what is diversity fatigue?

diversity fatigue. i was introduced to this concept last month while attending a leadership and diversity conference. when i heard this term i thought it meant, “it’s tiring being a person of color.” and it is. i flip on the tv or scroll through my favorite social media platform and learn of yet another black person arrested, shot, or accosted by a non person of color, member of law enforcement or even a neighbor. in the last month alone i’ve watched a litany of videos that support my definition: two black men handcuffed and arrested in a starbucks for not making a purchase; two prospective colorado state university students questioned by police officers based on the suspicions of two parents; a black female golf group threatened by white male golfers for playing too slowly and then told to leave the course; a group of black women detained by police for 45 minutes as they exited an airbnb because the neighbors assumed the women were thieves. each event more egregious than the one before, each occurring in varying parts of the nation, and each involving people of color. it seemed to me my definition was correct. but what the speakers explained was quite different.

diversity fatigue is a multi-faceted term; it is the exhaustion experienced by the diversity and inclusion team (usually a team of one) whose directives are: to gain alignment from senior leaders on the need for diverse candidates on interview panels, to promote people of color and women into director level positions and above, and to ensure inclusivity training is provided to all employees. as they are often working alone, this person often seeks volunteers to help proselytize and spread the good news about the value of hiring diverse candidates.

the diversity and inclusion message is complex and requires a paradigm and culture shift. why should a company hire more women? why do women need to be present in senior leadership positions? how does a corporation benefit from people of color at all levels and in all roles of an organization? before we can begin hiring diverse candidates of any background, we must first work to retain those currently employed. to those who fail to see the importance or put their weight behind the need, we must demonstrate the value of said hires using data, statistics, and impacts to the bottom line.

we are beyond “let’s talk about it” when it comes to diversity, there is little more to be said, it is time for action. time for those who make or influence decisions to do what is right, to have the courage rosa parks possessed when she refused to give up her seat on the bus; the courage shirley chisolm displayed as the first black woman elected to u.s. congress; the courage of the little rock 9 when they were spat upon, harassed, and mistreated as they simply tried to integrate a school and receive a public education. every act for which those women stood were noble, virtuous, and a civil right.

i am amazed at the courage black women possess. we stand up when others will sit down, we make a way for others to pass when the door has been closed in our faces. we challenge the power elite and accept all manner of vitriol to pave the way for the next woman. in this era of #metoo (a movement founded and launched by Tarana Burke, a black woman) i learned of a 1978 court case (Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson) involving a 19 year old bank teller trainee, Mechelle Vinson, whose manager intimidated her into having sex with him. vinson is a black woman. sisters, this happened in 1974. she left the bank in 1978 and the case was settled in her favor by the supreme court in 1986. the highest court of the land ruled (9–0) that sexual harassment that results in a hostile work environment is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sex discrimination by employers (source: encylopedia britannica) .

imagine the experience black women had in corporate america in the ’70s. and then picture ms. vinson bringing a case against her employer and the man who she alleged sexually harassed her. this woman’s actions personified courage. this is the courage i expect from white women and men when employees approach them about being passed over for promotion, when appointments are made without justifiable cause and no candidate of color is on the short list. i expect them to uphold the policies the organization outlined:  open positions at certain levels require at least one qualified diverse candidate. i expect them to take a stand and not allow a “walk-on” because they lack the courage to defend the system they created.

sisters, i have made it my mission as part of the diversity BRG to help prepare employees of color to make the short list. asking the senior leaders what skills are expected and ensuring the multicultural talent pool possess them so that when we apply we will be as competitive as any other applicant. this is a battle that must be fought on multiple fronts. from senior leadership to their directs, to employees obtaining the requisite skills and effectively networking to ensure their names are spoken of in the moment of decision. i cannot accept that the way things are is the way they will remain; i am determined to use what i have at my disposal to make things better for the next SBF.

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