Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) work can be incredibly rewarding, but like any job it has its challenges.
And while it’s common for Chief Diversity Officers or folks in similar positions to push through their stress because of their emotional commitment to the work — this often leads to burnout.
Your emotions are valuable data that something is wrong and they shouldn’t be ignored. So instead of trying to overcome your feelings, learn how to overcome the common EDI barriers at the root of your workplace woes.
This blog post is a resource to help you identify your problems while learning how to craft solutions with your most valuable asset: data-based decision making.
Leadership can be a point of stress when you’re not aligned on strategy, EDI knowledge or emotional capacity.
For example, if you want to run a series of trainings but leadership doesn’t understand why, you won’t get the funding you need for the initiative. If you collect a mass of EDI data but leadership feels embarrassed or panicked by the results, they have the power to shut everything down without warning.
This is why at Anima we say, “slow is fast.” Change-makers can lessen the chance of leadership pushback by meeting leaders where they’re at, getting aligned and gradually building everyone’s capacity for EDI work.
Here’s What to Do:
- Suggest an initial EDI training for your leaders as an entry point to develop their own equity literacy, so they can understand the nature and scope of your work.
- Recommend a free EDI audit like the Deep Diversity Solo Snapshot that can give you some sample data without overwhelming leaders with information.
- Remember that meaningful change takes time and you’re not failing by moving slowly. Yes, EDI is an urgent issue but moving effectively is more important than moving quickly.
Busywork thrives in environments where decisions are anxiety-based instead of data-driven. In EDI work, leaders often consider optics and reputational risk—trying to LOOK good because they don’t know how to DO good.
This might look like a call to address a toxic culture of frequent micro-aggressions being met by leadership more interested in getting photo-ops with “diverse” staff. Or a need to make your products or job postings more accessible being ignored in favour of holding workshops that no one will attend. Maybe you’re not moving the needle at all, but leadership is hell-bent on making it look like things are happening without putting in the work.
Here’s What to Do:
- Collect data through an EDI audit to get a more accurate picture of the problem you’re trying to fix. If the data clearly shows that you need to be focusing on workplace culture, it will give you leverage to say no to other initiatives that are actually wasting time, energy and resources.
- Move away from vague intentions and towards clear goals and objectives. For example, instead of generally improving EDI maybe you specifically want to increase the hiring and retention rate of employees from marginalized backgrounds, or identify and reduce incidents of microaggressions in the office.
- Set aside time to routinely collect data to track your progress, create more intentional work and keep leaders accountable to make change.
When you get hired as a Chief Diversity Officer (or in a similar role) you may not realize that you’ll also be taking on the role of organizational therapist, business coach, EDI educator and scapegoat.
EDI work is complex, and for some your role may represent change that they’re not ready for. Staff and leadership aren’t always mindful of your humanity and can end up unfairly unloading their feelings about EDI onto you or pushing back against your efforts. This can leave you feeling burnt out on a personal and professional level.
Unfortunately, backlash isn’t an anomaly to this work—it’s an intimate part of the work and the best way to manage it is to be prepared.
Here’s What to Do:
- Learn to anticipate and prepare for backlash. Instead of hoping it won’t happen, get comfortable asking yourself, “what will I do when it shows up?”.
- Help leaders and staff anticipate changes by keeping them involved in the process with trainings and EDI audits that give voice to their perspective. People are less likely to reject change when they feel like they’ve been part of the process.
Remember, data is your friend! EDI audits are an essential tool to keep you on track for setting and reaching sustainable EDI goals within your organization.
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Being a Chief Diversity Officer isn’t an easy job and many CDOs find themselves without the support, direction or thanks they deserve. We hope the tools shared here will bring you closer to nurturing the culture you need to thrive.
Anima Leadership believes in a compassionate approach to racial justice where everyone can feel like they matter and belong.
Since 2007, we have worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations teaching, consulting and coaching transformative change. Our award-winning training programs and innovative measurement tools will help us journey with you from diversity basics to advanced belonging.