If You are Tired, You are Not Alone
It’s been almost a year since the murder of George Floyd. For those that were practicing diversity, equity, and inclusion work long before his murder, it feels like a lifetime. The mental work of having to manage diversity efforts, experience adversity because of your own diverse identities, and having to always be the “only one” like you in a setting is a lot. Together, these factors can be exhausting.
Why Diversity Can be Exhausting
Those that lead diversity work tend to be women, people of color, those with disabilities or belonging to about LGBTQ+ community. Not always, but in my experience it has been very rare to see straight white cis-gendered males leading diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in organizations. That means that those leading diversity are often also experiencing adversity because of diversity. The challenge of simultaneously leading diversity while managing your own diversity challenges can be a lot of mental work.
On any given day, those leading diversity may be teaching others how to be inclusive, experiencing their own microaggressions, all the while having to get work done. Microaggressions are subtle signals that someone does not belong – interruptions, not invited to the meeting, assumptions about socioeconomic status or ability based on the association with a diverse group (think race, gender, LGTBQ+, disabilities, etc.). That day in day in day out death by 1,000 cuts takes a toll on people.
The World is Built for the Majority Group
The reason microaggressions happen so much is because Corporate America was largely designed by White men for White men to succeed. Not a lot has changed since the 1950’s when women stayed at home and people of color were segregated and often employed in low-wage unskilled labor roles. That means leadership teams have been historically dominated by White men, presumably able-bodied, straight or closeted, and cisgender (although there is not a lot of data to be certain, it is likely safe to assume).
The white, cisgender, able-bodied, straight male has been leading Corporate America for decades and has built the systems and processes as they operate today. That means that those that don’t identify with the majority group by one or more dimensions may feel left out. Those that don’t see themselves reflected in leadership, in advertising, or in a day-to-day meeting setting are likely to feel less connected and a lower sense of belonging. These are deeply primal human needs and they don’t stop at work.
You may be wondering, what do we do about this? In our Lead Like an Ally training, we recommend the following strategies to lead inclusively for all people – people of color, women, those with disabilities or those that belong to the LGBTQ+ community.
- Amplify All Voices: I used to make the mistake that as a White person I shouldn’t speak up about racism. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Since the events of the summer of 2020, in speaking with people of color, I’ve learned that my voice as a White woman is more likely to be heard in some circles. Therefore, it is my duty to amplify the voices of others that are less likely to be heard. That means expanding my network to more people of color, sharing their content on social media, and finding ways to support their causes, their podcasts, or their books.
- Expand Your Network: Chances are you are spending time with people that are a lot like you. We learn more from people that are different than us – different races, different gender identities, different abilities, different sexual orientations just to name a few. Take an inventory of who you choose to spend time with and make sure that it’s representative of the perspectives you want to get to know more of.
- Educate Yourself: Leading like an ally is a journey, not a destination. The exciting thing is there’s always more to learn, the hard part is there’s always more to learn. It requires unlearning things we were taught in school that were incorrect about our racial past, learning more about the history of women and people of color that go way beyond Black History Month and Women’s History Month.
- Check Your Privilege: Even those that experience adversity because of diversity, have unique privileges. We can all leverage our networks to influence change. Note where you have unique privilege and can be helpful to others.
- Normalize Self-Care: As a leader, people take note of the behaviors you model. Sending late-night emails, or expecting people to work regular long-hour work weeks is not sustainable. If you’re experiencing fatigue, this is even more true. Be mindful with those that belong to diverse groups that they may need more space to process, events may be more triggering for them, and they need time to heal. Encourage people to take up self-care strategies, exercise, meditation, and tools to process.