Building Resilience in Diversity and Inclusion Programs

To develop a workforce that can weather disruptions, companies need to engage in strategies that empower individual resilience.

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Diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs are essential for building resilient workforces and organizations, particularly in response to racial violence, yet these programs are often taken for granted. In recent years, D&I professionals have become the “first responders” for racial trauma and other crises. At the same time, D&I is often among the first initiatives on the chopping block during times of great upheaval. As a result, the question remains: How can organizations create sustainable initiatives that can weather disruptions while also supporting employees — particularly women of color — to help them avoid burnout?

In this article, we examine how, in order to build resilience in organizational and individual D&I initiatives, companies must invest in and formalize programming that supports employees.

Rethinking Resilience for Members of Underrepresented Groups

Current concepts of resilience, whether as an individual trait, an emergent property of relationships or networks, or a team characteristic, fail to center the experiences of employees who are members of underrepresented groups. Pre-pandemic, many of these employees got involved in creating D&I programming to help one another in the face of workplace barriers and setbacks. As a result, responsibility for D&I activities often falls squarely on the shoulders of the individuals who experience the most marginalization. These individual practices to recover from daily forms of bias and discrimination, whether paying inclusion taxes or identity taxes, help improve the diversity climate of their workplaces. Their efforts at building resilience are a form of invisible and/or uncompensated labor that adds to their formal responsibilities.

The reorganization of work and family dynamics that occurred during the pandemic has intensified the burden on women, particularly women of color. From navigating parental responsibilities during Zoom calls to being called on to discuss the racist events that received national attention, the range of setbacks and the efforts required to address them — such as deciding whether to voice concerns around companies’ anti-racism statements or anti-racist-inspired behaviors — have become more complex. Also, employees’ roles have shifted in their homes and extended families, in many cases causing them to leave the workforce entirely. Managing the combination of workplace responsibilities and family needs, and the culmination of race, gender, and homophobic events that persist, has imposed a heavy mental strain on many employees.

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