What is diversity and why is it so important today?
Diversity refers to the various differences and similarities among individuals, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, physical ability, mental health, abilities, and more. Embracing diversity helps to create a more equitable and inclusive society, where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. When we create situations and products that are built for individuals in mind, regardless of their background, we are able to start to address any imbalances that are present in society.
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The evolution of diversity and inclusion in the workplace
The evolution of diversity and inclusion in the workplace has been a gradual process that has evolved over time. In the past, workplaces were primarily composed of white, cisgender, able-bodied men. And in many cases, this is still who is at the top in managerial and senior positions, although this is shifting. However, as society has become more diverse and inclusive, employers have recognized the need to create more equitable and inclusive work environments.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Civil Rights Movement and global protests brought attention to the issue of discrimination in the workplace, particularly with regard to race. As a result, laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 were passed to protect individuals from discrimination based on race, gender, and ability.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace expanded to include other underrepresented groups, such as people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and individuals with disabilities. Employers began to recognize the benefits of a diverse workforce, such as improved creativity and innovation and began implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Benefits of having a diverse workplace
Business leaders play a big role in creating a diverse workforce. And it’s worth it. In the workplace, diversity can bring many benefits, such as encouraging creativity and innovation, faster recruitment, boosting reputation, and increased productivity.
People want to work in a workplace where they feel included and psychological safety is paramount. Diversity of thought creates a workplace where fresh new ideas are welcomed and embraced, where innovation thrives, and employees from diverse backgrounds are able to speak up and share their ideas. And it helps improve reputation – when potential new employees and candidates see a business where employees look like them, or where they feel they will be included, they will be more likely to consider it.
The economic case is clear too. A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. In 2015 the French government calculated that by increasing jobs for women and minority groups the country would gain 6.9% of the GDP. So it’s not only good for the individual but good for business.
The role of mental health in a diverse and inclusive workplace
What is mental health diversity?
One important aspect of diversity that is often overlooked is mental health diversity. Mental health refers to the emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing of an individual. It is a critical component of overall health and wellbeing, and plays a significant role in determining how individuals function in their daily lives, including at work. Everyone approaches the world differently. Embracing that diversity and acknowledging that mental health affects us all in different ways is key to creating an inclusive workplace.
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of mental health diversity in the workplace. Employers have begun to understand that mental health is a critical component of overall health and wellbeing and that mental health conditions should be treated with the same level of importance as physical health conditions. Employers have started to focus on creating a more inclusive and supportive work environment for individuals with mental health conditions.
There exists a number of health disparities among communities and the social determinants of mental health are clear. Social inequalities are associated with an increased risk of many common mental illnesses. A population study in the UK found that the more debt people had, the more likely they were to have some form of mental disorder. A systematic review of 115 studies on common mental disorders and poverty in low and middle-income countries found that over 70% reported positive associations between a variety of poverty measures and common mental disorders. A review from the Race Equality Foundation shows black and minority ethnic communities are less likely to access mental health support in primary care (i.e. through their GP) and more likely to end up in crisis care.
We need to create a world where there is social equity, where racial justice exists, religious discrimination doesn’t occur, and gender bias isn’t there when it comes to mental health. Workplaces can play a role in doing just that.
Breaking the stigma at work
Although we are seeing an increasing focus on mental health care, there still exists stigma at work. Our latest report All Worked Up found that when facing a period of mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression symptoms, 74% would rather speak to a mental health chatbot like Wysa than their HR team, and 6 in 10 had never told their employers about their mental health challenges. Further research shows that this is happening on a global scale – and costing a fortune.
It’s clear that deadlines, workloads and other stressors can play a role in mental health at work, and given that we spend the majority of our waking life at work, it’s clear businesses and HR leaders play an important role not just in mental health at work, but mental health in society.
Providing comprehensive access to mental health care
So how do we improve mental health support at work? Many organizations have employee assistance programs that provide access to resources that support overall mental health.
Often these exist at the end of two spectrums – mindfulness and meditation for wellbeing worries, or access to clinical support for diagnosed mental illnesses. Often there is nothing in the middle. Wysa exists to provide care for everyone, through a clinically validated app that is designed to be responsive to people’s needs and provide effective mental health support for people in a variety of situations. Someone with anxiety may be offered structured thought reframing exercises, whilst an individual struggling to sleep can get guided meditations. Because Wysa is AI driven, it does not have the unconscious bias that in-person support can sometimes have.
