How To Ensure Workplace Mental Health Initiatives Are Inclusive To All Employees

Fibo Quantum

By Bernie Wong

Tariq Meyers vividly recalls the summer of 2017 when he landed his dream job. He felt like he was finally actualizing into who he was meant to be and successfully transitioning from non-profit academia into tech. That same summer, a number of black boys and men were killed in high-profile cases by law enforcement. 

Tariq remembers walking into the office each day. He wanted to revel in the chapter of his life that he always wanted, but couldn’t help but feel heavy. For his colleagues at work, it seemed to be business as usual. He felt like no one understood what he was experiencing. Protest after protest in the news made this feeling become heavier until he received one email that turned everything around. 

The co-founder of his company at the time sent out a note. He acknowledged that some team members may be struggling given recent media and that it was core to the company culture to stand with one another. Tariq and his colleagues then organized an impromptu, global conversation. He remembers watching as allies and the impacted stood ready to both be heard and listen. 

“In such a short moment, I felt a sense of relief that I was looking for in the weeks prior.”

Mental health is the new frontier of diversity and inclusion. While a growing number of companies have launched internal initiatives to address mental health, it’s important that these efforts are not siloed. Mental health at work affects all levels of the organization, including every demographic group and their intersections. 

Mind Share Partners’ 2019 Mental Health at Work Report in partnership with SAP and Qualtrics found that Black-American and Hispanic or Latinx respondents were more likely to have experienced every symptom of a mental health condition compared to all respondents. Additionally, 47% of both Black-American and Hispanic or Latinx respondents had left a job, at least in part, for mental health reasons compared to 32% of Caucasian respondents. 

How can organizations and their leaders ensure their mental health initiatives are inclusive to all employees? We spoke with Tariq Meyers, who is now the global head of belonging, inclusion and experience at Coinbase, on the subject. 

The Key Ingredients To An Inclusive Mental Health Initiative

Research shows that mental health affects demographic groups differently. Tariq explains his own experience: “Growing up black, I didn’t always have the space to discuss my own mental wellbeing. This in part, comes from the deep-rooted stereotypes that exist for black men in America. I vividly recall avoiding seeking support or amplifying my own wellbeing throughout key milestones in my life out of fear that I would confirm what I imagined folks already thought, because of who I was or what zip code I was born in. This form of stereotype threat disproportionately impacts underrepresented communities, but the consequence of this experience, silence, can be felt by almost all communities.”

“The secret sauce for creating a mental health initiative isn’t so secret. To break this silence and combat the stigma of pursuing support for one’s mental wellbeing, we have to take the hardest step—to speak. [And] it requires empathy—a culture willing to have tough conversations in the pursuit of coming together and provide the spaces and tools that enable its employees to operate in this brave space.”

“At Coinbase, we’ve taken first steps in normalizing the conversation of mental wellbeing at work, such as:

  • Creating a community conversation on mental wellbeing to help teams understand that many factors impact our mental health (i.e. from finances to new parenthood) and that we all experience a spectrum of experiences that benefit from resources like coaching or more long-term support like cognitive therapy. 
  • We enhanced our benefit offerings to include Modern Health—an interactive mental wellbeing platform that matches employees to what they need, rather than providing a one-size-fits-all solution to diverse experiences. 

Starting the conversation or pointing to effective supports is just the beginning. We equally have to create a team culture that embraces this type of change. In this spirit, we were proud to form our first Employee Resource Group that focuses on overall employee wellbeing, with a specific focus on mental health in the ‘Overcome ERG.’”

The Black Community Faces Unique Challenges When It Comes To Workplace Mental Health

“While companies and communities across the U.S. spend the month of February celebrating the tremendous strides towards racial equity and the immeasurable contributions of Black-Americans throughout time,” Tariq explained, “It’s also a month to reflect on the long road ahead.

Despite increased graduation rates, shifting national demographics, and rapidly growing buying power, Black-Americans still face barriers towards full workforce representation and inclusion. Representation matters because it can be a signal of safety. When we feel safe, our conscious and unconscious minds can free up space, unleashing our potential. 

It’s important that we charge leaders and managers with the task of creating inclusive team cultures. As part of Coinbase’s culture, we believe each of us should feel empowered to shape our surroundings and ‘act like an owner.’ For us, leadership isn’t just about what you do, but how you do it. This ‘how’ includes creating an inclusive team culture and facilitating belonging on our teams.”

Beyond Benefits: What Mental Health Can Learn From Diversity, Equity And Inclusion

“Enhanced benefits, leave and traditional employee assistance programs are essential tools to bring more inclusion for our community, but they’re just that—resources,” Tariq reminds leaders. “It’s equally important that our team understands why these tools exist through an empathy lens and how to engage them.

At Coinbase, we know that our team’s ability to belong is the highest driver of employee engagement. When teams experience purpose, place and safety, they’re better positioned to advance our mission—creating an open financial system for the world. This starts with understanding the intersectional experiences that shape employees’ daily lives both in and out of office, including mental health. For some, the barriers towards belonging are much heavier. 

Knowing this, we launched a company-wide interactive initiative for our team to surface participants’ various lenses—the ways in which they present to the world and the way they view themselves. In doing so, we created empathy and understanding of the number of identities our team carries.

When I think of my grandmother’s life in the workforce, there was never space to have the conversation about what it meant to be an Afro-Latina, single, working-class parent. I can only imagine what her experience could have been had she been given what she needed in a supportive environment. 

At Coinbase, we ask our employees to bring their whole selves to work each day. In return, we answer the call, striving to create a supportive environment grounded in equity.”

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Bernie Wong is a senior associate at Mind Share Partners, a nonprofit that is changing the culture of workplace mental health.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.