Why We Need to Stop Expecting Marginalized People to Lead DEI

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While many organizations struggled to make public statements and donations in the wake of the summer 2020 events to demonstrate a deeper commitment to diversity, very few have made the investment of time and resources dedicated to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). were, capitalized.

Despite the intense focus on DEI, few organizations have been satisfied with the results they have achieved on their DEI goals and plans. Representation numbers, inclusion indices, and turnover rates of various people remain stagnant at best. Representation in DEI affairs – but it’s not fair to expect marginalized groups to spearhead this effort – allies can speak up and get the job done.

So why doesn’t DEI work?

  1. Organizations have overtaxed those from marginalized groups to lead DEI work
  2. DEI leaders rarely have the resources, position of power and influence to create real change
  3. DEI executive tenure is short and burnout is the number one reason for turnover

Marginalized groups cover a variety of dimensions of diversity. Marginalized groups include gender, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, disability, LGBTQ+, age, socioeconomic background and more. These groups are often underrepresented in organisations, especially at management level. The majority group, on the other hand, is often over-represented in organizations and is more prominent in leadership representation. These are typically white, straight, cis-gender, able-bodied, and of the native culture or ethnicity of the organization’s headquarters.

See also: 5 Reasons Executives Don’t Put DEI Rhetoric into Action

Marginalized groups are overwhelmed with leading DEI

Organizations have attempted to recruit, hire, nurture, and retain marginalized groups through DEI programming, recruitment and hiring strategies, and the creation of DEI roles. Women of color are twice as likely to be tasked with leading DEI efforts because they have twice the experience of race and gender. However, they are the ones who have been affected by the diversity issue.

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Marginalized groups are more likely to experience micro-aggression or non-inclusive behaviors such as disruptions, no appreciation for ideas, or people making false and harmful assumptions about them. Asking them to do the brunt of DEI work isn’t fair. Don’t ask them to solve a problem they didn’t create.

DEI leaders rarely have the resources, power and influence to create real change

If DEI work is undervalued compared to short-term profitable work, the message is clear – diversity is nice-to-have, not must-have. Anything important in business would be prioritized, and DEI is no different.

Think of a new product launch or strategic initiative important to future growth. How do you equip it appropriately? Would you provide the leader with the full support they need to be successful? Would you look at long-term vs. short-term success?

DEI requires resources like any other business need. This means a budget that is 100% owned by the DEI leader, with specific goals and actions to ensure resources continue to be directed to DEI. When companies experience an economic downturn or short-term business problems, there is a temptation to redirect resources from DEI to the business. However, progress at DEI requires a long-term, consistent and conscious commitment. Diverting efforts when the going gets tough suggests it doesn’t really matter.

Many DEI leaders do not report to the CEO or the C-suite, leaving them ill-equipped to manage systemic change and be taken seriously. Without the positional authority to drive diversity and embed it in organizational culture, they are unable to drive systemic change. DEI leaders are often chosen for their passion, but the ability to influence others is a key driver of success. Those who are able to leverage relationships, get people committed to change, and make allies are often the most successful.

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See also: According to 8 experts, these are the biggest blind spots in diversity initiatives

The tenure of DEI leaders is short and burnout is the main reason

Employee burnout is a global problem. In a Deloitte survey of over 1,000 respondents, 77% said they had experienced burnout in their current job. According to McKinsey & Company’s latest Women in the Workplace report, the data is higher for marginalized people. McKinsey found that “Compared to men at their level, female leaders are up to twice as likely to spend significant time on DEI work outside of their formal job responsibilities — such as supporting employee resource groups, organizing events and the Recruitment of employees from underrepresented groups. “

The average tenure of a DEI executive is less than two years. Compare that to other senior leadership positions and the difference is stark. Many DEI leaders leave the company because they feel unable to truly succeed. Executives fluctuate with the news cycle, executives don’t prioritize DEI in their daily plans, and they feel their efforts are wasted.

If you believe in and care about DEI, stop asking the most marginalized to lead the change. Make it a priority for everyone to shop in, make a long-term commitment to DEI, and model inclusion in the workplace.

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What do we do now?

Related: How to Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Your Workplace

1. Engage allies to lead diversity work

Alliance is contagious. Instead of just relying on marginalized people, find ways to get the majority group more involved in the conversation. When people in the majority group hear stories about the adversities of diversity, they are more likely to join the conversation and see a real problem in it, even if they haven’t experienced it themselves.

2. Appropriately resource and budget DEI leaders

Just like any other business imperative, you should properly resource and fund DEI. Set a clear budget with priorities for the year. Successful organizations are consistent and purposeful, and have the full support of the leadership team to drive DEI forward.

3. Conduct listening sessions to learn more about perceptions of burnout and marginalized groups

If you don’t know where to start, listen first. First gather the perceptions of people from marginalized groups and then find out what you can do to address burnout and the systemic issues that affect it.

Remember, DEI is a journey, not a destination. With allies, resources, and knowledge, organizations can move toward positive change faster. Individual actions count. Together we are stronger when we work together as allies. Don’t expect those most affected to solve the problems affecting them alone. Allies get the job done and influence positive change.