The struggle is real. Ok, so I said it. It’s not always easy helping others see the value and benefits of celebrating and leveraging cultural differences. In fact, it can be downright tiring, even for we “experts” who are passionate and live and breathe this stuff every day.
Recently I was facilitating one of our Unconscious Bias workshops. It started out great. The group was very diverse and engaged. The conversations were rich and challenging. And everyone seemed to understand and embrace why this topic is so important in our work environments. I was feeling really good. That was until the very end of the session when one of the participants raised her hand and said, “My husband and I were just talking the other day about how there is so much reverse discrimination in the workplace…I mean, he has lost so many job opportunities to unqualified candidates just because the company wanted to hire more minorities!” Feeling a bit surprised I asked her, “How do you know the other candidates were unqualified?” She replied, “Well, I just know they are, that’s just how it is!” We had a rich discussion. I acknowledged that reverse discrimination can happen but I challenged the widely held myth that attracting diverse talent means sacrificing competence. She listened and we continued to talk it through. But many times these conversations don’t go so well and I walk away thinking, “Are you kidding me? Did you hear anything we talked about for the last several hours?!”
These experiences make me tired, physically and mentally. In those moments, I often feel frustrated and skeptical about whether our work can really make an impact. Perhaps you can relate. But when diversity fatigue hits, here are four culturally intelligent strategies for staying the course.
Avoid the “Training Only” Trap
The research is clear. Diversity training alone has little impact. In fact, it can undermine your efforts to create a more inclusive and culturally intelligent organization. How? Because often it’s a limited experience that rarely produces behavior change and long-term results. This doesn’t suggest training is unimportant. Training is very necessary but how it is designed and fits into a larger culturally intelligent strategy with measurable and sustainable goals is what is most critical. One of the things we are continually reminded of with our cultural intelligence and unconscious bias workshops is that people want immediate and practical strategies for how to be and do better. Sometimes we become fatigued because we are experiencing the backlash of audiences who are tired of the same old required “check-the-box” trainings that produce more resistance than results.
Reframe the Conversation
The days of forcing people into trainings and mandating them to comply with rules are over. This does not suggest that you forego making expectations related to diversity and inclusion clear and holding people accountable. You absolutely need to do both. But how you do it can make all the difference. For example, a number of our partners use the CQ Assessment as one of tools in the hiring process. It’s not the sole determinant for hiring a new employee. However, it is very helpful to have some sense of a prospective employee’s CQ capabilities. If the individual’s score are low, yet they are motivated to grow, the organization can support them with a development plan. More broadly, simply having them complete the assessment as part of the interviewing process sends the message that cultural intelligence is a core value and part of the organizational culture. This is how we do business and serve diverse populations. We expect all employees to share this value—if you don’t and are not willing to grow in this area, this might not be a fit.
Reframing the conversation in ways that demonstrate the importance, value, and benefits of cultural intelligence and diversity can be much more effective that forcing it upon people using fear or other threatening tactics. You can still hold people accountable for their decisions and behaviors and ensure that organizational policies and practices serve as a benefit and not a barrier to creating culturally intelligent and inclusive organizations. This approach still requires work, but it’s not nearly as fatiguing as other alternatives.
Focus on Results vs Activity
In addition to high impact and quality training programs, other efforts to create culturally intelligent organizations need to be results-oriented versus a lot of “feel good” activities. We can become fatigued just thinking about all of the “work” that needs to get done. But what’s even more exhausting and discouraging is if that work is not moving the individual or organization forward. The way you know if you are making progress versus spinning your wheels is to start with two questions:
- What are you doing?
- How do you know if it’s working?
If you can’t answer the second question, reevaluate your efforts. You’ll save yourself a significant amount of time and energy in the long-run.
Don’t Limit How You Define Progress
We know that with most movements, success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s no different with the work that we do with building CQ. However, to stay motivated we need to remember to celebrate the small wins. More importantly, we need to reevaluate how we define success or progress. If we go back to the training experience I shared at the beginning, measuring the success of a training based on one person’s comment can easily make you frustrated and fatigued. Or, I could shift my perspective and celebrate that, not only did many participants seem to have several learning and development moments, but the fact that the one participant was willing to listen and be open to having their assumptions and biases challenged was also progress.
So, what’s the relationship between CQ and diversity fatigue? CQ is the solution. It’s more than a “feel good” idea. It’s a skill and a strategy that can be measured and enhanced. And it moves individuals and organizations toward action and sustainable results. So when you get discouraged or feel you aren’t making progress, use these strategies as a guide and checklist for staying motivated and on track with a clear plan.