Diversity and inclusion have been huge topics in the workplace in recent years, and as more and more companies take stock and have difficult conversations about D&I within their own organizations, these issues remain top of mind. While it’s a good thing that diversity, equity, and inclusion are being addressed, and companies are adopting recruiting strategies to attract untapped talent, all of this emphasis has an unintended consequence: diversity fatigue.
Continue reading to find out about this problem and how you can fight it in your organization.
What Is Diversity Fatigue?
When the term was first introduced in the 1990s, diversity fatigue referred to the stress and frustration organizational leaders felt during attempts to make their workplaces more diverse. Today, that definition still holds true as recruiters are tasked with meeting diversity recruitment goals and not always meeting expectations, but it has also been expanded.
Now, diversity fatigue is not just experienced by hiring managers trying to bring in and retain more employees from underrepresented groups—it is also being experienced by employees, who may simply be tired of hearing about diversity and how it needs to be improved in their workplaces, but they see little to no action.
This is not just a problem with attitude: Diversity fatigue is a problem that impacts actions. According to the “State of Diversity and Inclusion in U.S. Tech” report released by Atlassian in 2018, although about 80 percent of the 1,500 survey respondents around the country agreed that diversity and inclusion are important in their organizations, other responses revealed a discrepancy between their stated beliefs and their actual behaviors. In fact, this survey of tech workers found that:
- - 33% participated in a diversity work group
- - 45% learned about the experiences of coworkers from different backgrounds
- - 36% participated in a discussion addressing diversity in the tech industry
- - 25% participated in an employee resource group
- - 21% interrupted biased behavior in their company
According to Atlassian, these results demonstrate examples of diversity fatigue because handling D&I takes a lot of long-term commitment and it can be difficult to stay motivated—especially when there’s little evidence of progress being made on D&I initiatives.
What Is the Cause of Diversity Fatigue?
There are several reasons that diversity fatigue can occur. One reason, as illustrated by the Atlassian survey, stems from the overemphasis on diversity rhetoric, but not as much emphasis on actually doing something tangible about it at an employee level. As a result, workers hear a lot about the importance of diversity in their organization, but they don’t know what they can individually do to promote it.
Similarly, diversity fatigue can be caused when companies only address the diversity piece of the hiring puzzle but fail to create a plan for the inclusion part. Consequently, even if a company has successfully attracted underrepresented talent to the organization, retention may be a problem if employees don’t feel welcome and included after they’ve been hired. This creates the impression that diversity hiring efforts have essentially been for naught and no real progress is being made.
3 Ways to Fight Diversity Fatigue
Although overcoming diversity fatigue can seem as daunting as making the workplace more diverse and inclusive, there are things you can do to ensure that people in your organization stay motivated as you work toward your D&I goals.
The following three suggestions can help you effectively address diversity fatigue.
1. Get everyone invested in D&I
It’s not enough for your organization to tell employees that diversity and inclusion are important. It’s not even enough to explain why D&I matters. In order to avoid diversity fatigue and making D&I seem like empty workplace chatter, everyone in the organization needs to understand why they must be personally invested in these goals. Organizations should present D&I as a benefit for everyone in the company—not just the diverse talent being hired—and create ways for everyone to contribute.
2. Set small, attainable goals
Trying to do too much too fast in a diversity recruitment plan is a sure recipe for fatigued and frustrated recruiters. Instead of treating D&I goals as a sprint that needs to be run as quickly as possible, treat them as a marathon that needs steady and focused attention in the long term. And as you meet small goals, such as interviewing more diverse candidates for any given position, be sure to celebrate them so everyone in the company can see your progress and feel encouraged.
3. Address bias in the organization
Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand, so it’s imperative to tackle problems with bias in an organization to ensure that when members of underserved groups are hired, they feel welcome. To create a culture of inclusion, everyone in your company should be trained on biases, both conscious and unconscious, and stereotypes that can influence the way diverse workers are treated. These difficult conversations are necessary to show that your company is walking the walk of D&I, not just talking the talk.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are challenging issues to address in any workplace, but it’s important to also pay attention to diversity fatigue so your company’s goals can be met. Once people become tired and frustrated about your DE&I mission, it will be harder to keep them engaged—which can actually be counterproductive for your goals.