03/08/2013 08:10 EST | Updated 05/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Diversity Fatigue Can Be Overcome

A couple of weeks ago the 6th annual Canada's Best Diversity Employer's Awards were handed out at an elegant dinner in downtown Toronto. Our firm has been honoured to be the measurement partners on this worthy endeavor since its inception, along with Mediacorp who created the award as part of their Top 100 Employers competition and BMO Financial Group, the corporate sponsors that have supported the award since day one.

Each year working on this competition gives us an unprecedented opportunity to get a national perspective on the state of diversity today by reviewing hundreds of applications for the final list of 50. We have had the privilege of reviewing programs focused on improving the work environment for women, people of colour, people with disabilities, LGBT, Boomers, Zoomers, GEN Y, Muslims, Christians, new fathers even SWAMS (straight white able bodied males). This year we saw impressive initiatives such as financial planning tools for same sex couples, paid leave for trans-sexual transition and technology enabled flexible work programs to confront face time concerns.

After almost seven years of being involved with this competition and seeing more and more impressive initiatives, I keep asking myself ARE WE THERE YET? Is any of this making any difference?

A few years ago I was meeting with two dozen seasoned diversity and inclusion practitioners from some leading organizations to identify some of the toughest challenges they are facing within their respective organizations. Among the usual responses of leadership buy-in, effective outreach strategies and empowering employee network groups came a new theme. It was a theme that seemed to dominate the entire discussion. None of us could put our finger on it until someone finally named it. As they so poignantly described it "our organization is facing diversity fatigue."

What you may ask is diversity fatigue? It is the Herculian effort required by diversity practitioners to keep the momentum going through the toughest economic crisis since the depression. It is trying to sell and re-package a business case for diversity by showing specific return of investments at a time of limited dollars for any corporate imperative.

It is figuring out how to creatively communicate diversity in an extremely time scarce environment when people struggle to do more with less. It is maintaining the gains with front-line managers (the so-called frozen middle) who ask "when will this diversity thing end? Have we not handled it by now?" It also includes the endless task of breaking down silos between equity seeking groups who only have interest in their particular dimension of diversity. This is what we call diversity fatigue.

A couple of years ago a US publication known as the Profiles in Diversity journal ran a fascinating series of essays entitled "The Pioneers of Diversity." It included the perspective of 30 leading global thinkers on diversity. Each pioneer was asked to write a short essay on where diversity came from, where it is now and where it needs to go next. Once again we were honoured to be included on this list and asked to present our perspective.

Not surprisingly the pioneers all agreed on where diversity started. Interestingly, most of us also agreed on where we are right now. In short , the sentiment was we are at a stalemate that we've been stuck in for the last decade. The most intriguing reading of the essays however, is the question of where do we go next. There was virtually no alignment on that important question.

Over the next few months I intend to use this blog to introduce you to what I think is the next step on the diversity journey i.e. human equity. In essence human equity is about maximizing on human capital. It is about talent optimization not of just four or five equity seeking groups but every individual in the world of work. Unlike diversity which concentrates on group differentiation, human equity is designed to look at individual talent differentiation and optimization. All in the hope of impacting on the holy grail of the corporate board room, i.e. substantially improved employee engagement and significantly reduced employee disengagement.

Diversity fatigue can be overcome. Human equity could be the answer. Watch this space for more on how.