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3 DEI mistakes companies made in 2022—and how they can be fixed this year


Last year, DEI progress in the workplace stalled for the first time since 2017. Not only has this turned younger generations away from applying to certain companies and industries, but it's also caused workers to be more burned out — both issues that leaders can tackle in 2023 with the right game plan. 

According to a recent report from Gallup, three out of 10 U.S. employees say they're burned out "very often" or "always." What's more, employees who felt discrimination were more than twice as likely to report high levels of burnout, showing that access to DEI programs is essential to workplace well-being.

Zee Clarke, author of Black People Breathe and mindfulness & breathwork expert for BIPOC communities, says that the current approach that many companies have regarding diversity seems more like a "branding strategy" to attract more workers, rather than an actual commitment — and employees can tell the difference. 

"What's lacking from this strategy is the taking care of the Black and brown people that are working at those companies today. And that's the way I felt when I was working in corporate, is that the DEI initiatives were not for me. That Gallup study resonated [with me] so much, because I didn't feel respected and valued."

According to Clarke, these are the things companies got wrong in 2022, and ways to fix them in 2023: 

Not providing the support — or budget — for DEI plans to thrive.

It's one thing to have plans to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace — but companies have to put their money where their mouths are to create actual change. 

The last quarter of 2022 posed stark changes for companies nationwide as fears for financial turbulence continue to grow — which may have contributed to the stall in DEI progress. 

"What I think happened is that the recession [fears] started and people are worried. There's all these layoffs and leaders have to make budget decisions, and DEI got deprioritized," Clarke says.

If companies don't prioritize DEI efforts by providing actual support, Clarke believes things won't change.

"I do strongly believe that there are people that work in these roles that genuinely care and genuinely want to see outcomes. Unfortunately, those people are not the ones that determine the budget priorities. I have spoken to many people that work in DEI and they don't have teams. How many companies have hired a Chief Diversity Officer and then didn't give them a budget or a robust team? What can you do without resources?"

Having a 'one size fits all' approach to DEI

In order to have successful DEI programming, leaders in the workforce must understand that the needs of one marginalized group may not mirror those of another.

The umbrella term "BIPOC" has increased in popularity in the last few years, even in the workplace. Standing for 'Black, Indigenous, People of Color,' this term is too broad for some individuals according to Healthline, as the injustices, stereotypes, and microaggressions of people across different races and ethnicities vary too much to be clustered. Yet, many inclusive events and resource groups still use the acronym. 

Clarke says that distinction plays an important role in having DEI programs that resonate with workers.

"In my workshops, I find that if it is a more mixed group, people don't feel comfortable sharing the truth about their experiences. If it's a [distinct] group, they'll be way more open and more comfortable."

A lack of mental health resources tailored to employees of color  

With burnout being a prevalent issue amongst diverse professionals, access to mental health resources is a necessity.

Clarke recalls the workplace experience of two of her friends, both Black women, who were doing multiple jobs outside the scope of their job title, "because they were trying to be respected and valued. They were trying to prove their worth." Ultimately, after becoming burned out and overworked with no promotion in sight, both women left their jobs — something that could have been avoided with proper support. 

Clarke says that usually employers provide general mental health help for their workers, which isn't the most effective approach. Instead, she suggests companies make the effort to diversify their resources.

"[Companies should] offer mental health resources, specifically tailored to Black and brown communities. I remember working at companies and they'd just give me this general EAP (Employee Assistance Program)," Clarke explains. "That's like the hub resource for any benefits that companies offer. And that's real general … there's no list of Black therapists that they're going to provide."

Similarly, though companies may offer access to mindfulness apps as part of their benefits, she says "a lot of these mainstream meditation apps don't have things for [people of color], so I believe companies should provide mental health resources specifically tailored for us."

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