Earlier this month, in PART 1 of this 2 part series, we looked at the ways that DEI Fatigue is a threat to your company, now let’s look at how to tackle some of the most common challenges organizations face with DEI fatigue today:
Challenge: Not empowering DEI advocates
The efforts that often start with enthusiasm and passion fizzle out because DEI committees are not given any power or resources aside from a designated meeting time and a column in a newsletter. The result is unpaid (and often unrecognized) extra work that has little meaningful impact on the organization. Moreover, the issue is exacerbated if your company implements “minority tax,” tapping its diverse employees to contribute time and effort to these initiatives.
What you can do: the work is incredibly complex and can be time-consuming. It is often beneficial to help bring an unbiased third party consultant to help uncover the most pressing issues. Creating a full-time, paid position to shape and steer these efforts is a great, but often unrealistic goal to have for many smaller organizations. Designating an executive sponsor and working directly with senior leadership to weave DEI goals into the overall company strategy can help make the work more meaningful and continue the positive momentum.
Challenge: Broad-sweeping DEI tactics
The most common way DEI shows up in organization is through training. Increasing organization-wide DEI knowledge through mandatory training sessions seems intuitive and straightforward, and these sessions appear as if they would have a direct positive effect on the company. Yet the reality is often far from our expectations.
There is a significant body of research that suggests that anti-bias training on its own does not eliminate bias or change workplace behavior. Moreover, there is some evidence that stereotype reduction training actually reinforces stereotypes, making them more accessible in participants’ minds. DEI training, in the absence of an inclusive company culture, can lead to defensiveness, discomfort, and worse, including frustration and distrust if employees feel that the training will not be followed by concrete plans demonstrating leadership’s accountability and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
What you can do: instead of broad gestures that might have little impact, spend the time and effort to understand which group is at a disadvantage and could benefit from targeted changes. Conducting discovery research – internal or, better yet, with an independent third party – could help understand the most pressing issues and identify opportunities for remedy that would result in meaningful positive changes.
Challenge: No leadership accountability
Not infrequently, DEI efforts result in a well thought-out and well-researched plan containing recommendations on how to better the culture in the organization – only for the work to end at this stage. If senior management is not taking the recommendations seriously and is not implementing steps to change the culture, it sends a very clear message that DEI efforts are perfunctory (or even performative), and the leadership is only interested in preserving the status quo. The result is predictable – disengagement, fatigue, and even employee attrition.
What you can do: it is important for your DEI champions to know that their work is not futile. Members of the leadership team should collaborate with the DEI committee to outline actionable steps toward achieving these goals. Putting together a 1-3 year strategic plan that contains goals and objectives, ways to achieve them, as well as designating a responsible party is a great tool to keep these efforts moving. Formalizing DEI goals also makes them more “sticky” and likely to be achieved. However, if a strategic plan is unrealistic at this time, setting targets and sharing accountability is an important step in your DEI work.
The challenge: Your DEI efforts are alienating certain groups
DEI initiatives can have another unintended effect – creating exclusion for members of the dominant culture (most frequently, white men). This is especially likely to happen as a result of DEI training sessions that use the “blame and shame” tactic. The problem is exacerbated if the organization adopts a “cancel culture” mindset – teaching its employees to be “politically correct” rather than focusing on a genuine and collective journey of learning. This can also create the zero-sum mentality (for someone else to win, I must lose) and proliferate feelings of frustration with DEI efforts.
What you can do: creating psychological safety in the entire organization is extremely important – as well as reiterating that these efforts are for everyone and by everyone. Building the environment of inclusion begins with removing fear from human interactions, and shifting focus to learning rather than getting it right. Making it ok to make mistakes could lay the foundation for open communication and acceptance for all.
The effort of reshaping complex organizational culture can be arduous and time-consuming, and getting overwhelmed and disenchanted with these initiatives is easy. However, DEI fatigue does not have to spell the death of your DEI programs – if you recognize and resolve it early. Prepare for a systematic, long-term effort, striving to identify the underlying factors and work to realize incremental changes from smaller-scale efforts rather than a broad sweeping initiative.
About The Author:
Katia Delgado is a Data Scientist whose natural curiosity and compassion for the human condition has led her into a career in market research. She has more than 15 years of experience in both quantitative and qualitative fields, including exploratory research, customer satisfaction tracking, brand positioning and impact, new product development, and custom studies that require advanced statistical analysis. Her work produced actionable, research-supported insights that helped inform multimillion-dollar decisions and long-term strategies of multiple international companies.
If you’re interested in hiring a DEI consultant and advancing your company’s DEI initiatives, you can reach out to Diversity Crew at LetsGo@DiversityCrew.com