Avoiding Burnout: How 10 CDOs Balance Work with Life

Chief diversity officers (CDOs) often serve as the face of their institution’s diversity and inclusion efforts, but their responsibilities extend beyond a symbolic role.

CDOs frequently head student groups, manage campus-wide diversity projects, work to develop partnerships with outside groups and sponsors, act as ambassadors to prospective students, and mentor underrepresented students who may feel isolated on campus — in addition to myriad other duties. These men and women wear numerous hats and must sometimes face administrative indifference, a resistant campus culture, or the limitations of their office’s budget.

To get a sense of how these diversity stewards persist in their important work, INSIGHT Into Diversity surveyed CDOs from across the country. They shared with us how they avoid burnout and offered advice for others.

LLJuna-Weirwork ethic

“My work ethic plays an indispensable role in preventing burnout. Also, I interact with my colleagues and depend on their support, continue to develop professionally, and make sure to throw a couple of vacation days into the mix. I can’t tell you that burnout will not happen, and I tend to become stressed from time to time; however, because I am aware of the causes and consequences, I can continue to look at avenues to develop [to] prevent unnecessary burnout in the workplace.”

LLJuna Grennell Weir
Director of Educational Equity and Inclusion/Title IX at Alcorn State University



“Being a CDO represents a lifestyle of ongoing opportunities to learn from others. The results of teaching and learning keep me energized. Every challenge represents an invitation to bring people together to share their views and create optimal solutions. I am driven by the momentum of positive change, inclusion, and social justice globally, and I live by the mantra ‘Awaken the sleep, protect the weak, and guide the strong.’”

Aaron I. Bruce, PhD
Chief Diversity Officer at
San Diego State University


“Set only two to three SMART goals for the organization: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely goals supported by senior leadership. Track [your] progress toward those goals. Don’t get sidetracked. Take care of yourself holistically, and don’t take things personally or spend all your time at work.”

Gilda Garcia, EdD
Chief Diversity Officer and Title IX Coordinator at Texas State University


“As CDO, remember that you cannot change everything overnight. Be focused and committed to diversity while celebrating small milestones along the way. Remember to refuel daily, knowing that you are there for your students.”

MarTeze Hammonds, PhD
Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Arkansas Tech University

Joan Holmesinvolvement

“Despite the unexpected stressors and multiple roles that occur often in our positions as CDOs, my stress is balanced because of my passionate involvement with special programs aimed at the success of minority students. These special programs remind me of my fiduciary duty as CDO and help keep me focused on why CDOs are valued in higher education.— to ensure an inclusive and positive learning environment for all students.”

Joan B. Holmes, EdD
Special Assistant to the President
for Equity and Special Programs
and Title IX Coordinator at
Hillsborough Community College


“The keys for me are balance, pace, and diversions. It is critical for me to balance daily and career activities and include downtime for enjoying life, as well as exercising, eating healthy, and sleeping. I think pace must also be monitored, as we either try to get everything done [in one day] or put off simple tasks that just nag and add to the pile of concerns. Finally, I’m a big fan of healthy diversions, like spending time with family and friends, athletic events, community efforts, or just strolling on the beach or through a park. It helps bring perspective to the work-life balance.”

Kent Guion, MD
Chief Diversity Officer at the
University of North Carolina Wilmington

Carmen-Suarezrecognizing stress

“I have learned to be really mindful about recognizing stress and when the stress is escalating due to the pressing demands of the multiple tasks we do. For me, a brisk walk in fresh air or going someplace quiet in bad weather is the first step. The second step is sharing with a trusted mentor or colleague. It helps to talk about the various pressures and challenges, as well as the opportunities and successes, with another person who is doing or has done similar work.”

Carmen Suarez, PhD
Chief Diversity Officer
at Portland State University


“My survival is based on giving myself a fresh start every day. Before I leave my office in the evening, I clean and organize my desk. I must have a sense of accomplishment every day.”

Phyllis A. H. Breland
Director of Opportunity Programs
at Hamilton College


“I am fortunate that Dr. Cynda Johnson, president and dean of VTCSOM, recognizes that the CDO cannot do the work related to inclusion and diversity independently. I maintain my enthusiasm by meeting regularly with Dean Johnson and colleagues to reiterate our collective responsibilities to help establish and maintain a culture of inclusion at VTCSOM; collaborating with our awesome communications team to highlight our accomplishments related to inclusion — no matter how small; and seeking opportunities to engage collaborative partners, alumni, and prospective donors who recognize how an inclusive community advances the school’s academic and professional goals for all students, faculty, and staff.”

Karen Eley Sanders, EdD
Chief Diversity Officer of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM) and Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs and Director of Student Success at Virginia Tech


“One of the things I focus on is being selective in picking my battles, so to speak. There are a hundred different things I could take on, but it is important for all professionals — and particularly for CDOs — to be able to prioritize issues and only take on the most pressing things. If we pick every battle, then we will burn out and render ourselves ineffective over time. One technique that helps me with this is taking brief moments during the day for reflection. I have the serenity prayer posted right next to my telephone so that I see it daily and often.

“Another thing I do is connect my work on campus to related issues off campus. I think we can get so absorbed in the politics and issues on our campus that we can forget why we were called to do this work in the first place. As a result, I always have at least one off-campus organization where I consistently volunteer, or support in other ways, to remind myself that the world is bigger than my campus.”

Amit Taneja
Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at College
of the Holy Cross