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From getting the entire organization on board to assuring there is buy-in from the right leaders, here are 10 answers to the question, “What are the top reasons for CDO/DEI leader burnout and what actions should organizations take to combat this and best support new diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders?”

  • Create Awareness Throughout the Organization
  • Decentralize Your Approach 
  • Prevent Burnout With Gradual Changes
  • Heal Trauma Exposure
  • Ensure Executive Support and Realistic Expectations
  • Acknowledge Limitations in Different Areas of Expertise
  • Close the Inclusion Gap
  • Offer Mental Health and Self-care Assistance
  • Confront Resistance to Change
  • Make Organizational Buy-in Mandatory

Create Awareness Throughout the Organization

The role of a DEI leader is well-defined, but the surrounding parameters seldom are. One reason behind this is the relative ambiguity surrounding DEI efforts, because of which teams are still working around hurdles and using the trial and error method to find solutions that match their specific issues. 

With the challenges associated with each organization different from another, there’s no surefire formula to help a DEI leader drive home their efforts. While this results in breakthroughs, it also has leaders running into dead ends frequently. 

One way to resolve this is to create awareness throughout the organization so that the leader’s effort encourages employee participation. This way, the people we build it for will test every solution, enabling the leader to review live feedback and introduce suitable changes. More importantly, such an environment translates to an entire workplace working in tandem towards its DEI efforts instead of a lone leader going at it all by themselves.

Riley Beam, Managing Attorney, Douglas R. Beam, P.A.

Decentralized Your Approach 

I’ve noticed that when workers come to me feeling burned out on CDO and DEI leadership, nine times out of ten, they’re working in some sort of HR capacity.

Upper management still sees DEI policies as something that can be implemented in one area and will naturally spread to the rest of the office. But in reality, this leads to clashes in the workforce and HR departments that are overburdened and unmotivated.

For a true culture shift, organizations should instead make a plan that includes every level of the company. Each team should have a DEI leader; this decentralization will reduce the friction and alienation that comes with a top-down approach.

Linn Atiyeh, CEO, Bemana

Prevent Burnout With Gradual Changes

Inadequate resources and a lack of direct power to make bottom-up changes often cause burnout for CDO/DEI leaders. To counter this, organizations should provide a supportive environment with reliable support from other stakeholders within the organization and access to resources that allow progress on key initiatives. 

For example, the organization should offer continual professional development and training opportunities so that those in such positions can understand their target audiences better, as well as develop skills across various areas like communication, project management, and data evaluation. 

By having access to these educational opportunities over time and working closely with their team members to accomplish DEI goals, burnout can be avoided by making changes slowly but effectively.

Grace He, People and Culture Director, TeamBuilding

Heal Trauma Exposure 

Trauma exposure significantly contributes to DEI leader burnout, but most organizations fail to notice or acknowledge it. Due to the nature of their work, DEI leaders often have to hear harrowing accounts of how candidates experienced discrimination when applying for jobs, which can lead to secondary trauma and burnout. 

To support these professionals better, businesses should offer mental support breaks that allow DEI leaders to re-energize and work through the trauma exposure. Additionally, offering advanced training is a creative solution to this issue in the long run.

Liam Liu, Co-Founder and CMO, ParcelPanel

Ensure Executive Support and Realistic Expectations

I have seen firsthand the toll that lack of executive support and unrealistic expectations can have on CDO/DEI leaders. We often task these individuals with creating major cultural shifts within organizations, but without the necessary resources and support from senior leadership, it can be an uphill battle. Additionally, unrealistic expectations regarding timelines for change or metrics for success can lead to burnout and frustration for these leaders. 

To combat this, organizations must prioritize DEI efforts at the highest levels, provide adequate funding and staffing, offer ongoing training and development for CDO/DEI leaders, and establish realistic goals with achievable timelines. By doing so, organizations can better support their DEI leaders and create sustainable change.

Basana Saha, Founder and Editor, KidsCareIdeas

Acknowledge Limitations in Different Areas of Expertise

In my opinion, we often expect DEI/CDO leaders to be experts in all aspects of diversity, equality, and inclusion, which can be unrealistic and overwhelming. These leaders may feel pressured to have expertise in areas such as race, gender, sexuality, ability, and others, even if these are not their areas of expertise. 

Companies may address this issue by acknowledging the limitations of individual expertise and building teams with varied perspectives and skill sets. Organizations can provide stronger support to their CDO/DEI leaders and ensure that efforts are more comprehensive and effective by assembling a DEI team with knowledge in many areas of diversity.

Tiffany Hafler, Marketing Coordinator, Blockchain Lawyer

Close the Inclusion Gap

A lack of diversity, equality, and inclusion competencies among leaders can also contribute to CDO/DEI leader burnout. It might be difficult for these leaders to make headway when senior leaders lack understanding or buy-in for DEI projects. 

Furthermore, if diversity leaders are the only ones in charge of driving DEI activities, it can be daunting. Organizations‌ can tackle this issue by prioritizing DEI training for all levels of leadership. Training on unconscious bias, anti-racism, and other DEI subjects may be included. 

Organizations can better support their CDO/DEI leaders by ensuring that all leaders understand the importance of DEI initiatives and are prepared to contribute to these efforts.

Gerrid Smith, Communications Manager, Property Tax Loan Pros

Offer Mental Health and Self-care Assistance

I feel DEI work can be emotionally exhausting, and CDO/DEI leaders may experience compassion fatigue or burnout from consistently dealing with issues related to oppression and marginalization. 

Work like this can cause tiredness, tension, and emotional strain. Organizations may address this issue‌ by offering regular opportunities for CDO/DEI executives to engage in self-care and professional growth. This can include paid time off, access to mental health resources, and self-care training.

Cindi Keller, Communications Coordinator, The Criminal Defense Firm

Confront Resistance to Change

I believe that resistance to change is one reason for CDO/DEI leader burnout. DEI efforts can necessitate considerable cultural and structural changes within a business, which can elicit opposition from employees and executives. In the face of this resistance, CDO/DEI leaders may feel isolated or powerless, leading to burnout. 

I believe organizations may overcome this issue by confronting change resistance head-on. Leaders should make a strong case for why DEI efforts are critical to the organization’s performance and provide employees with education and training to help them grasp the significance of these projects. 

Organizations should also provide assistance and resources to help employees and executives adapt to changes.

Tim Allen, Director, Oberheiden P.C.

Make Organizational Buy-in Mandatory

One of the top reasons for CDO/DEI leader burnout is a lack of organizational buy-in. Organizational leaders must fully embrace and fund DEI initiatives in order to provide adequate support and resources to their DEI leaders. 

For instance, some organizations have incorporated implicit bias training into their hiring processes. This investment shows an awareness that past practices may not always reflect modern values regarding DEI outreach. By implementing this kind of proactive approach, organizations can foster greater acceptance and understanding of diverse perspectives.

Amy Ling Lin, CEO, Sundays

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