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Society has started taking more action on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) and mental health – and for good reason, given the isolation induced by the pandemic, political unrest , societal divisions and racial injustices that have defined 2020. These events have caused heightened anxiety. and depression around the world and disproportionately affected people of color.
But now there is a new layer of anxiety that people of color face as companies roll out their plans to return to the office – the fear of to return to to the micro-aggressions and prejudices they tend to face in person.
A recent survey found that working remotely helped black employees feel a sense of belonging. Black workers noted their sense of belonging doubled and 64% coped better with stress by working from home. So how can companies ensure that they create a safe environment and support their diverse employees, especially when people return to a physical office?
It starts with recognizing that the mental health benefits are not enough. We need DEIB to be integrated into mental health services. Research clearly shows their link: anxiety and depression more than tripled in Black Latinx communities after the murder of George Floyd. Not to mention recent research from my company, commissioned with Forrester Consulting, find that workers – 38% of managers and 31% of employees – said these events were so distracting they couldn’t do their jobs. This suggests that companies have a long way to go when it comes to supporting the mental health of their employees amid an increase in public incidents of systemic racial violence.
In my opinion, you cannot significantly prioritize DEIB initiatives without prioritizing access to mental health care. And you can’t fully support mental health without considering the impact of culture and social identity on people’s daily lives. What connects DEIB and mental health is belonging.
Belonging is not just a basic human need, but a connection that enables employees of diverse backgrounds to show themselves authentically in the workplace, which translates into increased engagement, creativity and productivity. A recent study from Yale find healthcare workers who felt like part of a team experienced less burnout than others.
When you feel like you belong, you feel engaged, and you are likely to feel empowered to put all of your life into doing the best you can. Most importantly, you are more likely to seek mental health services because you feel safe. This is why it is essential that a sense of belonging be part of every company’s DEIB program, especially as more and more companies strive to build a diverse workforce. They can’t just hire more diverse workers, they need to support them as well.
So how can you make sure that belonging is built into your DEIB and mental health strategy?
First, recognize that this is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Businesses must consider all social identities (especially those that are not in the room) when building their culture, which consists of language, norms, values, environment and even products and services. Next, ask yourself if your business is tolerant (recognizing differences), inclusive (taking into account the behaviors, language and attitudes of other cultural groups) or integrative (an extension of inclusiveness – taking into account your social identity and that of others at every encounter) when it comes to these components.
Plus, the cool thing about membership is that it’s easy to measure. You can ask people if they feel like they are part of something and get a quantifiable response. Equity, on the other hand, is difficult to measure because it looks different among different marginalized communities. But if organizations do D + E + I effectively, then people will feel the B.
DEIB is the next frontier in mental health and will be crucial as companies not only hire more diverse workers, but aim to retain this talent in an increasingly competitive job market, in the face of the pandemic-triggered phenomenon called “the great resignation â. As the war for talent intensifies, supporting the mental health of our employees is a table issue. The real differentiator is making sure employees feel a sense of belonging so that work is less of a chore and more of a safe space to pursue a meaningful career.
Dr Jessica Jackson is a Registered Psychologist and Global Head of DEIB Modern Health Care.