Author: Sinduya Sivayoganathan
I have a problem with the term “Diversity Fatigue”. The term implies that people are tired of my diversity as a woman of colour and the inequities that I face are too much for others to handle. It implies that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work is too harmful. But I know this is not true. From working in the DEI field and from my lived experiences, I know that DEI work is necessary to ensure social justice and equity, and I know people are more invested in DEI than ever before. So what exactly is “Diversity Fatigue” trying to imply?
“Diversity Fatigue” is not an issue with diversity or DEI work. It is an issue with being able to achieve inequity; it is an “Inequity Fatigue”. Inequity fatigue is the feeling of stress and frustration, and at times, hopelessness, that team members face if they lack the support, communication, and resources truly needed to address inequities in the workplace.
For DEI leaders, inequity fatigue can result from knowing DEI is important but not having the buy-in or support to push the agenda forward. It can also arise from having to address DEI issues and topics every day without adequate resources or support. For team members engaged with DEI, inequity fatigue can result from being overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done or not knowing how to address the DEI issues present in the workplace. Inequity fatigue can also arise from unpaid DEI work. A study of 700 employees involved in Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) found that 60% of employees were not compensated for running the ERGs. For underrepresented employees, this unpaid responsibility can further aggravate the inequities they face in the workplace.
For oppressed groups, inequity fatigue can arise from fighting systemic barriers and inequities every day of their lives outside and within organizations. This fatigue is aggravated when organizations do not communicate their goals and progress regarding DEI, often leaving employees in the dark and frustrated.
Addressing Inequity Fatigue
Addressing inequity fatigue is difficult. As an employee, team lead or DEI lead, there are small steps you can take to be proactive and prevent inequity fatigue.
1. Actively Seek to Understand Employee DEI Perceptions and Concerns
Inequity fatigue is caused by unanswered questions or concerns that are left unaddressed. Understanding what employees think of your DEI strategy, what they are most apprehensive about, and where they would like to see change enables you to tailor your DEI strategy to match employee perceptions. With employee feedback, you can better pinpoint where employees need more DEI support and resources. At Lunaria, we offer DEI audits to reveal initial employee perceptions about your organization’s DEI efforts and pulse surveys to help organizations monitor perceptions throughout a DEI journey. The goal in understanding these perceptions is to then address fears and answer questions. In actively seeking to understand and respond to employees, you can work towards eliminating the fear of the unspoken.
2. Set Clear, Measurable and Attainable Goals
Communicating realistic expectations, supported by clear and measurable goals can help employees understand the role DEI plays in your organization and what this role means for them. This clear communication means being honest with yourself about what the organization is really willing to do. It includes understanding and communicating leadership’s commitment to supporting team members doing DEI work, establishing clear roles about who is responsible for DEI, and how they will be compensated. This clear expectation can help team members accurately prepare themselves for what to expect from your DEI work, which can limit inequity fatigue.
3. Frequent and Transparent Communications
Communication is very important in gaining employee support and engagement for an organization’s DEI efforts. When employees only hear that DEI is a priority and very little else, it can cause skepticism around the motive behind an organization’s DEI efforts and inaccurate perceptions about progress, resulting in inequity fatigue. By communicating more frequently and providing detailed updates on the progress being made, you help enforce that DEI is a priority which can promote buy-in and reduce the likelihood of inequity fatigue.
4. Provide tools for individual growth
Providing employees with resources and training can help employees feel more equipped to support your DEI efforts. By creating opportunities and spaces for employees to explore and implement potential DEI ideas on their own or with their team, employees can avoid feelings of helplessness at the root of inequity fatigue.
5. Normalize and Provide Supports for Self-Care
Systemic changes need time to take root, but waiting for this growth can be exhausting, frustrating, and stressful, especially for employees who face systemic barriers regularly beyond the workplace. Employees need time and space to process the complex reality they face. By normalizing self-care for employees and encouraging them to take time to care for themselves, you can better support them while addressing inequity fatigue. Support can be interwoven through your employee wellness plan, or in paid time off to rest.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is important, especially in today’s world. It is not something we can give up on. This makes addressing inequity fatigue all the more important. Understanding your employees and supporting them throughout your DEI journey can help you and them tackle inequity fatigue.