Pride month: India is facing a diversity fatigue. Here are six ways around it

Diversity fatigue is a complex challenge that demands sustained effort and strong leadership commitment. By understanding its causes and implementing strategic measures, organisations can create a more inclusive environment where diversity is genuinely valued

Updated: Jun 7, 2024 10:25:06 AM UTC
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As we commemorate Pride Month, it's an opportune moment to reflect on India's journey toward inclusion and address a pressing concern within our industrial landscapes: diversity fatigue. Within our country's diverse societal landscape, this phenomenon poses a significant challenge to our collective pursuit of a more inclusive society.

Diversity fatigue: India and abroad

Diversity fatigue, a term from the 1990s, describes the waning enthusiasm for DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives. It is a broad term that encompasses the sense of exhaustion or frustration that individuals or organisations may feel in response to ongoing efforts and discussions about DEI or even skepticism around the efficacy of DEI initiatives at the workplace. Globally, this leads to declining participation in training, weak policy support, and stalled diversity goals. In India, it threatens inclusive workplaces and equitable opportunities, with diversity encompassing caste, culture, and regional disparities apart from gender and disability.

India's professional landscape increasingly values employee well-being for corporate success. Recent laws like the RPD Act (2016), TPPR Act (2019), and HIV Act (2017) align with global inclusivity trends. Currently, 71 percent of organisations offer diversity training and gender-neutral communication, with 62 percent providing inclusive benefits. Despite decriminalising homosexuality in 2018, LGBTQIA+ representation remains limited, indicating the need for further progress.

Unpacking diversity fatigue: Causes

The phenomenon of diversity fatigue in workplaces can be attributed to a plethora of reasons. It is mostly the result of the many challenges that organisations encounter. One significant contributor is the feeling of being overwhelmed, stemming from the constant emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives without tangible outcomes. This inundation can lead stakeholders to feel a sense of futility and exhaustion, diminishing their engagement over time. Resistance to change further compounds the issue, as entrenched structures of privilege and power perpetuate inertia, hindering progress towards more inclusive cultures. The predominant factor contributing to diversity fatigue frequently stems from the struggle to maintain a prolonged dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives, often at the expense of pursuing immediate, task-focused DEI endeavours.

Identifying diversity fatigue in the workplace

Identifying diversity fatigue and its symptoms is a crucial first step in combating this issue. Understanding diversity fatigue within organisations requires a careful understanding of subtle cues and changes in attitudes and behaviours among stakeholders. One key indicator is a noticeable decline in participation and engagement in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. This is visible in declining attendance at DEI-related events, lower involvement in diversity-focused committees or affinity groups, and decreased enthusiasm for diversity training programmes.

Also Read- Importance of enabling LGBTIQA+ inclusion by corporate India

Additionally, skepticism or cynicism towards DEI efforts may become more prevalent, with stakeholders expressing doubts about the effectiveness or sincerity of organisational diversity initiatives. Informal conversations and feedback channels may also reveal disillusionment or disengagement regarding DEI efforts. It's essential to recognise the importance of softer aspects like respect, equality, and communication. In the workplace, diversity fatigue may lead to a lack of commitment to DEI initiatives and the perpetuation of systemic inequalities. Even minor nuances in language usage, if not handled properly, can contribute to this sense of fatigue.

Combatting diversity fatigue: What can be done?

The impact of diversity fatigue on the growth of DEI initiatives and employee engagement is intricate and extensive. Recognising the reality of burnout and skepticism surrounding DEI commitments can serve as a crucial starting point for organisations. By implementing strategies to revitalise their DEI efforts, organisations can ensure these initiatives remain vibrant, meaningful, and capable of driving lasting change.

The following strategies can be implemented to overcome diversity fatigue:

Leadership Commitment: Genuine commitment from top leadership is crucial. Leaders should champion diversity as a core organisational value and integrate it into the business strategy. By demonstrating inclusive behaviours, fostering a diverse leadership team, and openly discussing diversity exhaustion, leaders can validate the experiences of those who are fatigued, setting a norm for openness and empathy.

Clear Communication: Transparent communication about diversity initiatives' goals, benefits, and progress can help build trust and engagement.

Inclusive Culture: Cultivating an inclusive culture that celebrates diversity and encourages open dialogue can mitigate fatigue. This involves continuous DEI education and training, providing an inclusive language guidebook, and periodically reviewing HR policies and practices like hiring, promotion, and Comp & Ben evaluations should help foster a culture of respect, inclusivity, and equity within the organisation.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) & Support Systems: Providing access to mental health resources and support systems is crucial for those involved in DEI efforts. Employee Resource Groups can foster a sense of community and belonging, offering a safe space for employees to address their needs. Support can also include employee assistance programs, counselling services, and DEI-specific support groups and resources.

Mentorship and Sponsorship Programs: Sponsorship programs can act as an essential tool which can be used to empower underrepresented groups and provide them with opportunities that can help them in their career growth.

Measurable Outcomes: Establishing clear metrics and regularly assessing the impact of diversity initiatives helps demonstrate progress and maintain momentum. To keep employees motivated, it is essential to set short-term goals that are well-defined and measurable and celebrate incremental wins. At the same time, it is also important to keep the long-term vision in mind so that employees have the end goal in sight. DEI metrics should be part of the HR/ Leadership Dashboard and reviewed regularly.

Also Read- Why authentic allyship is vital to nurturing Pride at the workplace

In conclusion, diversity fatigue is a complex challenge that demands sustained effort and strong leadership commitment to overcome. By understanding its causes and implementing strategic measures, organisations can create a more inclusive environment where diversity is genuinely valued, and fatigue is reduced. This approach can significantly impact employees' perceptions of DEI programs and their perceived success, even during periods of slow progress. In India, embracing the nation's rich diversity while addressing specific societal challenges is essential for advancing DEI initiatives effectively.

Lalitha M Shetty is vice president, HR at Omega Healthcare.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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