Let’s smash through diversity fatigue in 2022 - NABS
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Let’s smash through diversity fatigue in 2022

by Paul Wells, NABS director of wellbeing services and culture change 

As the new year begins, adland needs to tackle diversity fatigue in order to create an inclusive culture together.

Rightly so, diversity will continue to dominate our industry’s agenda in 2022. We’ve only just begun our collective journey to make our industry more equitable. There is so much more to do.

But there’s one problem – a new problem – that we have to tackle. A problem that could prevent us from creating a diverse industry in which everybody can thrive.

Diversity fatigue.

This confronting phrase means what it says – being tired of discussing diversity; not wanting to engage with the topic.

It’s an uncomfortable and unpleasant concept. How can we be “over” talking about diversity, a crucial concept that gets to the heart of the human experience?

The truth is that some people are struggling with the conversation.

I say this, knowing that those who are struggling also do so from a point of privilege.

Our colleagues from underrepresented groups do not have the luxury of opting out of their challenges.

However, in order to achieve true equity, none of us should have the luxury of opting out of being educated and changing our behaviours. Which means delving into the uncomfortable truth about what’s holding people back from doing so.

It might be tempting to point fingers, to blame and shame. That’s not going to be helpful if we want to keep driving forward this vital work to improve diversity. As Brene Brown famously said, shame is not a tool for social justice. Instead, let’s find out what the blocks are and address those blocks with honesty, clarity and decisive action.

What might lie behind diversity fatigue?

First, a feeling of being overwhelmed. There has been – justifiably, it must be said – a stream of information and discussion around diversity. Layer that on top of everything else people are dealing with – the uncertainty and worry of the pandemic and all of its side effects. It’s a lot to deal with (which doesn’t stop it from being essential).

Then there’s resistance; not wanting to engage at all. There can be various explanations for resistance. Sometimes it is from a place of shame (going back to Brene Brown), although you’d be hard-pressed to get someone to admit that, and it wouldn’t be helpful to do so.

Sometimes people just don’t want to do the work, especially if it relates to self-enquiry. And sometimes, let’s face it, people realise that the system works for them perfectly well. They have no interest in dismantling something that serves them.

A sense of complacency, of not understanding just how much ongoing work needs to be done, can also lie behind diversity fatigue. You may have people on your teams who think: I’m done. I’ve done a bit of diversity training, I’ve read a couple of articles, and that’s me done. I don’t need to hear anymore.

That’s all pretty confronting stuff. But we have to investigate and recognise what’s going on in order to address and rectify it. We have to.

We have to move forwards from fatigue to equity.

So how can we do that?

It’s about understanding, and then refreshing, our collective motivation and approach to learning.   

Firstly, be brave and talk to your staff about what might be holding them back from participating in diversity education. Collect data anonymously via a survey so that people can open up. You need to understand their concerns so that you can pinpoint and address them.

Find new ways to address this education piece. If you haven’t engaged the services of a trainer, investigate this option. At NABS, we’ve benefited from excellent training from specialists including BELOVD. It’s been great to have in-depth sessions on anti-black racism (our focus for the past year) where we’ve been able to explore this issue.

On the other side of the coin, give your teams the empowerment of self-education if you haven’t tried this yet. Again, this is something that we do at NABS: we give our teams an hour a week to spend on self-education. They spend this time on subjects of their choosing and can use the methods that they find most helpful to further their learning.

Encourage informal collaboration between your teams so that they can discuss their learnings. We have a diversity, equity and inclusion channel on Teams, where people can share what they’ve been reading, watching or listening to.

This provides a good discussion point and encourages people to use various sources with their learning. It also helps to show that self-education can take place at any point in the day; for example, listening to a podcast during a lunchtime walk.

As a whole, you need to be realistic about your approach. There are so many themes and aspects to tackle. We can’t possibly tackle them all at once. In fact, trying to take on too much leads to those feelings of overwhelm I described before. It’s difficult, but prioritising what to focus on is important. Perhaps choose a theme for each year, taking a steer from the conversations happening in the wider world. My feelings are that neurodiversity and disability will be huge topics for this year.

As the new year begins, let’s take up this essential challenge: to make sure that everyone in our industry smashes through diversity fatigue, so that we can create an inclusive culture together.


This was originally published in Campaign.

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