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DEI and Mental Health: Keys to Improving Intertwined Workforce Initiatives

Back in 2019, before Black Lives Matter and George Floyd put an overdue spotlight on companies’ role in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), we at DMi realized our usual approach of self-reliance on overcoming challenges wasn’t cutting it. We began a search for a consultant who could advise us on the best path forward to improving our focus on DEI—and, in tandem, our team’s mental health.

Fast-forward to today, and we’re happy to say we’ve increased the number of employees with underrepresented identities by over 30%. It’s not a coincidence that we can also boast a slew of 2023 workforce awards:’s Best Workplaces, Gallup’s Exceptional Workplaces, and The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Top Workplaces.

We aren’t perfect. We have plenty of room to improve. And we acknowledge that the same will be true tomorrow and next quarter and in 2024. But we’ve learned some keys to improvement that I’d like to share.

Recognize the Risks of Under-Investing in DEI

The benefits of DEI aren’t exclusive to underrepresented demographics. Building an inclusive organization means you’re genuinely encouraging everyone to bring their full selves to work.

Masking, code-switching, tokenizing, isolation—these are all greater risks for underrepresented communities, and experiencing any one of them compromises a person’s mental well-being. But a company whose entire staff feels psychologically safe in expressing themselves fully benefits from the free exchange of ideas, more generously offered and accepted feedback, and the recognition of diverse strengths that improve the company’s performance.

Put another way, a hollow or an insubstantial approach to DEI has the effect of smothering voices, resulting in curtailed performance, employee turnover, and a self-enforcing echo chamber where limited opinions are valued. The risks to both a company and its employees are quantifiable. (A 2022 GoodHire survey found that 81% of respondents would consider leaving a company with a lack of commitment to DEI.)

Leadership Must Lead

Grassroots-only DEI efforts will never be as effective as efforts grounded in authentic engagement from company leadership. At DMi, I meet weekly with our CEO, Patrick McKenna, to talk about DEI initiatives and investments and how to push them forward.

These initiatives include, but aren’t limited to, programming around celebrations like Juneteenth, AAPI Heritage Month, and Pride; incorporating DEI into our perks and benefits; and fundraising initiatives for black-owned businesses and nonprofits in which leadership matches every donation. The effects of leadership’s commitment to DEI are evident; we have a wonderful DEI council with willing and active volunteers (all of whom have scorecards that keep them accountable and goal-oriented) and high turnout and engagement, including leadership, in quarterly DEI training.

If leadership isn’t truly invested and present in DEI, employees will sniff it out right away, and accountability at all levels will suffer. For a multilayered, hyper-dynamic initiative whose standards and best practices evolve quickly, this will compromise progress at a fundamental level.

Invest in Education

Because DEI is such a fast-moving target, investment in ongoing education is critical. This education can and should be sourced both externally and internally.

Internally, we conduct frequent employee surveys that help surface ideas and issues for leadership and our council to address. We also recently had a session to gather feedback from an employee focus group, and their input led directly to more company involvement with DEI initiatives in our local communities, including attendance at local job fairs and sponsoring certain events.

Externally, beyond our DEI consultant and regular company trainings, we’ve invested in an applicant tracking system that provides reports on demographics in the hiring funnel, which is a huge component of increasing diversity in the organization. Actual data, combined with the humility to find outside expertise to learn how to improve the data, is a powerful base for driving positive change.

One of our ultimate goals for DEI is to boast representation that mirrors our communities. We’re not there yet; as I noted above, our DEI and mental health initiatives can and must improve on a continual basis, especially as standards evolve. But I can confidently say we have the infrastructure and commitment needed to become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization every day.

Brittney Scurry is D&I and Talent Acquisition Manager at DMi Partners.

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