You’re an organizational leader, and like most in your role, you pivoted in June to focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) efforts. But fatigue is starting to set in. This work is uncomfortable, and you’re not sure what progress looks like. You’re asking yourself if you’ve done enough and feel yourself retreating, diverting your attention to other priorities.
The good news is that this sense of retreat is normal and something you can overcome. With any difficult undertaking, from running a marathon to solving a particularly complex problem, a certain level of fatigue is completely normal. Our brain is hardwired to put up some resistance whenever we encounter a difficult situation because it wants to protect us from discomfort.
But these challenging situations that stretch us and, yes, even cause some discomfort, are precisely the ones that help us grow, which is why it’s worth persevering through.
Here are five ways leaders can fight fatigue, stay energized, and keep moving the important work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging forward.
• Pay the price of competence. Executives are used to seeing a problem and solving it. It’s what they’ve been doing their entire career, and it’s what they’re good at. Need an international presence? Buy an overseas company and merge it into existing operations. Losing market share? Come up with a new digital acquisition strategy. Executives feel very comfortable tackling these kind of problems – energized even.
DEIB is a different kind of problem, though. It’s complex, it’s not solved quickly, and it’s not necessarily an area where executives feel competent, which is why they can quickly get fatigued.
The key, then, is for executives to commit the same time and energy they put towards running their business into building up their competence around DEIB. They need to be willing to personally make that investment, rather than delegating it to HR or otherwise sidestepping the responsibility. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to build up their DEIB muscle, whether it’s undertaking the ABA’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, reading articles by BIPOC creators, or watching eye-opening TV shows like Pose.
• Own your power to make impact. DEIB isn’t something that “HR” or “they” or “someone else” just handles. It’s something that each leader in an organization must be involved in. You have the ability to impact representation within the organization simply through the steps you take at different stages of the talent lifecycle.
This might be ensuring a diverse slate of candidates during interviews or extending invitations to join high-profile teams or projects to people who look a little bit different than your usual choices. Use your formal and informal authority to exert influence on the composition and engagement across your organization. As the saying goes, be the change you want to see in the world.
• Get an accountability partner. That hardcore workout at the gym is easier when you have a personal trainer or a workout buddy, right? Have regular, ongoing meetings with another leader who is working to improve their competence in DEIB or with a leader who has expertise you don’t have–those meetings will create accountability and build energy that combats fatigue. CEO Action, a coalition of executives committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, is a tremendously useful resource in this regard.
• Reinforce the message. If you stop bringing up DEIB in weekly staff meetings or making any mention of it in company-wide communications, your people will pick up on that absence. They’ll conclude that it must not be that important since it’s fallen off the radar. That’s why it’s vital to ensure consistent communication and messaging around how important this effort is. A quick paragraph at the top of a memo or a few opening remarks in a meeting about something you recently learned related to DEIB can go a long way. Otherwise: out of sight, out of mind.
• Celebrate the wins. Working towards greater diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging is hard work. That makes it especially important to pause every now and then to take stock of wins and celebrate the progress you have achieved. Make an announcement if you’ve taken impressive strides towards diversity in a specific area. It’s true that there will always be more work to do, but recognizing results maintains motivation and shows that the hard work is in fact paying off.
One last thing: if you’re feeling fatigued by DEIB issues, imagine how your diverse and unrepresented employees feel. They’ve been walking this road a lot longer than you have and, in many cases, with much less formal authority and influence, so this is no time for you to get tired.
This is your moment. As a leader, you are capable, creative and competent. Stay focused, and keep doing the work around DEIB. You and the organization will both be better for it.