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Society started to take greater action around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) and mental health — and for good reason, considering the pandemic-induced isolation, political unrest, societal divide and racial injustices that defined 2020. These events caused increased 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 return to office plans— the dread of going back to the microaggressions and biases they tend to face in person.

A recent survey found that remote work helped Black employees feel a sense of belonging. Black workers said their sense of belonging doubled, and 64% managed stress better while working from home. So how can companies make sure they are creating a safe environment and supporting their diverse employees, especially as people go back to a physical office?

It starts with acknowledging that mental health benefits are not enough. We need DEIB embedded in the mental health benefits. Research clearly shows their connection: anxiety and depression more than tripled in Black Latinx communities after the killing of George Floyd. Not to mention, my company’s recent research, commissioned with Forrester Consulting, found that workers — 38% of managers and 31% of employees — said these events were so distracting, they couldn't do their job. This suggests companies have a long way to go when it comes to supporting their employees’ mental health amidst an increase of public incidents of systemic racial violence.

In my opinion, you cannot meaningfully prioritize DEIB initiatives without prioritizing access to mental healthcare. And you cannot fully support mental health without considering the impact of culture and social identity on people’s day-to-day lives. What links DEIB and mental health together is belonging.

Belonging is not only a basic human need but a connection that empowers employees of diverse backgrounds to show up authentically in the workplace, resulting in greater engagement, creativity and productivity. A recent Yale study found healthcare workers that felt like they were part of a team experienced less burnout than those that didn’t.

When you feel like you belong, you feel engaged and you’re likely to feel empowered to bring your whole self to work to do your best work. Above all, you are more likely to engage with mental health services because you feel safe. That’s why it’s crucial that a sense of belonging is a part of every company’s DEIB program, especially as more companies work toward building diverse workforces. They can’t just hire more diverse workers, they also need to support them.

So how can you make sure belonging is built into your DEIB and mental health strategy?

First, recognize it’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Companies need to consider every social identity (especially those that are not in the room) when building their culture, which is made up of language, norms, values, environment and even products and services. Then, ask yourself if your company is being tolerant (acknowledging differences), inclusive (considering behaviors, language and attitudes of other cultural groups) or integrative (an extension of inclusivity — considerate of your social identity and others’ in every encounter) when it comes to these components.

Also, the nice thing about belonging is that it’s easy to measure. You can ask people if they feel like they are a part of something and get a quantifiable answer. Equity, on the other hand, is hard to measure because it looks different among different marginalized communities. But if organizations are doing D + E + I effectively, then people will feel the B.

DEIB is the next frontier of 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, contending with the pandemic-driven phenomenon coined “the great resignation.” As the war for talent heats up, supporting the mental health of our employees is table stakes. The true 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 purposeful career.


Dr. Jessica Jackson is a licensed psychologist and global DEIB Care Lead for Modern Health.