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Top 5 Reasons DEI Practitioners Are Burnt Out

Welcome back to the second part of this three-part DEI series. If this is your first time in this article series, welcome.

In the previous article, Breaking Down D.E.I, we explained DEI through a different lens. If you missed it or want a refresh, you can read it here.

Let’s dive into part two of this three-part article series.

Why are so many DEI practitioners burnt out?

In a recent LinkedIn post, someone who works in DEI summed up their vibe, and over 1k humans chimed in with similar sentiments.

Such a powerful visual and statement.

First, let's talk about burnout.

Burnout is nature's way of telling us we are on the path of most resistance.

So, why is there so much burnout in doing something that is meant to enrich the lives of humans inside and outside of the workplace? Something that should be like rice to the soul (check out this rice reference).

Here are five reasons why burnout is happening in DEI:

1. The Culture Wasn’t Ready

Most companies adopted or dusted off their DEI efforts in 2020 after George Floyd was killed.

During that time the macro culture (what is happening in the world) was deeply influencing the micro-cultures (what was happening in home spaces and workplaces). This created a deep shock to most company cultures never uttering the words racism to it being brought up in every Zoom call. Pair that with a pandemic where lives and livelihoods were being threatened, and as a result, workplace cultures went into full protective mode.

Building anything of significance in an unhealthy workplace culture is a poor use of energy, time, and money. The culture will reject it and it will be a one-hit-wonder of initiatives that the culture won’t forget.

Knowing where your culture is currently, makes a huge difference.

The point here is most cultures need to be primed and ready to receive anything new and in this case, something new was initiatives that seemed simple but carried more weight than expected.

When companies began scrambling to launch DEI initiatives, most didn't have a budget, plan, or any idea where to start. Hiring the first experts they Googled and went to work building complex systems on a broken foundation.

Most company cultures weren't ready - they needed repair and had no business putting out anti-racism statements while oppressing their own people within the company.

Mix that with no budget and disengaged leadership, it’s not a wonder that DEI never had a chance. Not even with the right people doing the work.

2. The Language

Our words carry energy and we carry the energy of our words. That energy is equal to mass, momentum, and manifestation. It materializes into existence.

Using disempowering language takes a toll on you in ways you don’t recognize.

Using words like anti-racism, minorities, white supremacy, privilege, marginalized, POC, BIPOC, and diversity in the context of a specific type of person’s visual identity.

This is a lively conversation about the power of our words.

Another way to simplify this concept is: imagine waking up each morning and telling yourself how horrible, ugly and worthless you are. Do you think you will have a great quality of life?

Yet, we are doing the same thing around a topic and area we are looking to invoke positive change, transformation and impact.

It's not working because the words “anti-racism” are low vibrational. They psychologically do not help us overcome the issues of racism because white supremacy, privilege, minority, marginalized, are all low vibrational and require a different approach.

If you're trying to solve something that is already low vibe, you don't go any lower because it's going to exhaust you.

As you do this work, take inventory of the vibration of the words you are using and see if there are alternatives that can make the same point. For example, if you are using the word “minorities” in your work, consider the energy around that word and reflect on if it is empowering or not.

When our words shift, change happens. The trajectory of that change depends on the vibration of our words.

3. Guilt

As I mentioned earlier, most DEI started after the killing of George Floyd.

While consulting with a company on their workplace culture, I joined their DEI channel on Slack and noticed from May to July 2020 it was full of comments, articles, quotes, and insights. I asked the CEO why the activity stopped. He said very candidly, it's no longer in the news.

Anything created out of guilt or fear will not only carry that energy into everything that comes out of it, but it won't last.

DEI that’s created out of a company’s reactive nature or guilt isn't going to have the same outcome as DEI created out of a thoughtful conscious reflection of the need and the why behind it.

4. Unrealistic Expectations

Expectations become exhausting when they are unachievable. It’s like spinning wheels and not going anywhere. It’s a result of spending energy spinning and not thinking about why we are spinning the wheels.

Critical thinking is extremely important when setting DEI expectations.

For example, setting a goal to see and hire candidates of a specific ethnicity goes against the grain of inclusion.

Exclusion by inclusion is still exclusion.

Not having a budget or resources to properly do the DEI job is not only a setup for failure, it’s unrealistic. As I’ve shared in the previous article, DEI is deeper than most anticipate - those three little letters add up.

One of the biggest unrealistic expectations leading to burnout is timing. Most people who bring in someone to lead DEI efforts expect change to happen as soon as the ink dries. Change takes time.

Humanity and things that are tied to it can’t be automatically downloaded or on-demand. It takes time and just because there is a fire under these initiatives, you have to pace it so it doesn’t burn and go to ash.

Conversations about expectations paired with critical thinking and humanity go a long way.

My advice is to start simple and start small. Great things take time and if you want your DEI to be great, be prepared for it to take time.

5. Telling the story from the wound instead of the scar

There are parts of this work that will wound you, so continuous proactive healing is needed.

As a birth doula I have seen many births go to plan, some not, and some that took a huge toll physically and emotionally. With each one I end up crying to release as it brings up something in me. Very early on, I learned that rituals help me heal so I can carry fresh energy into the birthing space. But even before that, I had to heal from my own birth experiences. None of them were bad experiences, but in the event I suppressed something that could come out in my work or interaction with a family, I had to heal it all.

As a visual and audio, watch Bag Lady video.

Each experience you don’t heal from is a bag that is carried into the work. It is a wound that hasn’t healed.

Examples of telling the story from the wound manifest into telling people to “Be Less White”, to recognize their privilege, or calling out a specific demographic of people based not on their individual character, but by the color of their skin. None of this is empowering.

Burnout will only amplify the lowest vibration within.

It’s okay to acknowledge you are still healing in the area others are looking for guidance in. Remember to tell stories from the scar once they are healed, not from the wound.

I'll end with this

Burnout is reversible.

Change is always an option.

We don’t have to always follow what we are prescribed.

There is another way.

I often think of Fredrick Douglass' approach to something that seemed big and impossible. With creativity and curiosity, he change the trajectory of the world.

While we are no longer in those days Mr. Douglass grew up in, we do face similar challenges because our humanity continuing to battle the ego.

But the same rules that applied to him, apply to us. If you tell the story from the scar, not the wound, your work will transcend and light up. In return, those around you will do the same.

One of my favorite quotes about change:

“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end”. –Robin Sharma

A heart full of light, love, and gratitude,

Charisse Fontes



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