In 1996 the term Diversity Fatigue entered into the English lexicon. In 2006 there were newsrooms that were failing at diversifying their newsrooms who brought the term back to a place of popularity. In layman’s terms, diversity fatigue means that when you bring up the topic of diversity training or discussion about needing to diversify staff, you see those in the room, roll their eyes and state that they have absorbed all they can possibly absorb on the topic of diversity.
It is undeniable that diversity was a hot topic in America during 2017, and has been growing in conversation years prior. It is a concept being directly addressed in the media, workplaces, and now loudly in Hollywood. Diversity has also been a back and forth issue for politics due to the nature of our two-party system. Diversity was even a word discouraged by the presidential administration from being used at the CDC. Most believe that diversity is the essence of American culture while some think we, as a society, want too much diversity, too fast. A new ideology has been forming in push back to our culture demanding diversity called, “Diversity Fatigue.”
What is “Diversity Fatigue”?
This is an idea that the American society has taken diversity too seriously. It is an idea that our current beliefs and current understanding of diversity are detrimental to our overall macro-culture. There are those who think the ideology around racial and cultural diversity is beginning to be a divisive problem, as opposed to seeing increased diversity as a solution to economic and social problems.
One of the most significant points of the ideology of diversity fatigue is that it is used as a last-resort scapegoat to improve a brand. When an old and reliable brand or idea begins to falter, diversity is used as a last-ditch effort to rebrand. For example, MarketWatch reported that comic books were beginning to see falling numbers, so they started to release titles like “Miles Morales: Spider-Man” (featuring an Afro-Latino SpiderMan) or Muslim Ms. Marvel. One of the most anticipated movies with incredible reviews is the Marvel movie, Black Panther.
David Livermore, the president of the consulting firm, the Cultural Intelligence Centre, is seeing this negative connotation of diversity brewing within individual companies as well. He went on record to state he heard a man say, “Tomorrow I have to go to a diversity training workshop…That’s right up there with getting a root canal.” Mr. Livermore says the reason for this new mindset on diversity comes from the association of the constant fear of not being politically correct.
Does This Matter?
Diversity fatigue is a symptom of a more significant issue. The fact that an individual or an industry feels that expressing diversity is an “overdone” notion is not taking into consideration of a more excellent narrative. We do not live in a post-racial society where racism is gone, and by way of gender, women are paid the same as men. We do not live in a society where opportunities are just handed to persons of color. Many who believe that we are exhausting the idea of diversity do not have a strong understanding of the issues our culture is currently facing.
One possible response to diversity fatigue is to change the terminology. If we can use terms such as social justice or equity, it may combat the negative connotation of the word diversity fatigue. Also, it is recognized that organizations do better when they embed diversity and inclusion more subtly into employees’ day-to-day work by, for example, encouraging leaders to demonstrate and advocate for inclusiveness as a competency required for advancement. In our organization, we do both. First, we build a training into our orientation around mindfulness that helps us think about our fast and slow thinking and how quickly one makes snap judgments because our brain automatically desires to categorize so that it does not have to think. Without conscious thought, it is easy to just gravitate to that which we prefer and if not careful these preferences can easily lead to implicit bias and prejudice. Secondly, in order to advance in the company, there are a number of leadership training courses for mid-level managers. It is on this platform that we are able to build in “diversity training” couched in the understanding of human differences, cultural humility, and cultural intelligence. Human differences, cultural humility, and cultural intelligence again, are topics, that can get a greater understanding of diversity without turning off employees before they even enter the door of training.