What is Diversity Fatigue and How Can You Overcome It?

Driving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in your organization can feel like an overwhelming and sometimes frustrating effort. As a talent acquisition pro, you’re focusing on DEI not only during recruitment but throughout the entire hiring journey and beyond. DEI is an ongoing initiative, something that your entire company has to live and breathe—and yet, even working towards something as noble as a truly diverse workforce can be exhausting.

This feeling of overwhelm with DEI is called ‘diversity fatigue,’ and it can impact organizations at virtually every level. Knowing how to mitigate diversity fatigue to avoid pausing DEI initiatives or giving up on building a diverse workforce altogether starts with understanding what diversity fatigue is and the ways in which your team can overcome it.

What is diversity fatigue?

Put simply, ‘diversity fatigue’ encompasses the feelings of exhaustion, isolation, frustration, and (sometimes) skepticism around driving more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces.

While diversity fatigue can manifest in several different ways, common ‘symptoms’ include a lack of participation in and enthusiasm from employees for DEI initiatives, general disillusionment towards the progress of DEI, and discouragement of DEI initiatives. This is especially true for recruitment and hiring, where the work being done to attract, recruit, and hire diverse candidates can be arduous for talent acquisition teams.

Many studies, including those done by companies like Atlassian, have found that employees and hiring teams are growing less likely to participate in DEI initiatives year over year. And it’s completely understandable—when you’re responsible for hiring and recruiting diverse talent, your entire company has to be on board, not just your TA leaders or C-suite execs.

If there is little buy-in from employees at all levels, DEI can quickly fall to the wayside and become a ‘nice to have’ rather than the very real, crucial component of a successful company that it is. Diversity fatigue becomes a direct result of these challenges, and can be associated further with things like:

  • A lack of the time and resources needed to address current DEI challenges and the development of solutions
  • Discouragement from upper management or senior teams who feel frustrated by slow progress
  • Difficulty sticking to long-term commitments in favor of achieving short-term, task-based DEI efforts
  • A general lack of interest or motivation from employees to participate in DEI initiatives

If diversity fatigue is not only prevalent across many companies, but an increasingly growing challenge for hiring teams, what can you do as a talent acquisition pro to overcome diversity fatigue?

4 tips to overcoming diversity fatigue

People can quickly become disheartened, discouraged, and disappointed about DEI progress and whether the work being done to build a diverse workforce and culture is truly successful. When these feelings set in, predictably, employees across the board will give up on DEI, which further stalls progress. There are 4 key tips you can implement to help your own team overcome diversity fatigue.

Set realistic expectations for your DEI initiatives

Challenges related to DEI are complex and deeply nuanced, which means there is no sure-fire way to solve every DEI issue your company may face. Instead, it takes considerable work and patience—along with time, support, and resources—to develop the steps and tactics you’ll use to consistently progress DEI across your organization.

This is where setting realistic expectations for your DEI initiatives is crucial. While we would all love to hit every goal and achieve every milestone with our DEI efforts, often it is a matter of working slowly but surely towards one goal before acquiring the next. At Lever, we believe DEI is an ongoing initiative, one without a set finish line. By communicating this to your teams and helping others understand why, how, and when you’ll achieve specific goals, you can set more realistic expectations for your DEI initiatives.

This becomes even more critical as your team focuses more on diversity recruiting. You’ll need to set goals that are attainable and also align with your organization’s objectives for increasing diversity in your recruitment practices. Think of these goals as SMART goals, ones your team can work consistently towards rather than checking items off of a list.

When it comes to creating SMART goals for your DEI initiatives, consider how you can apply the SMART model to your hiring and recruitment.

  • Specific—your goals should be simple yet specific enough that there’s no confusion as to what your team is trying to achieve
  • Measurable—each goal should be measurable, something you can monitor the progress of
  • Achievable—in other words, every goal should be attainable
  • Relevant—are your goals realistic and aligned with your hiring objectives?
  • Time-bound—while your DEI initiatives should be ongoing, recruiting and hiring goals may be more timely or executed against in a specific quarter

Ensure the goals you’re setting to increase diversity in your recruitment practices are rooted in reality. When creating your goals, ask your team how they align with your objectives and what the outcome of each goal will be.