7 ways to improve mental health diversity in the workplace
1. Educating the leaders and senior management
HR leaders and senior management play an important role in creating a mentally healthy workplace. They can be trained to understand what mental health is and how to support employees who might be experiencing mental ill health. But it’s not only poor health that is important – it’s also key they know what a mentally healthy workplace is, and are able to create an open and inclusive workplace where mental health is discussed, shared, and is something to be embraced. To increase awareness of mental health it’s clear we need both a bottom-up and a top down approach, where everyone feels comfortable to speak up and speak out.
2. Train people to spot signs of distress
Some employees will face mental health problems. In fact, All Worked Up discovered that one in three employees in the US and a similar number in the UK, report symptoms of anxiety or low mood that warrant further investigation- twice the reported national prevalence. Well trained colleagues or leaders will be able to spot signs of distress such as depression symptoms or symptoms of anxiety, or even more severe symptoms such as suicidal ideation, and have the resources or knowledge to address them.
⚠️If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is at hand. Please visit this list of helplines and resources for different countries.
3. Providing comprehensive mental health resources
No one person’s experience of mental health is the same as another. Because overall mental health encompasses so much, it is important to support employees in a way that works for them. Mental health treatment is different for everyone.
Wysa is designed and validated by mental health practitioners and integrates into health systems around the world, and as a comprehensive mental health resource for employees. One of the main mental health benefits is that it responds to an individual’s particular need, any time, anywhere, in a way that works for them. This is great for employees from diverse backgrounds as it helps alleviate many barriers that can sometimes affect someone’s willingness to reach out for help. So if they talk about depression, the chatbot can provide a supportive response. If anxiety is an issue, it might suggest some relaxation exercises. A range of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques sit alongside meditation and mindfulness ideas, with additional SOS support for crisis and signposts to mental health services.
4. Encourage open communication
One of the key ways to improve mental health awareness is to create an open and communicative workplace culture. This can also help people feel closely connected to their colleagues, and more likely to reach out for help if they need it, or feel empowered to support others.
Stigma still prevails in many workplaces, and often people feel uncomfortable discussing mental health issues. All Worked Up showed that American workers revealed they are more likely to either cite physical illness for needing to take sick leave for mental health relief, or try to push through it and go to work, rather than admit the true reason.
Employee resource groups, regular check-ins with managers and supervisors, as well as opportunities for employees to connect with their colleagues, can help people feel like there is support available for them, and mean that they are more likely to reach out before things reach a crisis point. But equally, it’s crucial that there is signposting to mental health care services and that both employers and employees know how to access them with any mental health concern.
5. Provide an employee assistance programme
There are numerous employee assistance programmes out there, each offering something slightly different. A good employee assistance programme is easy to access, offers resources and information, and is clear signposting to crisis support. Many, like Wysa, provide aggregated data to leaders so that they can see what is important to their staff overall, and introduce initiatives and activities to address this. Partners have seen 10 times more usage than through other employee assistance programmes.
6. Introduce wellbeing initiatives
There are all sorts of wellbeing initiatives that your employees may benefit from. Some may love lunchtime yoga, whereas for others it’s flexible working. Offering additional holidays can help relieve stress and tension, or a discounted gym membership can be good for both physical and mental health. It’’s really important to listen to employees and find out what they want and what improves their wellbeing, rather than make blanket assumptions, as everyone responds differently. Fun mental health activities can also be a great way to boost employee morale in the workplace, although make sure it’s not tokenistic and is backed up with proper support, salaries, benefits and access to insurance networks.
7. Hire people from varied backgrounds
Diversity in the workplace and in mental health can only come when companies hire people from different backgrounds, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic class or any experience with mental illness. Working with team members who come with different ideas and ways of thinking creates a mentally healthy workplace where everyone is learning and bouncing off each other.
Promoting mental health diversity in the workplace is essential for creating an inclusive and supportive environment in which happy and healthy employees flourish. A workplace which looks after its people, no matter what their background or mental health situation is, is one that will be more resilient and successful, retaining the best people who are doing great work. Mental health diversity is about embracing all of us, individuals with our own needs, thoughts, skills – and feelings – and creating a workplace where everyone can.
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Photo by Christina Morillo