As the CEO of a diversity, equity, and inclusion education and consulting firm, I can personally speak to the impacts that working in a field of advocacy can have on our well-being. This work, and the conversations we have, can be draining.
Whether you're a DEI advocate and enthusiast or a DEI practitioner by trade, engaging in spaces where civil and human rights are quite literally up for debate can negatively impact our mental health.
In a recent episode of The DEI ER, the weekly LinkedIn Audio Live Series I host, I spoke with Ruby Brown-Herring, the CEO of RBH Wellness Solutions. Ruby is an educator and leader who helps businesses, government entities, and nonprofits create employee well-being strategies that support mental health at work while increasing belonging, engagement, and retention.
As a community of DEI professionals and advocates, Ruby helped us explore the relationship between DEI and mental health, in addition to illustrating tangible boundaries to set in place to prioritize our individual and collective mental health. Our conversation was enlightening, and it renewed my passion for establishing and maintaining boundaries within our lines of work and advocacy.
Boundaries are guidelines or limits we set to define acceptable and appropriate behavior that we are willing to exhibit ourselves or receive from others. While boundaries can impact our interactions with those around us, they are primarily about our own actions, choices, and personal well-being.
Boundaries can relate to our self-awareness, personal autonomy, and communication styles, among other behaviors.
When we establish boundaries, we essentially define what we are comfortable with and what we consider to be respectful treatment. These boundaries can encompass various aspects of our lives, such as physical space, emotional needs, time commitments, and personal values.
Ruby said it best: "Boundaries are part of self-care and setting them is key to improving and maintaining well-being as a DEI professional or advocate."
“Boundaries are a part of self-care."
It's essential to recognize that boundaries are not about controlling or dictating the behavior of others. We cannot directly enforce boundaries on someone else; we can only communicate and assert our boundaries and then make decisions accordingly.
Setting Boundaries as DEI Advocates and Professionals
Setting boundaries can help you to be more mindful of your limits and capacities. As advocates for diversity, equity, and inclusion, setting boundaries allows us to prioritize our mental health and well-being. Boundaries can show up in many ways:
Take time to reflect on your own needs and limitations; understand what drains your energy and what replenishes it. This self-awareness will help you identify the boundaries you need to set to protect your mental health and well-being.
2. Define Your Values
Clarify your values and priorities as an advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Determine what issues and causes are most important to you and let them guide you in setting boundaries that align with your purpose. The truth is you cannot change everything.
3. Identify Limits
Recognize situations or interactions that create undue stress, emotional exhaustion, or those that overwhelm you. Set clear limits for yourself, such as limiting exposure to certain discussions, reducing the number of commitments, or establishing time boundaries. I encourage everyone to follow an information or "content diet." I will share more about this in the coming weeks.
4. Communicate Assertively
Clearly and assertively communicate your boundaries to others. Let colleagues, clients, or team members know what you can and cannot accommodate regarding your time, energy, expertise or emotional availability. Remember that setting boundaries is not selfish but necessary for your well-being and job effectiveness!
5. Say No
"No" is a full sentence. Remember that saying no to specific requests, spaces, or engagements allows you to say yes to the things that truly align with your values and mission.
6. Practice Self-Care
Make self-care a non-negotiable part of your routine. Engage in activities that recharge and nourish your mind and body. Prioritizing yourself and your self-care replenishes your energy and enhances your ability to contribute effectively as a DEI advocate.
7. Regularly Evaluate and Adjust
Periodically assess how your boundaries are working for you. Reflect on what is effective and what needs adjustment. As circumstances change, be flexible in adapting your boundaries to maintain optimal mental health and balance.
For me, self-reflection and identifying limits have allowed me to find what has become my most crucial boundary personally: While I'll happily have conversations about equity and inclusion with people who are unaware of these themes and issues, I will not engage with someone who is actively opposed to efforts related to DEI.
This helps me not only maintain my peace and prioritize my well-being and psychological safety, but it also allows me to utilize my efforts and energy where I am most impactful and purposed to be.
Boundaries in Action
During The DEI ER event with Ruby, I asked our DEI ER community to share with me the boundaries they set as DEI professionals and advocates. Here are just a few they shared:
- "I do not respond to emails between 5 pm and 5 am."
- "I ask that people not come to me with conversations related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility without at least thinking about a possible solution or starting point."
- "I do not schedule or accept meetings after Noon on Fridays."
- "I only commit to relationships and networks of people who nourish, educate, and inspire ME."
- "I do not engage in dialogue with someone who is seeking to debate."
- "I do not educate people on matters they can teach themselves."
- "I don't justify my identities or cultural background for people who demand it of me."
- "It is not my job to rescue everyone."
Connecting Mental Health and DEI Advocacy
Setting and respecting boundaries allows us, as diversity, equity, and inclusion advocates, to cycle our energies upwards rather than expend them on people and situations our insights and guidance will go underutilized or underappreciated.
Being physically, mentally, and emotionally invested in all the growing inequities worldwide can tax the mind, body, spirit, and heart. As champions of equity and inclusion, living with a deep passion for this work can become exhausting, despite our best efforts to take care of ourselves.
That is why setting boundaries related to the conversations we have, the work we do, and the spaces we enter can be the difference between burnout and allowing for our light to illuminate the path forward.
I'll leave you with a question:
If you don't prioritize and take care of yourself, then who will?