Measure your DEI initiatives to understand where diversity fatigue may arise

As we mention above, DEI is not a project or problem to solve—it’s an ongoing, ever-evolving effort that involves every individual at an organization and touches nearly every aspect of work. To see long-term change, we need to keep moving forward, measuring results, learning from past results, and course-correcting as needed. Without doing this, it becomes easy for teams to grow frustrated and fatigued with DEI progress.

Look closely at your existing data and insights to reveal where your strengths and weaknesses lay, along with any gaps or challenges your team is struggling with. To gather these insights, look at the recruiting data you have that revolves around the diversity of candidates and employees, EEO surveys, candidate feedback, and your hiring pipeline. This data can help you answer critical questions about your diversity recruiting, enabling your team to make more data-driven decisions versus hypothesized ones.

In our recent DEI survey, we found that the top 3 metrics employers are using to measure the effectiveness of their diverse recruitment practices include hiring results (57%), surveys (55%), and employee demographics (48%).

Without measuring the progress of your DEI initiatives, there’s no way to qualify your efforts or determine which initiatives are making a true impact across your organization. But it can be tricky to measure these efforts because DEI permeates every aspect of your business, and some areas could yield more opportunities for improvement than others. In addition to the metrics mentioned above, there are other data that employers should consider more heavily, namely insight from offboarding interviews (15%), compensation increase and promotion rates (35%), and retention rates (37%).

Communicate your DEI efforts to employees and candidates

DEI takes buy-in from everyone in your organization to drive progress forward. However, it’s not only existing employees that need to be aware of your ongoing DEI efforts—prospective employees should be made aware, too. When DEI is clearly communicated across every hiring and retention initiative, it’s more likely to stick and drive participation, which helps decrease fatigue.

Communication and transparency with your DEI initiatives are imperative if your organization hopes to attract and retain diverse talent—and more talent acquisition teams are recognizing this. For example, our 2021 Diversity Report found:

  • 44% of talent acquisition professionals are updating employee handbooks to reflect DEI efforts
  • 50% are sharing DEI initiatives across company channels
  • 57% are sharing DEI materials and efforts with candidates during the interview process
  • 62% are leveraging social channels to communicate DEI initiatives

When it comes to communicating DEI goals and progress to existing employees, 58% of talent acquisition teams feel this is their largest room for improvement across their organization—and employees appear to agree. Overall, 17% of employees believe one of the greatest challenges faced by their employers is communicating DEI efforts, while 24% feel their employers place a higher priority on other organizational goals.

Formalize your DEI initiatives to make them ‘sticky’

Slowly but surely, organizations are making steady progress with their DEI initiatives. But it’s easy to get off track with or constantly pivot your DEI strategies when people become tired or frustrated with slow progress. Formalizing your DEI initiatives not only makes it easier to communicate them, but also makes them ‘stickier,’ whereby everyone understands what you’re working towards and, more crucially, why. We’ve found, through our DEI Report, the following:

  • More than half (51%) have formalized a DEI strategy for their organization
  • 47% have created or reviewed their existing DEI policies and have communicated them to employees
  • 44% have made actionable changes to hiring policies
  • 34% are offering resources for Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
  • 40% are offering resources, tools, and education or support around DEI for employees
  • 32% are developing more standardized change management tactics

Despite the progress being made, there’s still quite a bit of room for improvement in formalizing DEI strategies and goals, especially from the employee perspective. A quarter of employees say their company hasn’t implemented any equity measures, and 24% say the same about inclusion initiatives. Though messaging around diversity has been more effective, 16% of employees say their employer hasn’t communicated to them about it.

Clearly formalizing and communicating these efforts can be the difference between driving true change through DEI and simply fatiguing and exhausting hiring teams with unrealistic demands for diversity recruiting.

Make your recruiting process a foundation for change

DEI isn’t a problem to be solved—it requires consistent commitment from everyone within an organization to drive change. More than that, it necessitates involvement at every level to ensure DEI is ingrained in your culture rather than a challenge that causes ongoing fatigue and stalled progress.

Our Essential Guide to DEI contains key strategies to help teams start making visible progress today. At Lever, after baking DEI initiatives into our decisions from the beginning, we’ve learned both what works and what doesn’t. Download your free copy of our guide below!