Overcoming Diversity Challenges in the Workplace by Supporting Mental Health

The racial injustices of 2020 profoundly impacted corporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion investments (DEI.) In June, DEI-related job postings increased by 55%, and chief diversity officer hires increased by 51% by October. 

In 2021, DEI commitments have continued to rise. Companies are prioritizing diverse gender, racial, sexual orientation, national origin, and ethnic representation in the workplace. A recent report noted that 69% of executives considered diversity and inclusion a critical issue. However, only 22% of employees have noticed a change in their company’s diversity. 

This gap between employees and leadership is likely due to focusing on DEI compliance rather than making meaningful changes to company culture. The biggest challenge of diversity in the workplace is creating an inclusive environment for all members of your organization. Elevating and adding diverse team members is only beneficial if HR and executive leadership implement people-focused programs. 

Attracting diverse talent is not the same as maintaining an inclusive workplace culture. Investing in workplace diversity and inclusion is so much more than a numbers game. A balanced approach to diversity involves supporting the mental health and wellness of employees with diverse backgrounds. 

Inclusive Cultures & Maintaining a Diverse Workforce

While many companies have diversified their workforce, few have considered diversity efforts beyond hiring and promoting practices. Unfortunately, this can leave new employees and tenured employees feeling excluded and disappointed by their new roles. At worst, it can be perceived as tokenism. HR and executive management need to proactively consider how inclusive their culture is currently. 

Having representation is incredibly important. But it’s only as effective as a company’s efforts to meet the needs of employees with diverse backgrounds. Failing to account for the needs of a diverse workforce is often called “diversity theatre.” This problem occurs when companies prioritize perception over the lived experience of employees with diverse identities.

In a McKinsey survey on workplace diversity, half of the respondents reported not feeling included at their current company. Those who felt most excluded were entry-level employees, women, and ethnic or racial minorities. These same groups experienced higher rates of work-related mental health issues and are more likely to quit for that reason.  

Maintaining a diverse workforce depends on improving the long-term experience of marginalized employees. Representation is just the first step — maintaining a diverse culture includes making meaningful changes to your company culture. If your company's approach to diversity is mainly based on compliance, consider rounding out your DEI strategy with employee wellness programs.  

Diversity and inclusion efforts are inherently linked to investing in employee mental health and wellbeing. For example, a recent Forbes article noted, "Employees from diverse backgrounds can face lack of representation, microaggressions, unconscious bias, and other stressors impacting their mental health." Therefore, addressing diversity and inclusion is impossible without acknowledging its impact on mental health in the workplace.

A successful DEI commitment should include employee wellness programs that address mental health conditions and concerns. A workplace mental health program should meet employees’ needs and account for their unique experiences in the workplace. It should also facilitate a sense of belonging for all employees and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health challenges. 

Learn how Pathways helped support employees through the challenges of racism  and social injustice »

A DEI Approach to Employee Mental Health

If you’re unsure how to integrate mental health into your diversity strategy, start by understanding the concerns of your employees. Each company has different aspects and contributing factors when it comes to workplace behavioral health. Gathering insights into your employees and their mental health stressors allows you to meet their specific needs better. 

A survey of your employees will inform your next steps and allow you to choose the best solution for your workforce. No matter what, a program should provide mental health resources for common concerns like stress and anxiety. A comprehensive solution will address the needs of marginalized team members, with programming on stressors related to race and identity. 

Programming on race should account for personal experiences and external factors like systemic racism and recent social injustices. Including both internal and external topics in your approach to employee mental health will help foster an inclusive work environment.

Some people feel as though the pandemic is in the rearview mirror. For others, however, the pandemic and its impact on everyday life remain a prominent stressor. This impact is especially true for people of color, women, and those with differing physical abilities.  

The pandemic unevenly impacted Black and Latino people across all social, health care, economic, and employment metrics. Women in the United States experienced higher rates of job loss and financial hardship. These challenges did not end when vaccination rates increased. Therefore, your employee behavioral health program should address how recent events contributed to mental health challenges. 

A well-rounded mental health program should do two things to support your diversity and inclusion efforts. First, it should meet your employees’ where they are and consider their personal identity. Second, it should acknowledge how external factors and events impact their mental health depending on their identity. 

Running a mental health program alongside your diversity initiatives benefits the company and improves employee experience. Starting a conversation about wellbeing can break down cultural and language barriers, and offer employees perspectives on their coworkers’ experiences. This opens up new lines of communication leading to better problem-solving among diverse teams. Ultimately, these benefits create a better company culture, which is a competitive advantage when hiring and retaining talented employees. 

Sustainable DEI: Combining Culture and Compliance

Strictly investing in the compliance side of diversity ignores the challenge of making changes to company culture when hiring or promoting diverse employees. Unfortunately, this approach ignores how identity shapes employee experience. As a result, it can lead to burnout, turnover, and hinder your ability to recruit diverse talent. 

Business leaders and HR should consider how an employee’s identity influences their engagement and participation at work.  Holistic mental health programs are sustainable investments that include racially informed perspectives and inclusive subject matter for employees. Supporting a diverse workplace depends on creating programs that address the experiences and challenges faced by diverse employees.

If you're looking to round out your diversity strategy with an inclusive mental health program, check out our approach to supporting employee mental health through managing the challenges of racism and social injustice. We proudly offer programs that address mental health challenges related to identity. When executed thoughtfully and inclusively, mental health training can have a meaningful impact on employee engagement and inclusion. 

We're happy to help survey your team as well if you need help deciding on other courses to include in your DEI employee wellness initiative.

How We Can Help

The Pathways at Work program helps businesses improve employee mental health, engagement, and productivity through a series of customized workshops, live and on-demand training, interactive discussion groups, tools, and resources. We help organizations eliminate the stigma associated with mental and behavioral health and create a more inclusive workplace by proactively improving the wellness of their people.Watch-our-On-Demand-Webinar-About-Compassion-Fatigue

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