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Diversity Professionals are Exhausted: Time to Recalibrate, Refocus and Nourish our own Resilience

Whenever a new year comes around, I see it as a chance to catch my breath. Usually, I have been going full speed ahead, so busy crossing things off a long to-do list that I realize I often forget to look up and make sure that I am actually heading in the direction I want to go. The New Year is a reminder to recalibrate my bearings. Where am I on this journey? What impact do I want to have? How do I focus my energy? What do I let go of? Am I feeling depleted or enriched by last year’s choices?

Burnout is Real

As I talk to Chief Diversity Officers around the world, I have heard one thing consistently: they are exhausted.

Expectations of diversity practitioners have never been so high. Diversity work has expanded over the years and we can see this evolution in the very names we give the work. For example, in the United States, what was first called Equal Employment Opportunity in the 1960s and 1970s, (with a focus on compliance with government regulations), shifted to “diversity” emphasizing diversifying the workforce for the benefit the business. As organizations realized that attracting and retaining diverse talent required changing the culture to ensure inclusive workplace experiences, we began referring to the work as “Diversity and Inclusion” (D&I). More recently the acronym D&I expanded to include “equity” (DEI) to address systemic organizational barriers so all talent can advance and belong.

Today, CDOs and their teams are often expected to impact not only entire global organizations, but also to contribute to social justice in the external eco system. And they are often expected to do this with small teams, few resources, and without the positioning within organizations that allow them the influence and reach that they need to succeed.

On top of that, hate speech and hate crime are on the rise. Diversity practitioners are dealing with their own trauma, worried about protecting their children and families, while also being the face for their organizations and taking care of their employees. Resistance to the work still exists, and often DEI practitioners are in the crosshairs. They are tired and they are depleted.

Focusing In and Letting Go

With expanding demands, organizations must focus on positioning DEI for impact and providing the resources for DEI professionals to be successful. But what can DEI practitioners do? When the expectations are high, and the needs are so great, the temptation is to try to do it all. As we enter 2023, this is the moment to take stock and prioritize. This means we may need to let go of some things and to focus in on others.

We need first and foremost to evaluate the impact of our efforts. What is working? What is not? The chapter on metrics in my book, Leading Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, offers some very practical indicators that we can use to start answering questions that we should be asking: Where can I have the greatest impact? What are the biggest barriers that need addressing? What am I solving for with my initiatives? How can I demonstrate the impact of these initiatives?

This information is key to helping us identify the most salient pressure points so that we are better able to resist the temptation to spread ourselves too thin. For example, if you’ve been focused on increasing representation of women in management, maybe it’s time to look for who is being left out and customize your strategy for those populations. Ask yourself whether it is particular roles that you need to focus on, or particular business units? Or do you need to zero in on particular countries where there is an underrepresentation of women? If you have been looking at women in leadership in general, what happens if you look more closely at particular types of roles – Profit & Loss roles for example. Are there gaps you need to zoom in on? If you have been looking at women in general, what happens when you disaggregate your gains by race? Each population faces different obstacles – which means that the strategies you use to advance the career trajectories of Asian women may need to be very different from those for Black women or Latina women.

The more focused, specific, intentional and informed our DEI strategies are, the more impactful and rewarding they can be and the better able we will be to demonstrate the impact of our work. And when others see the impact, they are faster to come on board and hopefully to provide resources to support us. Shift your energy to those things that have the greatest impact and delegate some of the other tasks. Share with your teams where you plan to focus and inspire them to share your vision.

10 Ways to Build Resilience

Creating more intentional work plans is one step toward nourishing ourselves in this incredibly demanding job.

But over the years, I have found that I need more than a realistic work plan. I needed to acknowledge my human frailty and find ways to take care of myself. Below are some ideas I’ve used to build and nourish my own resilience over the years.

Develop a community of support

At home or professionally outside of your organization.

Find meaning in your work

Understand what nourishes you and anchor yourself in that understanding.

Celebrate success

Don’t forget this very important part of taking stock!

Create guardrails

To block out time for doing things we love, pursuing hobbies and spending time with family.

Take care of your body and your spirit

Through exercise, healthy eating, yoga, meditation, faith practice or whatever helps you.

Don't take it personally

This is difficult work and there is a lot of resistance to it – often it is more about them than it is about you. Not everyone can change. Sometimes it’s ok to walk away.

Trust yourself

You know what you are doing and don’t let anyone make you second guess that.

Ask for help

...and don’t wait until you’re really struggling! Find allies, mentors, coaches and teachers.

Use change as an opportunity

To reinvent yourself and play to your strengths.

Remember: We are in it for the long haul

Don’t expect things to change all at once – one foot in front of the other, patience with ourselves and others, and the long view can help put the daily challenges in perspective.

As we step into 2023, after several really tough years, I am doing my own reflecting on what lights me up, what I am going to let go of, and where I want to push myself to grow. I appreciate all of you so much – YOU are the community of support that keeps me going. We have accomplished so much together, and there is so much left to do.

Let us lift each other up this year, encourage one another to nourish our own resilience – individually and collectively - and move forward into 2023 with intention and renewed focus. I am very excited to announce that on January 19 I will be hosting a FREE live webinar where I will be joined by global DEI leaders to discuss how we can achieve this. Read on to find out who will be joining me, and we hope to see you there!

Did you know? You can sign up to receive blog posts like this straight into your inbox. Sign up here.

On January 19 at 10am EST / 3pm GMT / 4pm CET / 8:30pm IST I will be hosting my first Learn from Leaders session in 2023 - a 1 hour live virtual Q&A session where we will learn from global DEI leaders. For this first session I am delighted to be joined by Djuana Beamon, Empower; Nancy Di Dia, Boeringer Ingelheim; Talita Ramos Erickson, Barilla Group; and Carolina Romero, KFC.

This session will explore the changing role of Chief Diversity Officers and how diversity practitioners can remain resilient and practice self care when faced with the rigours and emotional toll of working in this space.

To register and submit a question for this session, please click on the link below.

Please do share the link with colleagues and friends who may be interested in joining and learning more about Global DEI.


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