Test blogpost - Toxic racial climates and work cultures are doing irreparable damage. And the people, DEI practitioners, racial equity strategists, and HR professionals, who step up to transform organizational cultures are burned out (98%)

Nov 21, 2022

Toxic racial climates and work cultures are doing irreparable damage. And the people, DEI practitioners, racial equity strategists, and HR professionals, who step up to transform organizational cultures are burned out  (98%), open to leaving their jobs in the next six months (78%), and don’t feel valued in their organization (71%) [according to a Workvivo survey].  


Adding insult to injury, women of color working in these roles not only grapple with advocacy for structural, cultural, and systemic changes for others, but they also confront being overworked and under-recognized themselves (McKinsey Study). 


Black women in these roles, in particular, reported being burdened by judgment (40%), outsized requests to provide more evidence (42%), and being addressed in less than professional ways (26%) (McKinsey/ Study).


To add fuel to the fire, DEI practitioners, racial equity strategists, and equity-driven HR professionals face isolation, insufficient specialized training, organizational gaps between values and actions, and over-focus on optics instead of actual change.


With these layers of exacerbated conditions, the industry standard is to prescribe self-care - therapy, time off, and workouts. I say yes to this, and we need MORE implements to face these kinds of Goliaths. Their large size is only part of the battle. They are also complex, layered, and tenacious.


In addition to self-care, I say we address DEI-related burnout by turning the DEI industry standards on its head. Let’s start with how DEI work gets organized by the 4Ps: pillars, programs, pages, and plans in organizations. Didn’t expect that as the key lever, huh? I know…let me explain.


The 4P DEI Industry Standard That’s Burning You Out


You might ask, “what’s wrong with DEI Pillars, Programs, Pages, and Plans?” We use them all the time. It’s the industry standard


Let me break it down.


DEI Industry Standard: DEI work organized by DEI Pillars


Organizations typically use pillars as a schema for the work. Pillars tend to be articulated in three to five sets and consist of themes like a) community, growth, education, and engagement, b) hire, retain and develop, or 3) representation, inclusion, and data analysis.


Why we should change it: Pillars are not a strategy. Pillars are typically a list of DEI notions, more like concepts even. They tend to function as topics or themes, not top-line strategies or methods. Pillars don’t tend to be interrelated or coherent. As a result, DEI Pillars, from a leadership standpoint, leave the door wide open for a high number of topical-driven projects and programs that command high amounts of busyness and individualism. 


This foundation of organizing DEI teams, roles, and work easily gives way to high effort, duplication, overlaps, and overwhelm with too much going on. Unfortunately, these inputs convert into little to no return on investment. DEI Burnout Central.

DEI Industry Standard: DEI work arranged into DEI Programs, Plans, Panels, And Presentations. 


Why we should change it: Programs, Plans, Panels, and Presentations are not strategies. They tend to sprawl out - wide breadth, low depth. These characteristics signal that the set of programs, plans, presentations, and panels are not integrated, don’t build on each other in an aligned way, and don’t cohere toward one shared outcome. 


Without these elements, you find yourselves exerting an incredible amount of effort — without being positioned for higher leverage to accomplish the goal of more racial equity. It’s also a toss-up whether they connect to pillars. DEI Burnout Central.


Can you see the inevitable busyness in multiple directions, not getting anywhere?


DEI Industry Standard: DEI work communicated on DEI Pages on companies’ website 


Why we should change it: Organizational webpages usually hold a DEI statement, worker statistics year over year, and the stories of Black, Indigenous, Latine, Asian, and Multiracial employees. For those with discernment, there are usually questions about performativity, optics, and tokenism. Plus, it’s typically written for an external audience to influence perception, not an internal audience to inform practice. DEI Burnout Central.


(🚨 Sound the alarm: The insufficient top-line pillar approach gets no reliable support from the DEI statement, stats, and stories.)


Inevitable Heavy Hitting Dynamics the Typical Industry Standards Don’t Prepare You to Transcend 


When you think about the other sources of high effort…None of these industry standards prepare you for the exhausting levels of the three heavy hitters: resistance, risk, and rumble.


Resistance: resistance shows up in a range of ways - in the mainstream minutiae, in the organ rejection-like forces that carry an aversion to anything new, and in the status quo keepers that benefit from no change occurring.


Risk: Risk shows up in the costs, the sacrifices you might make, and the downsides to leading high-stakes change.


