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What is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Fatigue and How to Combat It

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As work and educational environments grow and change, so too have the conversations around what is needed to foster a healthy workplace. Given the long-overdue collective acknowledgement of injustices within America, the topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) took center-stage as many organizations moved to create meaningful change. One of the largest concerns which arose was DEI fatigue.

What is DEI Fatigue?

DEI fatigue refers to the mental exhaustion and stress individuals can experience when engaging in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Where instead of feeling supported for their efforts, they are met with push back at every turn. This overwhelm can manifest in a multitude of ways:

  • Disengagement – withdrawing from DEI efforts and activities such as DEI trainings and resources.
  • Desensitization – becoming less sensitive or numb to the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion for everyone.
  • Burnout – an overall emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that can result in a reduction of focus and productivity, as well as feelings of defeat and cynicism.
  • Decrease in morale – feeling unhappy, unmotivated, and unappreciated for their DEI efforts.
  • Resentment – feeling moments of bitterness for being treated unfairly. Examples of this can be feeling overburdened by DEI related initiatives.

These manifestations can arise for both those who feel there is too much emphasis on DEI and those who feel responsible for driving DEI efforts forward.

For those who are committed to the DEI initiative, it can be distressing to see minimal progress for their efforts. DEI advocates work tirelessly to instill forms of change within their community and in their place of work, often with limited resources and a lack of support.

Another form of exhaustion can arise from having the burden placed upon DEI advocates to educate their peers and colleagues who have more privileged identities and yet, are not acknowledging nor utilizing that privilege to help further the DEI work. Instead, they choose to not educate themselves in their own time and to continue to tiptoe around DEI related topics, such as race and gender inequities, pay transparency, and disabilities. Additionally, for those in marginalized groups, the emotional weight of carrying DEI related efforts can be quite significant. They may feel afraid and on edge, hesitant to speak up or even continue the DEI work for fear of retribution.

How to Combat It:

  1. Lead with purpose. Set goals and be intentional with your DEI efforts:
    1. Invest in real change. Don’t just talk about creating change, implement them. Keeping DEI efforts surface level is harmful.
    2. Allocate the necessary support and resources to advance DEI efforts. Resources such as training, mentorship, and personal development opportunities.
    3. Integrate DEI into your organization’s core functions such as hiring and onboarding.
  1. Prioritize creating a culture that values equity and inclusion:
    1. Seek the input and participation of underrepresented individuals. Ensure they are heard and respected. However, do not rely on them to carry the full weight of DEI efforts. It is not their responsibility to educate everyone.
    2. Create an environment where everyone feels comfortable to bring their whole selves to the group. Take note which voices are being heard and validated and which voices are being silenced.
    3. Break down barriers through transparency. Provide everyone with what they need to thrive such as access to information or opportunities and resources.
  1. Keep people accountable. Everyone is responsible for educating themselves on diversity, inclusion, equity, and bias related topics, just as they would if it were any other part of their workload.
  1. Surround yourself with diverse talent. Think further than just in terms of gender and ethnicity. Cast a broader net to also include a diversity of experience, culture, religion, socio-economic status, and point of view.
  1. Microaggressions are subtle intentional or unintentional verbal, behavioral, or environmental insults directed toward a socially marginalized group or person, and they are more common than we’d like to think.
    1. Listen to those who speak up against this behavior and validate their experience dealing with microaggressions.
    2. Tackle these misconducts head on. Dedicate time to getting to the root cause of the issue. Don’t let them fester and grow into a bigger problem.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion fatigue is real and valid. And it’s important to recognize that DEI efforts are not singular events. They require constant commitment, dedication, and resources from people who are passionate about creating change. It may get frustrating at times and there will be some setbacks but stay the course. Implementing DEI values into your organization or workplace is too important to give up on.

Written by Marisela Mendez, Program Manager at Center for Healthy Communities

What is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Fatigue and How to Combat It

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