Avoiding diversity fatigue

Jan 24, 2020

How can organisations keep the passion going for D&I? Dawn Leane explores how businesses can do more to successfully deliver their D&I programmes.  

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) seems like a simple concept: while we are all different, we are all equal. So why has D&I become such a headache for some businesses?

Organisations invest significant resources into D&I programmes, such as creating specialist roles, publishing results and setting up employee groups. However, these often fail to deliver the expected return on investment. Without results, organisations can begin to experience diversity fatigue. People become tired of ideas that don’t gain traction and employees can become sceptical that D&I is little more than a PR exercise.  

Creating meaningful change

To create meaningful change in an organisation, there are a few things you can do:

  • Diagnose the specific D&I challenges the organisation is facing instead of just rolling out a standard set of programmes or initiatives. Find out what issues need to be addressed and how to measure them successfully.
  • Are the organisation’s D&I programmes and initiatives authentic? Unconscious bias training and inclusion workshops can sometimes be implemented in order to mitigate complaints or, when poorly designed, can treat participants as if they are intolerant, which is ultimately counterproductive.
  • Resist the temptation to tag everything as D&I. Most employees don’t want to be labelled as ‘diverse’ even in a positive way as it can create a sense of ‘otherness’.
  • Make D&I relevant to everyone in the organisation. D&I initiatives often focus exclusively on diverse groups and fail to engage a wider audience of people. This can mean that functional and business unit leaders do not know how to support D&I within their individual areas.
  • Embedding diversity, inclusion and belonging requires an organisational culture change – D&I values and associated behaviours must become part of the organisation’s DNA. This can only happen, however, when there is a sustained focus over a long period of time. Often, small changes have the biggest impact.

Developing successful D&I programmes is not a one-size-fits-all approach, it is much more nuanced; organisations and the people who work for them are complex and dynamic.

Individualised training

An individualised D&I training, which involves a combination of coaching and mentoring, can be hugely beneficial to organisations. These sessions create the space for individuals to talk openly about their challenges and ask questions which they may not feel comfortable doing in a group setting.

 A coaching conversation elicits, without judgement, the individual’s attitudes, beliefs and any of the issues or questions they may have. A mentoring conversation then takes this further to identify specific actions and behaviours that will make a difference.

In my experience, forcing the D&I agenda in an inauthentic manner only serves to make people know which boxes to tick to be compliant. It doesn’t change attitudes or lead to sustainable change, which is essential for D&I to be successful in any organisation.

Dawn Leane is Principal Consultant at Leane Leaders, Developing Inclusive Leadership. She will deliver a workshop on Leadership for Professional Women as part of Chartered Accountants Ireland's CPD programme on 25 March.