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Key takeaways:

  • Community Support: Cultivate a supportive network of peers and allies within and beyond your industry to share insights, best practices, and mutual encouragement, helping to combat burnout and sustain motivation.
  • Continuous Learning: Embrace a mindset of continual learning and growth, recognizing that it’s okay not to have all the answers and prioritizing education and development opportunities for yourself and others involved in DEI efforts.
  • Personal Reflection: Take time to reflect on and appreciate the impact of your work, acknowledging personal growth, successes, and the meaningful connections forged in your role as a DEI leader, fostering resilience and fulfillment amidst challenges.

Leading diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at a large company can seem overwhelming. While you might be responsible for driving cultural change in your organization, you will likely find it challenging to lead if responsibilities seem insurmountable. This is especially true for DEI leaders who are heavily relied upon to address recent racial division, inequities, gender disparities, and other DEI-related topics within their organizations.

As the dedicated leadership role for DEI becomes increasingly common at big companies, many leaders face burnout — and exhaustion is causing many to flat out leave. According to The Wall Street Journal, Chief Diversity Officers have a notorious history of high turnover because of the lack of resources and support from executive leaders, and unrealistic expectations, and lack of support from executive leaders.

Fatigue around DEI may create roadblocks, but how can you stay motivated and engaged in all your efforts?

DEI Board members share some insights on managing burnout and mitigating fatigue around DEI as senior leaders at large organizations.

Make sure everyone contributes to DEI efforts

Having people to rely on who understand the burnout you deal with can help you manage it. Many DEI leaders say their communities are the ones who keep them inspired, and when challenges come up, they know they can rely on their communities to stay motivated.

Part of engaging your community to help mitigate fatigue is making sure everyone understands that they play a role in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. It has to be clear that DEI is not just a Human Resources job.

“I have always said to find a tribe,” says LaQuenta Jacobs, Chief Diversity Officer at XPO Logistics. “That tribe could be people within your industry or people who you follow in the DEI space.”

LaQuenta says her community helps her create connections and share best practices to understand what works and what doesn’t as a DEI leader.

“That tribe has been instrumental for me, and it has helped me steer away from potholes or dead ends and move into an area where I was like, ‘Oh, I never even thought about that.’” LaQuenta says.

Ensuring everyone contributes to DEI efforts is essential in alleviating any fatigue you might face. Embedding DEI into the base of an organization can ensure everyone’s role is critical in advancing strategies.

In the DEI Board’s panel discussion about mitigating fatigue in an enterprise environment, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at Panera Bread Pamela Morris-Thornton shares how embedding DEI can help manage burnout.

“It doesn’t necessarily fall solely on the shoulders of DEI,” says Pamela. “It’s bringing the partners and the owners of those functions along in the journey so that once you have embedded DEI, it becomes much more of the fabric of the organization and not something that DEI has to always push and pull on.”

Learn first and lead second

It’s critical to understand that although you might be responsible for leading DEI, it shouldn’t be expected for you to know everything. The stress of being a DEI leader can stem from being put into a position where you’re expected to know how to solve all DEI challenges.

But it’s important to understand that, like many people looking to learn how to contribute to your strategy, DEI leaders must also be willing to learn first before leading, explains Paul de Chica, Senior Manager of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Bell Canada.

“There are multiple strategies, as you may imagine, but learning is one of the first, or the top one,” he says. “Many people want to learn more or are eager to learn, and I think through different learning opportunities that we have, we are able to attract attention and drive the conversation.”

Keeping employees inspired and engaged in DEI efforts also requires a learn-first mentality from your C-suite. Noël France, Senior Global Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Avantor, shares how senior leadership teams need to be dedicated to learning and leading DEI to help others stay engaged.

“Your CEO and your board need to be saying, ‘This is something that we care about,’” she says. “‘And we care about this not just because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s good for the business and it’s good for our investors.’”

Take personal time to reflect and appreciate your work

According to Darryl Castellano, Vice President of Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Engagement at WESCO International, sustaining a career as a senior DEI leader requires taking time to appreciate the work you’re involved in.

“I get pleasure in being a business partner and seeing the connections that the business is making to the work that I’m doing,” he says. “As long as I’m helping the business succeed and reach their goals by injecting the DEI work we’re doing, I can rest my head at night knowing that I’ve done a good job, and I’m having an impact.”

As a senior leader, Noël explains why taking time to reflect on the work she’s put into being in her role is important and why leading DEI is personal.

“As my role as a leader, as my role as a manager, I aim to create safe spaces,” Noël says. “I aim to have inclusion across the board, and I have scratched tooth and claw and nail to get a seat at the table. I quote Drake all the time and say, ‘I started from the bottom, now I’m here.’”

Taking time to appreciate your work ethic is also essential in mitigating fatigue and setting yourself up for success.

“I’ve had to become very comfortable in my skin being a woman, first of all, and being a Black woman,” LaQuenta says. “But outside of my color and my gender, it was around my work ethic and reputation that I created inside my environment — of being able to be trusted, to be able to deliver on what I said I was going to deliver on, understanding expectations, and negotiating outcomes.”

Ultimately, leading DEI creates lasting impacts and relationships in the community you work in. While the responsibilities can exhaust a single person, acknowledging the effects of your work and working with people who share the same values as you can keep you motivated.

“I have a passion for community engagement, and I choose to spend my time giving back to organizations that I truly have an alignment with and a passion for,” Pamela says. “So for me, if I can do all of those things and my work, I feel like I can find balance.”

Interested in learning more?

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