More and more employers are understanding the importance of engaging in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts for their employees. With this comes the important consideration of how to best support the mental health of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) employees. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but there are three things employers can start doing now to support their BIPOC employees:
1. Build leaders who are committed to understanding the complex experiences of BIPOC employees.
In a recent study, 60 percent of BIPOC employees didn’t believe their companies were invested in developing supportive or understanding managers. It’s not enough to just place people with raw talent, knowledge, and drive in leadership positions. To bring out the best in leadership, we need to prioritize empathy and empowerment as well. We need leaders who want to understand what it means to lead a diverse group of people.
2. Take the time to understand the stressors unique to BIPOC employees.
Navigating discrimination and exclusion can be incredibly stressful for BIPOC employees, especially when leaders don’t recognize the struggle. By creating opportunities for BIPOC employees to share their experiences, companies can help reduce fear and improve employees’ mental health. By taking the time to listen, leaders can become more culturally competent—an important part of fostering a mentally safe work environment for BIPOC employees.
3. Get comfortable practicing vulnerability.
For leaders, we must take the first step and be vulnerable when we see people struggling. Seeing transparency from those in positions of power can be transformative. It is a chance to see leaders as humans with flaws and challenges they’ve had to overcome. Vulnerability is the foundation on which safe spaces are built, and safe spaces are key to making BIPOC employees feel seen, heard, and cared for. We’ve all heard the old adage that closed mouths don’t get fed. I’m also a firm believer that closed mouths can’t feed either. For those of us who are in positions of power, we can’t just be silent and expect people to follow us.
Will these three steps fix it all? No, but they are a good place to start. Supporting BIPOC employees starts with supporting their mental health. Just because it’s not your experience, doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. The better we become at recognizing that, the better employers can be at having a lasting, positive influence normalizing mental health for their employees.