How Your DEI Efforts May Impact Mental Health


May 12, 2021  |  Hassina Obaidy


Mental health plays an essential role in the employee experience. As of late, when we think about mental health, we think of the COVID-19 pandemic, the social injustice against the Black community, the hate towards Asians and Asian American Pacific Islanders, the ongoing political divide, and so much more.

Anything that goes on outside of the office still impacts the workplace and the mental health of employees. The way we speak to each other in the workplace, expressing our opinions, and using empathy to approach a sensitive topic all impact our mental health. An organization’s DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) efforts must be driven by mental health. Only half of all employees believe their organization has a genuine commitment to inclusion, according to Emtrain’s 2021 Workplace Culture Report on Inclusion

When building and improving your company’s DEI strategy, consider asking yourself (and key stakeholders) this: Will all of my employees feel psychologically safe with this strategy? How much does our company’s current work environment contribute to their mental health? No matter where your DEI efforts stand, it impacts everyone’s mental health and well-being.

High Expectations to Drive the Conversation

As diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies are implemented across different organizations, the burden to launch these programs fall on People of Color (POCs). Employers are disproportionately leaning on POCs to create diversity and inclusion initiatives that work for the organization, join support groups and committees, and build an action plan. They turn to the very few Black employees to ask what their company should do to increase diversity and inclusion. This type of burden and stress takes an emotional toll on individuals. On top of day-to-day work, the pressure to develop and launch these programs causes unnecessary stress and anxiety and negatively impacting their mental health. People of Color and Asian Americans are already dealing with the stress of social and systemic injustice.

Employers that take this approach, without any support given to these individuals, are taking the convenient, easy way out and treating it as a check the box exercise rather than an ongoing, collaborative initiative. Managers and leaders fail to recognize the emotional and mental impact these requests can have on individuals. People of Color and Asian Americans are expected to guide these conversations and answer questions others may have about race and race in the workplace. Additionally, they’re tasked with leading ERGs (employee resource groups) or reviewing corporate values to ensure it uses DEI language. You wouldn’t volunteer your engineering team to create a financial or HR strategy; it’s not their expertise.

Representation Impacts Mental Health

In response to the tragic death of George Floyd, global protests, and the increase in bias and violence against Asian Americans, more and more employers continuously emphasized their commitment to inclusion and social equity. After George Floyd’s death, depression and anxiety among Black and Latino communities more than tripled in 2020. As an employer, you have a corporate and social responsibility to recruit more diverse backgrounds and make inclusion a priority and give back to underrepresented communities.

Most employers have already acknowledged and pledged to increase women on boards, hire more Black employees by a specific date, and overall commit to improving their diversity efforts. Representation becomes the foundation of confidence, which increases productivity, takes on more challenges, and the motivation to strive for excellence at work. It brings out the best of your employees and attracts the best talent in your industry. Ultimately, the result is a much better-looking ROI, empowering underrepresented individuals to climb the corporate ladder successfully, and inspiring other individuals to do the same.

Employers can’t create a DEI strategy without keeping mental health in mind. For years, POCs have raised concerns about race in the workplace and lack of diversity and inclusion across the organization. As a result of recent societal events, organizations have made commitments to drive DEI efforts. But a DEI plan only works if you keep your employee’s mental and emotional well-being in mind.

If you want to have an impact, here are some resources that can help with mental health in the workplace: