In response to the tide of social unrest in 2020, many organizations launched — or re-invested in — organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. But now, as the intensity of that year slowly ebbs, many of those initiatives are losing steam. If progress toward inclusion has been slow for your organization, perhaps the problem isn’t with your current DEI training but with previous programs.
It’s a fair bet that most workers today have participated in at least one diversity training program. Sensitivity workshops and bias awareness courses have been around since long before the Black Lives Matter movement, yet those diversity initiatives often failed. Instead of working toward cultural change, older DEI training often focused on surface-level measures like hitting numbers or raising awareness.
Without sustainable and continued progress, workers can become frustrated. If they feel targeted and uncomfortable, employees can become resistant to change. And if they can’t see a clear connection between what they’re learning and their daily lives, people will tune out. All this adds up to diversity fatigue: one of today’s most common hurdles for diversity practitioners and organizations that are committed to change.
People might be tired of thinking about diversity, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be re-energized. The business benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion are clear, and investing in diversity will pay dividends in the future. In other words, it’s time to overcome DEI fatigue, re-invest, re-commit, and get your team excited about creating real change. Why? Because the bottom-line and work culture benefits of an inclusive environment are worth it.
Make it easy
Not everyone understands the importance of DEI and why they should make it a priority, says Jamie Rose Ousterout, Head of Client Services for The Diversity Movement. For progress to happen, it’s vital that key leaders are involved from the outset, and that their concerns are heard and addressed. A common refrain, she says, is that busy managers and leaders often see DEI initiatives as extra work. There’s also the perception that DEI efforts take more time and are more inconvenient than they actually are.
“We try to work with folks,” Ousterout says. “How do you integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into what you’re already doing? Just thinking about these things, rather than having it on your desk as one extra thing to do.”
Integrating DEI learning can be as easy as watching a quick video on your lunch hour. Instead of tuning into discouraging news stories, why not learn the definition of neurodiversity or how to react when a coworker comes out at work? The Diversity Movement’s beta edition of MicroVideos covers dozens of topics related to DEI that easily fit into the cracks of your day.
Other strategies include eating at a restaurant with unfamiliar cuisine, watching a movie featuring an underrepresented group, or exploring a news source with a different perspective.
Make it fun
Does your team enjoy a bit of friendly competition (and a few prizes)? At Greene Resources, an award-winning recruiting firm, staff used the TDM Connect app to earn points by learning about diverse cultures and identities. During a month-long challenge, participation was incentivized with rewards like additional paid time off or gift cards to local and minority-owned businesses.
The app gives employees a direct incentive to step out of their comfort zone and look for experiences that will broaden their perspective. Sample DEI actions include starting a conversation with someone from a different background, reading a book, or supporting a local restaurant — simple, everyday actions that add up over time.
“[TDM Connect] changed where I was going to pick up food, the books I was reading, the videos I was watching, the seminars I attended,” says Gary Greene, President and CEO of the Raleigh-based company. “It created conversations that may not have otherwise happened.”
Make it genuine
Those honest conversations are more accessible when trust has already been built among colleagues. But for those with a history of failed DEI experiences, trust can be difficult. To make progress, everyone in an organization should participate, and no one should be singled out for inappropriate behavior.
As Ousterout phrases it, everyone is on their own unique learning journey, and absolutely no one starts out fluent in multicultural issues or skills. “The approach that we’ve taken at The Diversity Movement is coming from a place of curiosity and learning, rather than any sort of chastising, because we’re all humans,” she says. “It’s really just finding ways to relate to people better.” When you say the wrong thing or accidentally offend someone, it’s important to admit your mistake, apologize, and move on. While it might be uncomfortable, making mistakes and owning up to them lead to progress toward inclusive thinking.
This practice of honesty also applies to company leaders. A successful DEI strategy depends on transparency around goals, successes, and failures. Clear communication lets employees and customers know that your business is working toward organizational change.
Make it relevant
Part of that business communication plan is letting every employee know how your DEI strategies will benefit them personally. While most people want to do the right thing, they also want to know what’s in it for them.
The reward can be broad, tying DEI performance to raises, recognition, and promotions. Or it can be specific, like the prizes given out at Greene Resources for completed tasks. Regardless of the method, personal responsibility should be integrated into every job description, from CEO to frontline professional.
If someone is working in retail, for example, Ousterout suggests telling them directly, “We want our customers to feel valued and welcomed here, because then they’re going to buy more, and the company is going to do better.”
It’s vital that everyone understands how their actions directly impact the organization’s mission, and that seemingly-small actions and phrases really do matter. Ousterout relates a recent experience making a dinner reservation, when the clerk used inclusive language, and how she appreciated their attention to terminology.
“We’re celebrating our anniversary,” she explains. “Instead of just assuming, they said, ‘Great, we will make a note of that for you and your partner.’ I really appreciated that, being in the DEI space, that does make me loyal.”
These gestures help customers feel comfortable and welcomed. They generate loyalty, but they also demonstrate a commitment to inclusion that boosts an organization’s reputation. And a strong reputation, in turn, helps attract high-quality, diverse employees, who bring more success to your company.
With the right tools, it’s easy to incorporate DEI practices into what you are already doing as an organization. And if your DEI initiatives are also fun, genuine, and relevant, you will see the progress you are hoping for.
When you’re ready to invest in DEI training that engages your employees and fosters workplace excellence, we can help. And if you’re starting to feel your DEI strategy lose its original energy and momentum, these are just a few ways to re-energize and re-invest for greater long-term impact.
Amber Keister is a writer and editor who believes in the power of story to bring people together. Her work has appeared in Cary Magazine, The News & Observer, and other local publications.