Home Society & Culture The DEI Fatigue: Rethinking the Approach to Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

The DEI Fatigue: Rethinking the Approach to Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

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Earlier this month, International Women’s Day was celebrated worldwide, with different countries and individuals marking the occasion in various ways. For example, Italy granted free entry to state museums and archaeological sites for women, while in Lithuania, some police officers continued the cultural tradition of giving female drivers tulips to commemorate the day.

My workplace decided to celebrate Women’s Day with its staff. We all had to come in dressed in purple, and there would also be a company-wide “fun” quiz. My company typically has a relaxed, familial culture where personal stories are freely shared among colleagues, often leading to laughter, surprise, or admiration. I anticipated the quiz would provide a welcome break from the daily grind and an opportunity for some lighthearted team bonding.

On the day of the quiz, we gathered in our respective departmental teams, ready to compete for the coveted, yet imaginary, crown. We didn’t know what the questions would be, but knowing the vibe of my workplace, I expected fun, entertaining trivia questions that would drive conversation, jokes, and laughs.

Then the first question came:

“What was Rosa Parks famous for?”

A.) Inventing the light bulb

B.) Being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean

C.) Refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger

Second question: “Which African-American woman wrote the groundbreaking book Ain’t I a Woman?” Third question: “Who was the first Black woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her fight against poverty, racism, and social injustice?”

In total, there were 25 questions of this nature. Bearing in mind that this was supposed to be a fun quiz, it turned out to be neither fun nor really a quiz. After each question, there was a minute-long explanation about what a particular woman did, essentially turning it into more of a lecture. At the end, we were informed that the aim was to “champion inclusivity,’ which I later discovered was the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. 

If I had known beforehand that it was just going to be a preachy virtue-signalling exercise, I would have found an excuse to skip the whole thing.

I actually don’t have anything against DEI, but honestly, sometimes things just seem forced. What should have been a lighthearted occasion turned into a history test about social activism. 

It’s also ironic that such activities are meant to encourage deeper discussions on the issues at hand, yet the approach, format, and content typically hinder any meaningful dialogue. Why risk saying the wrong thing or saying the right thing in the wrong way, potentially leading to a warning, disciplinary action, or even making national news headlines. Such incidents have occurred before, when seemingly innocent phrases taken out of context or even genuine questions asked are seen as hostile, defensive, or racist. And the consequences can be severe if one steps out of line.

Our HR department likely had good intentions, as most companies do. However, the execution felt misguided. The reality is that most of these spaces don’t really allow for free and open conversation or create an environment for genuine learning and understanding. The quiz inadvertently promoted a climate of caution and self-censorship, prioritising ideological conformity over open discourse.

In recent years, the mantra of diversity, equity, and inclusion has become an almost omnipresent fixture in corporate boardrooms, educational institutions, and governmental policies. Touted as the antidote to systemic inequalities and the key to creating inclusive environments, DEI initiatives have been fervently embraced by organisations seeking to demonstrate their commitment to social progress. However, beneath the glossy veneer of diversity training sessions and corporate diversity statements lies a troubling reality: the DEI narrative often amounts to little more than empty rhetoric and superficial gestures.

Fortunately, things are now moving in a better direction. The Independent Inclusion at Work Panel recently published a report on the state of DEI business practices in the UK. Appointed by Kemi Badenoch MP, the panel advocates for employers to steer clear of initiatives that “alienate specific groups, create division, and lack impact.”

Business and Trade Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, stated: “Discussions around diversity and inclusion at work are often hindered by performative gestures.”

That was precisely my sentiment during and after the quiz; it seemed more like a box-ticking exercise for moral reassurance and conscience-clearing rather than to achieve anything substantial.

That’s why this report has come at the perfect time. Many of us are starting to experience a sense of “DEI fatigue”. While the concept and principle of diversity will always be admirable, the approach needs to feel more organic. Every discussion or meeting shouldn’t turn into an activism session. The pervasive DEI culture has led to environments where people are increasingly cautious, reluctant to share views or ask questions honestly for fear of repercussions, even in informal settings. Such an atmosphere can hardly serve as the foundation for progress or as a hallmark of a healthy and coherent society.

Ada Akpala is the senior content officer of The Equiano Project.


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