There’s a question I’ve been asked several times lately, from business leaders and HR leaders. The question is “how do we avoid diversity fatigue?”

The business case for diversity and inclusion is generally well accepted and yet change is slow.

Are you game to ask your employees, “Why is progress slow on this issue for us?”

You’ll likely invite some antagonists but think of the intel you’ll gain, not to mention the focus you’ll draw.

You may be sitting in a business with a raft of D&I strategies propelled by a sizeable budget… or you may be armed with nothing more than good intentions. Regardless of the size of your spend, if you’ve been tasked with improving diversity and inclusion, you’ll have some initiatives in place.

Draw parallels to other initiatives

When workplace safety was first a big push, in initial rollouts we first had to report every paper cut and near-miss stapler-dropped-on-foot incident. The paperwork, the fuss, for many the OHS push was seen as an imposition into a busy day by the needs of a handful of noisy wheels. The truth is, for many now D&I is viewed the same way. Sure, most employees agree theoretically that we should be able to harness the full workforce and that a variety of ideas make for more robust business outcomes – but who has time for that kind of upset and change?

Draw parallels to the other initiatives that have been implemented, highlighting either the productivity gains or the people gains, depending on who you’re talking to and what’s more important to them.

Celebrate the wins

So you had 35% of the workforce attend your NAIDOC week events? Spread the word. Take photos, circulate a visual representation of support for individuals.

Perhaps you have an above – industry average representation of women in your leadership teams? Make it known, celebrate where you’re doing well. If you’re not sure how you got there, take it as an opportunity to ask more questions.

 

Take a breather

A reputable global business leader recently got me to reach for the sky. Quite literally. We were sitting in his office, talking about rising expectations and fatigue among his team members. He asked me to stand up and reach for the sky.

“No, I mean really reach – on your toes, reach higher”. I did. He asked how it felt.

“Fine, it’s good to stretch actually”

Our conversation continued. My vigour for stretching wore off as I was distracted by the conversation. He reminded me to keep stretching. I did. A few minutes in, he checked in again how it felt.

“I’m less enthusiastic, my arms feel heavier, but it’s still ok”

We kept talking. Twenty five minutes later, he invited me to again take my seat. Ok, so it was probably 6 minutes that FELT like twenty five. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Anyone can stretch for a short burst. When we ask people to stretch endlessly, they do get fatigued. We need to let them rest.

A rest from the D&I push does not mean letting bad behaviours slide. Acceptable behaviours and inclusive processes should be a basic norm. But keep in mind that if your rhetoric is always “we’ve got such a long way to go”, fatigue is inevitable.

 

Find the stories

If your people don’t feel comfortable bringing their whole unique self to work, then you don’t know they’re unique and you miss out on the breadth of their abilities. Announcing that everyone is welcome is a long road from employees actually feeling or believing their ideas are welcomed.

You may be far more diverse than you realise, but if you’re no inclusive, you’ll never know it and you’ll never see the benefits.

 

 

We know that senior leadership teams in Australia are predominantly white and male and middle aged. Most of the images of success around a business tend to be delivered by the leadership team, in order that people can ‘connect with the vision’. Therein lies a gap. Find success stories throughout your business and give those people a profile.

“You can’t be what you can’t see” (by Marian Wright Edelman or Marie Wilson or Naomi Simpson, depending on your source!). So let your teams see success in action through stories, accolades, images. There’s not only one variety of success and not only one variety of person who can achieve it. Find the visuals to carry that message, demonstrating that you do value all ages, all backgrounds, all departments and so on.

 

Cath Nolan

MD, Gender Gap Gone

Want to talk further about what these strategies might look like in your workplace? Let’s talk. Talk to our team or attend our next leadership event, The Diversity Collective – it’s next on in Sydney on November 9th.