Diversity Fatigue – “The Needle” That Broke The Camel’s Back

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Preface – I wrote the following blog a few weeks ago and planned to publish last Wednesday hoping that it wouldn’t get lost in the post July 4th back to work catch up. As you already know, to say that the past week for our country has been challenging is an understatement. Since Saturday, I’ve debated whether or not to post this piece. But I’ve come to realize that there is never going to be the “right time” for this topic…there is only now. Given what has happened, and what has been happening around the country, this topic is more important than ever.

If after only a few words you are already giving this post the proverbial side eye, I get it. You’re thinking not another diversity (and maybe inclusion) blog. Don’t worry, I understand why you feel that way. Spoiler Alert – there will be no business case, research, or even best practices shared. I will not blame or point fingers. Instead, based on my personal observations and experiences, I want to bring awareness to what seems to be an unwanted side effect of the diversity and inclusion dialogue, which doesn’t get much attention – diversity fatigue.

Diversity in the workplace has been a hot topic and there are no signs that the conversation will cool off any time soon. As a D&I practitioner, I embrace opportunities for dialogue as it is often the first step towards awareness, acknowledgement, acceptance, and action.

However, in 2016, why are organizations still having a diversity dialogue? What does it really mean to “move the needle?”

Diversity fatigue often emerges from not moving beyond the dialogue. While there may be other “symptoms” of diversity fatigue, the below symptoms are probably the most prevalent and easiest to self-assess either as an individual or organization. Essentially, the onset of fatigue is most evident when:

  • there is prolonged dialogue which reduces productivity while increasing effort and potentially expenses;
  • individuals, teams, sponsors, and/or supporters are mentally, physically, or emotionally stretched due to repetitious dialogue or action with little variation in outcome. They are often in a constant state of convincing, persuading, and/or defending;
  • the response to and engagement in conversation, meetings, or initiatives diminishes due to lack of clarity regarding strategy (short/long/launch/exit), measures of success, accountability, milestones/deadlines, as well as stakeholders and decision makers;
  • individuals are appointed to strategic diversity related tasks or responsibilities; however, otherwise have little knowledge, interest/commitment, time or resources to truly be effective.

So what do you do if you are experiencing diversity fatigue? If you had a cut, generally speaking you’d get your first aid kit and fix it – cleanse, ointment, Band-Aid. You would identify or buy the resources you need to stop the bleeding and pain so you could begin the healing (and recovery) process.

Well, diversity in the workplace in many ways is like an open wound that has been ignored (it will heal on its own or it’s just a small cut),self-treated (used available or limited resources without expert consultation),and/or misdiagnosed (assumed it was just a cut but you actually needed stitches) for an extended amount of time.

It’s clear that organizations and industries alike are beyond travel size remedies for what has become for many a chronic challenge. Diversity fatigue may likely begin to diminish when we shift from speaking about the business case for diversity to simply speaking about business inclusive of diversity. How do we transition from short term solutions to aggressively implementing sustainable long term strategies?

Stay tuned for a response to that question and more in my next post later this week.

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