other ERGs. They pretty much support themselves through their initiatives”

  • “Our CHRO will be setting up the D&I strategy.”

Through comments similar to the above, CEOs demonstrate show how disconnected the leadership can be from from D&I. The topic is unrelatable, and accountability for this space falls “elsewhere” in the organization, but where?

Diversity Fatigue Among New and Junior Employees

It’s often the eager and vocal employees who volunteer to organize D&I events. They are new to the company culture or are in individual contributor roles, which leaves space for culture building activities. Though they seem unstoppable, there is only a limited amount of passion, time and energy available.

It’s the passionate, engaged colleagues who happily volunteer to become unofficial D&I Leads, Champions or Ambassadors. They proudly add the informal title to their primary role. But here’s the catch, they have unintentionally taken on a hefty responsibility.

For companies without at clear roadmap for D&I, the volunteer becomes the go-to organizer for D&I events for their organization. How will they balance their primary job responsibilities with building a culture of D&I in the company? It only takes a couple of minimally funded, sparsely attended events before the colleague begins to resent their hard work and informal title. Diversity fatigue has set in.

Diversity Fatigue Among The C-suite

Diversity Fatigue plagues inclusive, senior leaders in two main ways.

  1. The executive teams who are furthest along the D&I journey, are prone to experience the frustration of influencing the culture with Acts Of Inclusion, when results don't spread past their function or team.

  2. When leaders who have been promoted into senior leadership roles serve as the “lonely only”- the single woman, foreigner, and/or minority, they are expected to become the active sponsor for their underrepresented group.

Here’s the problem.

Having a “diverse” member as part of your executive team does not mean that this person is an expert at building Diversity & Inclusion. Minority senior leaders share with me that as the “lonely only, they are battling the perception of feeling like a token. Tokenism, erodes the diverse environment you want to build.

Tokenism is “the fact of doing something only to show that you are following rules or doing what is expected or seen to be fair, and not because you really believe it is the right thing to do.” - Cambridge Dictionary

Check out our LinkedIn post about tokenism.

Though they are at the table, Inclusive C-suite leaders experience diversity fatigue because, the rest of the senior peer group holds that single person accountable for building the culture D&I in the business.

This Goes for All of Your Staff

Once diversity fatigue is present, the employee shifts their attention back to their core responsibilities. The passion and energy they demonstrated in culture & values events disappears, and employee engagement plummets (warning signs of Quiet Quitting).

"the individuals suffering from diversity fatigue are the same diverse talents that the companies are trying to attract!"

Ironically, the individuals suffering from diversity fatigue are the same diverse talents that the companies are trying to attract! Ultimately the employee leaves the company, frustrated that the organization was never really diverse or inclusive to begin with.

So how do you successfully reinvigorate diversity and inclusion in your business?


8 Acts Of Inclusion That Prevent Diversity Fatigue

Small gestures that invite and welcome a person and their perspectives into your environment. The good news is most of us are practicing Acts Of Inclusion. We just don't know it.

🔸 Interrupt The Bias

The bulk of diversity activities in organizations is orchestrated at the the frontline and base levels.

This illustration shows how we stereotype ideas based on where they originate in an organization. A frontline colleague who eagerly shares their D&I ideas and suggestions is more likely to be labeled an agitator to the culture. Yet a CEO with very little engagement or visibility to the same topic is hailed as visionary.

This is an example of Illusory Correlation Bias - when we mistakenly over-emphasize one outcome and ignore others.

Interrupt your bias. Pay attention to the first impression you have when hearing different perspectives from others in the company. Does their communication style make you uncomfortable? What is the main point of their message? How does that core message compare to the narrative you hear from the CEO?

🔸 Use Your Influence (Privilege) On Behalf Of Those Not In The Room

Executive leaders are in the privileged position and can wield great influence with the smallest of actions.

📈 Be an accessible leader. Find out first hand how D&I moves through the business before making statements about it externally.

📈 Be visible. Any external outreach about D&I (pledges, speaking engagements, etc) should be matched with inreach (internal outreach). Connect with staff, ask questions and welcome their feedback. Engage with with your colleagues in their environment, whether it be virtually or in person.

🔸 Acknowledge The Work & Journey

To combat diversity fatigue in your staff, amp up the acknowledgement of their work.

According to Gallup, employees who receive recognition only a few times a year from leaders are:

  • 5 X as likely to be actively disengaged

  • 74% more likely to say they do not plan to be at the organization in one year

  • 27% more likely to be struggling

Encouraging feedback through reward, recognition and incentives is key for staff who are contributing to a D&I culture in your organization. Here’s how:

📈 Company wide award ceremonies celebrating value leading and value adding staff.

📈 Become a sponsor for the high potential multiple talents who demonstrate and connect inclusive leadership to the business strategy (creating an opportunity for reverse mentoring).

📈 Adding measurable D&I KPIs to performance reviews.

