Out-Law News

What is ‘diversity fatigue’ and how do you stop it?

Kate Dodd tells HRNews about scepticism towards D&I initiatives and how to address it


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  • Transcript

    Does your business suffer from ‘diversity fatigue’? Do your D&I initiatives stop at an idea, rather than progressing to an active step that is implemented and that makes a difference? 

    This is the subject of an interesting article that has appeared in Personnel Today written by Corine Sheratte, a senior D&I consultant at Green Park. She says faced with a raft of initiatives and discouragingly slow progress, it’s easy to become sceptical but there are steps you can take to turn D&I sceptics into D&I hopefuls. She says to the hopeful, talking about these initiatives is a signal that meaningful cultural change is underway in an organisation. Yet, to the sceptic, these conversations often represent mere symbols that disappear when the pressure dissipates with the result that, too often, hopefuls turn into sceptics and you have what she calls ‘diversity fatigue’.

    At the other end of the scale you have employers who are overly aggressive in their efforts to become more diverse. A recent example of that is the advertising agency, Wunderman Thompson, that wanted to reduce its gender pay gap. The case was widely reported in the press, including The Telegraph, The Mail and The Guardian. Two creative directors, Chas Bayfield and Dave Jenner, went on to win sex discrimination claim after a female director, who said she was gay, vowed to ‘obliterate’ its reputation of being full of straight, white men – both men are white and straight. The couple expressed 'valid' concerns over the safety of their jobs after which managers were said to have reacted 'furiously' and took it as a 'challenge' to their new diversity drive. The two men were subsequently made redundant.   

    Cases like that are quite rare. The more common problem is a failing to do enough, which brings us back to the article’s headline – ‘How can we stop ‘diversity fatigue’?’ Kate Dodd is a diversity and inclusion specialist and she joined me by video-link to discuss all these points:

    Kate Dodd: “So diversity fatigue, this is really interesting because what it is defined as being his frustration and exhaustion associated with trying to attract candidates from diverse pools or generate more diversity within a business. I actually thought I'd mis-read it when I read that the first time because I assumed that diversity fatigue was actually the frustration and exhaustion felt by people who are from diverse pools, diverse candidates, in finding that they are underrepresented or finding themselves not promoted at the same rates, etcetera, as others. So it's a really interesting one and, to an extent, I think that what really it should mean, and does mean, is that sometimes there is frustration with how slowly things happen in diversity and inclusion and how much effort you can put in to find yourself not very much further forward a year later or, perhaps, two years later.”

    Joe Glavina: “How would HR know if this problem existed in their workforce?”

    Kate Dodd: “I think you would know there's a problem if you're struggling to find sponsors. So if you're looking for senior sponsors within your business and you're struggling to get people to engage with that at a senior level, perhaps you're struggling to get your employee network groups, so you might have established them but find that they are not really doing anything. You rely on your network groups to be very self-motivated and to be really enthusiastic and if you're struggling with that it can be a sign of diversity fatigue. Or you find that people are not engaging in stuff so, you know, you're having events etcetera and they’re either not being attended or they're not going down particularly well. I think those are all signs that you need to do something a bit differently within your business around diversity and inclusion.”

    Joe Glavina: “Do you have any particular message for HR?”

    Kate Dodd: “I suppose I've got two key things. The first thing is don't expect a quick win. Make sure that when you are talking about diversity and inclusion that you are making it very clear that this is going to take years, five years, ten years, nothing is going to happen really, truly, within a year or two. Don't be too initiative led because if you just have initiatives without any sort of lasting change behind it, things like reciprocal mentoring programmes, or having sponsorships etcetera, you're not going to be able to get there if you're just holding events to celebrate certain days - you need mentoring, sponsorship, those types of things, to create the lasting change. Choose one or two things and focus on them. What are your problems? What issues is the business trying to address here? Why did you start doing this and what do your employees want to see and focus on those things first. Don’t try and boil the ocean, don't look for quick wins, focus on those things. Then the other thing I would say that is really important is try and find things that engage everybody. So we know from the Bayfield case how easy it is to actually exclude people from diversity and inclusion initiatives, or alienate people, because they start to feel that there is such a desire and a push for diversity that they are actually disadvantaged by that. In this case there were two men that were successful after they were dismissed because previously it had been said that the company vowed to obliterate ‘white privileged British boys club’ basically and these people were subsequently dismissed and they were successful in their complaints of sex discrimination. So be very careful that what you're doing to try and encourage diversity doesn't inadvertently discourage other people or doesn't inadvertently exclude others and the best way to possibly do this is to find something that everybody recognises. So for example, we work with clients to help them bring about belonging to a culture, not just one of diversity and inclusion, but a culture of belonging, because all of us as human beings understand what belonging is and have a desire to belong and so, therefore, that is something that is much more inclusive if you have that as your focus as opposed to constantly talking about diversity and inclusion alone.”

    Kate mentioned the case of Bayfield. It’s a decision of the Central London Employment Tribunal and if you’d like to read it for yourself you can – we have put a link to the judgment in the transcript of this programme.

    - Link to judgment: Mr C Bayfield and Mr C Jenner v Wunderman Thompson (UK) Ltd & Others

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