When you consider the fatiguing experience that people who have lived a lifetime of inequity and exclusion must feel, the idea of talking about “diversity fatigue” might seem nonsensical to some. And yet, as humans, we have limits to our attention, care and concern for others. “Compassion fatigue” is a term that describes the physical, emotional and psychological impact of helping others — often through experiences of stress or trauma. Compassion fatigue increased as of March 2020, when teachers, nurses and other front-line workers were left coping with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nightly news stories show the impacts of compassion fatigue on school systems without enough teachers, care facilities without enough care, and so on.

Training and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) leaders, employees from underrepresented groups and their allies have also been pouring in massive amounts of time and energy in building more equitable work cultures. Even employees on the receiving end of DEI training have put in considerable time to learn and grow. Unfortunately, for some employees, DEI fatigue has begun to set in.

What are the symptoms of diversity fatigue? DEI fatigue encompasses the feelings of frustration, exhaustion and even skepticism around making workplaces more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Symptoms include disillusionment that progress is happening and a general lack of enthusiasm to continue to pursue DEI goals.

Treatments and Moving Toward a Fatigue Cure

Is DEI fatigue curable? Yes, it can be, with a fresh approach that focuses in these key areas:

Create better goals.

A whole lot of good intent has gotten subpar results because goals were not well defined, measurable or budgeted for appropriately. Redefine your goals using the SMART format. Sample smart goals might include the following:

  • “To support inclusion, in the next six months, we will begin recognizing religious holidays from all religions. We will create work schedules to allow all employees to take the necessary time off for their respective major religious holidays.”
  • “To support belonging, in 2023, we will invest in offering weekly learning moments that enable leaders and employees to understand how to have more effective coaching and feedback conversations that build trust and a sense of belonging.”
  • “To improve diversity in our hiring pipeline, in 2023, we will identify 10 new recruiting resources that provide us with a more diverse talent pool for sourcing new candidates. We will also state our desire to hire diverse talent and use intentionally inclusive language in our job postings to further this effort.”

Become the architect.

Many DEI leaders and training professionals wearing the DEI “hat” assume it’s all on them to make things happen. Well-meaning executives usher in a new DEI leader and assume that just by having the DEI professional in the room things will be better. Taking it all off your shoulders and architecting a plan that gets many operational leaders and employees involved is a better way forward. Simple ways to begin building include:

  • Spend additional time asking questions and diagnosing the larger systemic challenges across your company.
  • Study best practices of other organizations in your industry and similar-sized companies with similar geographic footprints.
  • Design a communications campaign, working behind the scenes with senior executives, to have them share something about their personal DEI learning journey. These messages should be part of operational leadership messages, staff meetings or even part of your company’s social collaboration/messaging channels. Create a cadence and invite a variety of leaders to take part over time.
  • Partner closely with L&D leaders and invest in continuous learning moments that give employees new insights and practical skills to foster a culture of inclusion and belonging.

Stop bolting-on and begin baking DEI into the company culture.

Everything that furthers the values of DEI does not need to have the DEI label smacked on it. Learning to help employees become better listeners or to help leaders foster more effective hybrid meetings can all be created with a DEI lens – without labeling it as such. The hard-to-reach employee is someone who will not naturally lean into what they call the “DEI stuff.”  Get creative about how to reach those people, too. Some examples of important learning journey topics could include how to have challenging conversations and how to build a growth mindset. Offer learning framed in storytelling techniques to help educate reluctant learners on new cultures and topics through the experience and stories of influential and interesting people.

Looking Ahead

For the last five years and the next ten, PwC chairman Tim Ryan has set a high bar for organizations working to create diverse organizations with highly inclusive cultures. In a recent Forbes article, Ryan reminds leaders of the importance of “never going it alone” and to push through fatigue. “My experience has taught me that one of the enemies of great teams is lack of clarity, on the part of our leaders, in showing well-meaning people what they’re looking for. I think that’s one of the most important lessons of leadership,” he says in the article.

How can you avoid going it alone? Schedule time on your calendar to reflect on how you can garner a greater team effort in the important DEI work you are focused on.  Architect a first version of your new plan and get started. You’ll find the renewed vision and framework will help lift your people out of their fatigue and help you take your DEI goals to the next level.