Emotionally drained? Why it’s been a hard few weeks for D&I
By Jo Faragher on 22 June 2020
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the formation of a new commission to look at racial inequality last week, despite several reports and inquiries already having been carried out in this area, and little progress made. His pledge came on the back of a cascade of events in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests: from statues of slave owners being toppled to TV shows that depicted racist comments or actions being removed from streaming services. But many felt it was an empty gesture. Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy even accused the government of writing the plan “on the back of a fag packet”.
Many D&I professionals probably share this sense of frustration and exhaustion after the events of the past three or four weeks. They’re facing concerns about D&I budgets and whether future projects might go ahead and they’re trying to ensure any future decisions about the workforce are done so inclusively. Then the events that have happened since the Black Lives Matter protests will in many cases have placed the spotlight on D&I, as leaders question how their organisations should best respond.
“It’s affected me deeply”
Michelle Raymond, managing director of HR consultancy The People’s Partner, has found it difficult having “to be the person to uphold everyone else” during this chaotic period. She already faced grieving a number of family deaths, was inundated with requests for support on the furlough scheme and then clients suddenly started demanding equality and diversity policies to show they were doing something to respond to Black Lives Matter.
“I am a Black female entrepreneur and the movement has affected me deeply in many ways,” she says. “I have seen first hand my cousins and friends who get stopped all the time for something they’ve not done. They have not been listened to and have been treated poorly. I have also seen first hand being an HR professional racism in the workplace and I have been a part of this discrimination, regrettably.”
One thing she has noticed is an “influx of job opportunities for EDI consultants to go in and make things better”. “Racism in the workplace needs to be a cultural change from the top and not just the responsibility of one person. Processes and practices need to be audited to support not just the current movement but to eradicate discrimination totally from the organisation,” she adds.
In some ways, the fact these issues have dominated news and discussions has spread the load for D&I professionals, however. Barry Boffy, head of inclusion and diversity at British Transport Police, describes a “collective response” from colleagues, who are actively getting involved with the cause. “Many of those who we work alongside (and where race hasn’t necessarily been high on their agenda or something they’ve actively considered) have stepped forward to add their voices, thoughts and commitment to tackling racial disparities and racism in all its overt forms and microaggressions,” he says.
“My immediate concern was that I’d have a huge list of demands and expectations from the organisation of things that I should be doing. This hasn’t happened. Instead, others are becoming more committed to the work that needs to be done and are looking at how they, not just me alone, can help to achieve the organisation’s aim.”
Boffy acknowledges, however, that the team’s workload has increased, but the fact more individuals are rolling up their sleeves means there is momentum. “Projects, workstreams and focus groups are popping up without my needing to directly task them, which is exactly how we’ll truly address these issues in a way that is sustainable and genuine,” he adds.
Keeping up momentum
But many D&I professionals worry that they’ll have to be the ones to sustain that energy once the news cycle has passed and focus has moved onto something else. A survey by non-profit organisation Catalyst found that 60% of men and women of colour at work experience what it calls an “emotional tax”, the experience of feeling on-guard every day against potential microaggressions, so it’s imperative that organisations tackle exclusionary behaviour head on, and keep that momentum going.
Lauren von Stackelberg, global head of inclusion and diversity at Expedia Group, acknowledges that this work can be draining and urges her colleagues in D&I to “find the space to rest, to reflect, to check in on yourself emotionally, to recharge, to sleep. Please take care.”
She adds: “One way Expedia Group has prioritised wellbeing for our Inclusion & Diversity team and for our Inclusion Business Group (our equivalent of Employee Resource Groups) Global Leaders is by providing an amount of cash for each person to be spent on self care.
“We have also empowered our Inclusion Business Group Leaders by formally allocating 10% of their working hours to Inclusion work. This will be reflected in performance reviews and ongoing feedback as a key part of their jobs. This provides much needed recognition of the business-critical value that these groups of our future leaders add, and also works to ensure that as volunteers they are not further burdened by being asked to do inclusion work on top of their full-time jobs.”
“I’ve had to face the personal anguish of perpetuating this racism in the workplace and now I am on a mission to do something about it,” adds Michelle Raymond. “I recognise that I am not a robot and cannot operate without taking time out to heal, to reflect and to give myself space.” To combat this, she aims to stop working by 9pm and only take calls at certain times of day. Running, meditation and prayer also help her manage her wellbeing. She offers some advice that will resonate with all HR and D&I professionals during this strange period: “This is all a journey and learning curve for us all and it is important to look after oneself through it all.”
d&i Leaders is a global community of senior diversity, inclusion and HR focused professionals, looking to collaborate, network and accelerate their workplace inclusion strategy.