🔸 All hands on deck! Get a cohesive D&I strategy in place A CEO signs a pledge to increase gender diversity. He gives the mandate for the D&I strategy to the CHRO. The CHRO enlists support from her team, and a couple of colleagues update their LinkedIn profile with a D&I title. The global D&I strategy takes shape, focusing on gender, and is driven by talent attraction, talent development and employer branding - HR perspectives. Holding a single business function accountable for diversity & inclusion cuts the organization off from more results. The siloed approach to D&I impacts, at best, only part of the company. And the heavy focus on a couple of diversity issues (gender, for example) leaves other minority staff feeling unrecognized.

A wider view of opportunities that D&I can provide

📈 Engaging inclusively with customers can lead to untapped revenues. (Sales)

📈 Inclusive external communications strengthen the brand (Marketing / Communications).

📈 Inclusive community outreach bonds new & diverse demographics to your business (R&D)

📈 A Diversity Supplier Program extends your network of expert vendors (Procurement)

📈 All of the above are measurable (Finance)

Create a cohesive strategy for D&I that connects to the overall business strategy.

Mastercard & Netflix are companies who connect Diversity & Inclusion to their strategy and results.

🔸 Stop playing not to lose

In bearish markets businesses shift from “how can we grow?” to “how can we mitigate loss?” The plan moving forward is to do a lot more, with a lot less. Leaders are expected to protect the markets they’ve already won while halting recruitments, slashing budgets and ceasing supplier partnerships.

Playing to win vs Playing not to lose

  1. Diverse solutions from within the organization become a critical advantage. But how well have diverse experiences contributed to your business results?

  2. Plan a strategy that build growth through inclusion. Invest in a D&I Strategist who can help navigate the unfamiliar terrain of D&I and connect inclusive leadership to the business results.

  3. In the midst of the Covid pandemic, our client Adevinta coupled Inclusion & Belong to the “Work From Home” culture that crippled many industries. The leadership team of this global online classifieds business recognized an opportunity to grow by harnessing the diverse experiences of their 8,000 staff who represent 32 brands.

Adevinta played to win - by leading inclusively throughout its businesses.

🔸 “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.”

How is D&I prioritized in your organization?

What does the D&I agenda or roadmap look like?

Does the company rely on staff volunteers to organize D&I events? Are D&I events treated as ad-hoc expenses?

It’s time for clearly defined strategies that include the various aspects and touch points of D&I become priority investments in budgets. 📈Create a D&I Event Log. Get your event log here. See our template Pull together the active colleagues who organize D&I events. Have them list the events that were created across your organization during the year. You’ll discover trends and areas for better collaboration and have an argument for better promotion.

📈 The D&I Event Log is an initial step to highlight D&I as a priority in the company. Then it's time to create the cohesive D&I roadmap/strategy that sets up the budgeting needs.

🔸 Executives - Don't Go It Alone!

Here are the signs that you are suffering diversity fatigue at the executive level.

  • You are the executive sponsor of a D&I group which represents your own diversity

  • You speak on external panels about D&I, on behalf of your company

  • You are the lone leader among your senior peer group who is addressing D&I

  • D&I is stalling in most of the other parts of the business

📈 Senior leaders are in the privileged position. Your title allows you to influence the entire organization. By consistently showcasing how your D&I actions directly connect to your business results, you influence more people to adopt your winning strategy. 📈 Highlight your results to your peer group. Take advantage of the competitive nature that exists within senior management. Build buy-in and action from the team by showcasing the success factors that are improving D&I in your area of business.

📈 Reporting your wins to the CEO isn’t enough. Include him (yes, I wrote “him”) in processes where D&I is impacting your business results.

🔸 Get An Outside Perspective From A D&I Strategist

Ok, be honest….

What impact is Diversity & Inclusion having on your company right now?

Is it uncomfortable talking about D&I with colleagues at work? Are you responsible for commenting on the state of D&I in your organization?

D&I can be a scary, overwhelming topic.

Imagine - one minute you are voicing an innocent observation, the next you’re hit with viral backlash about conveying a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, classist message.

No wonder leaders are clamping up when it comes to talking openly about D&I.

So if you aren’t talking about D&I, what are you doing about it?

❓ Do you delegate the D&I agenda to someone, cross your fingers and hope for the best?

❓ Or maybe you quietly thank the heavens when a “diverse” colleague volunteers to organize a D&I event… (and hopefully any other D&I initiative). See diversity fatigue.

An external D&I strategist provides you with focused and objective recommendations that affect your entire organization. Effective D&I strategists offer fresh perspectives that your core team might miss or are unsure of how to voice.

Strong D&I strategists partner with you to: 📈 Broaden your leadership team’s awareness of Diversity & Inclusion 📈 Build Inclusive Leadership capabilities within the team

📈 Strengthen vocabulary around D&I in order to confidently talk about D&I

📈 Build an awe-inspiring D&I roadmap that becomes the undercurrent of your overall business strategy 📈 Consistently connect your D&I initiatives & culture with the business’ results

Diversity Fatigue is an avoidable threat. Build an environment that shows curiosity, which makes space for cultural intelligence and awareness.

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