Working in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Field Taking a

Toll?…Here’s Why

As a mixed-race Jamaican woman, I have had my share of discrimination, microaggressions and inequitable treatments in the workplace. I became passionate about helping people have better workplace experiences after my own battle with a toxic workplace environment. Both my work with leaders on helping to provide a more inclusive workplace and my work as a private practitioner has brought to surface the fact that there is much work to be done to bridge the gap on having a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment for Black, Indigenous and people of colour to thrive.

Working in this field requires so much from the people who do the heavy lifting to move the needle on changing people’s thoughts on diversity, equity and inclusion, getting organizations to implement strategies to change their policies to attract and retain diverse talent in addition to educating leaders on why this work takes time, resources and support for change to happen.

"Change doesn’t happen over night and to expect this from the people who do diversity, equity and inclusion work is another act of performative action that doesn’t get to the root of what the real issues are"

If you are wondering why lately you are feeling stressed out, drained, going through the motions and not making progress, there may be some reasons why:

1. Those who are in the helping profession have elevated risks of having compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma or workplace burnout

Compassion fatigue can be defined as a type of stress that results from helping or wanting to help those who are traumatized or under significant emotional duress. In our case it is helping those who have been suffering
in our workplaces. How many times have we heard story after story of people being treated unfairly because of racist co-workers or leaders, bad policies that enables discriminatory behaviours or the firing of someone who is talented
and speaks up against bad behavior and practices. This prolonged exposure from listening to peoples’ traumatic stories and being in the helping field makes us more susceptible to compassion fatigue.

Secondary trauma is the emotional and psychological effects experienced through indirect exposure to the details of the traumatic experiences of others. Which can include listening to or witnessing violence against Black people. A prime example of this is the repeated replay of the killing of George Floyd and now Daunte Wright in the media.

Lastly, burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion 
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

A common occurrence in the field of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion because of high expectations, high workloads, and the immediate need for racist systems to change.

2. Many of us who work in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion field have or are facing our own racial trauma and post traumatic stress

Experiencing acts of racism towards us, consistent microaggressions and workplace injustices can take a toll on us and can be experienced as racial trauma (trauma perpetuated by acts of racism) and or PTSD (being in a persistent negative state because of the trauma experienced). And with spotlights on the disproportionate killings of Black people and the violence towards Asian people for many of us it is re-traumatizing to constantly be inodiated with these images on top of doing the heavy work that is involved in this field. 

3. High expectations to move the diversity, equity and inclusion needle urgently without acknowledging the work it takes to get there.

In Maslach and Leiter’s Areas of Worklife Model they identified six triggers that can lead to burnout. One notably describes when work overload becomes the expectation, this wears away at us and we become distrustful and disengaged in the process. When we think about the statements made back in June 2020 about organization’s commitment to the Black community and to having diverse, equitable and inclusive environments the organization who were genuine started to develop an internal diversity, equity and inclusion committee and hiring leaders and consultants to make a shift. For many CEO’s the shift to having a diversity focus is a business strategy and one that comes with certain optics. Leaders want to see the changes overnight without a commitment to doing the difficult work it takes to get there. For those of us in the field it can sometimes mean a focus on intensions and not impact. A great diversity, equity and inclusion strategy takes time and the shift requires those in the field to manage their leader’s expectations. The expectations and the stakes are high and the workload reflects this reality.

4. Fighting against systemic issues 

Systemic racism boat

Being a part of a system that values white supremacy and one that perpetuates meritocracy makes it harder to have progress in this field. We are essentially up against what can seem like an impossible task sometimes with trying to break down the barriers that uphold white supremacy and the systems that uphold them. Racist systems perpetuate racism; many of our leaders and people in workplaces have a lot of unlearning to do and it often falls on us to continue to challenge systems, policies and people’s behaviors which is a heavy endeavor to take on.

"Challenging racist systems shouldn’t all be on the folks who work in the diversity, equity, and inclusion field it is for everyone to challenge and change"

5. Working in a pandemic has us feeling disconnected

COVID-19 has been having a negative impact on Canadians’ mental health, with many seeing their stress levels double since the onset of the pandemic. Many of us have been struggling with fear and uncertainty about our own health and our loved ones’ health as well as a shifting to working from home has left us feeling disconnected. Working in a business-as-usual environment while the world is in chaos is not natural or mentally healthy. Many of us are missing human connection, have been asked to change our lifestyle and are dealing with the unknown. This environment is anxiety provoking and has lots of us feeling down.

So what can we do to protect our mental health and prevent the burnout that so many of us are facing in the field?

  • Recognize your triggers working in the field and your own stress and burnout symptoms

Diversity quote

  • Don’t dismiss your symptoms when you are experiencing them

stress vs burnout

  • Increase your self-care behavior including assessing what self-care means for you and how you can prioritize the activities that brings joy
  • Craft a mental health plan that incorporates your physical, emotional and mental health needs

Lastly, working in this field can be very stressful but can often be rewarding. It’s important to celebrate our wins, pace ourselves, manage expectations and set boundaries in the work that we do. Remember we can’t pour from an empty cup, it’s on us to take care of our own needs first before we help others.

Are you or members of your team feeling stressed? I can help, book a call with me to explore how. 

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Jodi Tingling is a Workplace and Wellness Strategist who works with leaders, professionals, and organizations to ensure they meet their unique workplace goals. To work with Jodi connect with her at 

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