Rumble: rumble shows up in pushback and blowback the social and political capital costs rooted in distortion, projection, and starkly different racial realities.


Pillars, programs, project plans, and pages do not create conditions for success when embarking upon these arduous aspects of DEI work.  Ultimately, the collisions, crashes, casualties, and the consequences of doing high stake exchange work. DEI Burnout Central.


How the Typical Industry Standards do Prepare You to Handle Risk and Burns You Out


These industry standards unwittingly attempt to manage high ambiguity and risk, not through strategy, but through compromise. Compromise of imagination, integrity, and insight.


Compromise of imagination: many organizations are doing the same set of activities with little to no imagination or innovation. What happens? My sense is that, imaginative work is likely marginalized, silenced, blocked, denied, or diluted.


Compromise of integrity: many organizations and leaders make and approve decisions that knowingly and unknowingly misalign with values for equity and fairness.


Compromise of insight: many organizations track the data on how well their DEI efforts meet their goals year after year. While they require lots of effort, the data typically shows stagnant results. Yet, year over year, the same projects, plans, pillars, and pages prevail.


While I believe that DEI practitioners, racial equity strategists, and equity-centered HR professionals can improve our capabilities in influencing others, thinking outside the box, and navigating competing values and commitments, the industry-standard 4Ps (pillars, programs, project plans, and pages) would less likely transform organizational systems even if these conditions were true.


What to Do instead to Preempt Well-being & Decrease DEI-related Burnout? 


Shift from DEI pillars, plans, and programs to an empirically sound theory of change and strategically rigorous codified model that preempts wellbeing.


I preempt well-being inherently through the design of DEI strategy in the following nine ways.

  1. an integrated set of two to three key levers that cohere toward one goal and build on one another. 
  2. A choice in your positioning - one that gives you greater leverage to accomplish the goal of more racial equity. 
  3. Placement on a field that you choose to play on.
  4. The combination of place and position allows you to realize more racially equitable outcomes.
  5. A strategy rests on an empirically sound theory of change that you can't prove in advance. Experimentation, piloting, iteration, and rapid cycle learning are involved.
  6. A specified outcome and 
  7. An approach to how you’ll generate demand 
  8. Capabilities needed for execution, 
  9. and what operational systems need to be designed for a team to act on it. 


An integrated focus on two to three levers preempts well-being by decreasing the sheer breadth of work and effort. Integrating levers to build on each other creates a leveraged effect - a set amount of effort gets arranged toward focal points so that when pressed, big pivots follow.


The combination of positioning and placement preempt well-being because it sets you up to choose what most advantages you - 

  • The altitude when you need the big picture, bird’s eye view, 
  • Behind cover when you need discretion, and
  • On the ground when you need frontline intel.


Using theories of change and expecting experimentation decreases decision paralysis and fatigue, the anxiety that comes with perfectionism, and the draining effect of imposter syndrome.


Preemptive well-being emerges from shared outcomes because it sets up conditions to share the load, as well as distribute the leadership and risk.


It also comes from equipping yourself and others with the skills, knowledge, muscle, and operational infrastructure to execute.


The key takeaway: list-y pillars, unintegrated project plans, and nontransformative, predictable programs require a high amount of effort. The breadth of them, plus the high effort and high stakes nature of DEI work with low support, lead to burnout. And, unfortunately, little to no results.


If you want to decrease the workplace load, stress, and weight that comes with managing the risks, resistance, and rumble of change, I want to introduce you to what I call Equitecture®.


It's my proprietary process of an interconnected system of crucibles, laser coaching, masterclasses, and implements that decrease workplace stress and the weight of change.


I help trailblazing leaders stuck between mainstream minutiae and resistance from status quo keepers pivot their organizational systems from unfair to more equitable with less of the risk, isolation, values misalignment, and burnout.


Trailblazing leaders who join my Equitecture Group Coaching Collective work with me to:

  • create a codified model instead of pillars, projects, plans, and pages 
  • choreograph cooperative alchemy instead of being the one person who's a single load bearer for everything 
  • nurture tenacious healing and growth instead of burnout
  • Forge unshakable leadership when you're in the trenches, and 
  • Move with the honorable gamesmanship and integrity-driven finesse you need to successfully navigate organizational systems and politics 

For more race scholar insights, wise woman wisdom, and leadership fortification for the world's most complex problems, click here to join my email newsletter and check out this page for my services.

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