Dear Tech Companies: How are you ensuring that BLNA women can truly bring their whole selves to work?
Hint: You have to create the infrastructure for it.
Each story in our Dear Tech Companies series focuses on issues in the tech space and provides strategies and solutions to companies looking to invest in meaningful solutions that will drive impactful industry change and make the industry more accessible to Black, Latina, and Native American (BLNA) women.
From the prolonged effects of COVID-19 to a national reckoning with racial injustice and economic inequity, employees in the technology industry acutely feel the impact of the past two years.
The numbers don’t lie — 71% of tech workers say their productivity is affected by a mental health issue. 60% of tech industry professionals never talked to anyone about their mental health last year. More than half of those who did described those conversations as neutral or negative.
That’s not all. The gap in burnout between women and men has almost doubled this year, with 1 in 3 women considering leaving the corporate workforce. For tech professionals who are often one of few or the only BLNA women in their workplace, those numbers are higher — women who regularly experience microaggressions are twice as likely to report burnout and feel negatively about their job, and almost three times as likely to say they’ve struggled to concentrate at work in the past few months due to stress. Persistent barriers that keep BLNA women out of the industry combined with additional barriers to inclusion, retention, and support within the industry mean that mental wellbeing is as structural as it is deeply personal.
Your employees are your company. Without access to comprehensive mental health benefits, employee burnout and stress-related issues will continue to impact retention, productivity, work culture, and the industry at large. We need to do better — urgently.
So how do we get there?
Companies encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work — but tech companies need to hold up their end of the bargain, too. Here’s three ways tech companies can build and sustain systems of awareness and support that ensure professionals can thrive:
- Re-adjust your focus.
Who is at the center of your mental health policies? For many BLNA professionals at various experience levels, financial stress, inflexible schedules, and a lack of belonging contribute to poor mental health at the workplace.
As an overworked nation that still does not provide legally mandated annual leave, only 23% of professionals actually take their eligible time off. For your BLNA employees, those numbers are bound to be even lower. In 2018, 66% of Latinx workers, 83% of Black workers, and 100% of Native American and Pacific Islander workers were less likely to be able to take leave when needed.
We need to do better in supporting our professionals to rest, recover, and prioritize themselves. Companies like Qualcomm and LinkedIn provide good examples of encouraging their employees to address burnout, stress, and time-management challenges. Let’s not forget that creating structures to truly support all employee needs goes a long way in creating institutional trust.
2. Preaching to the choir is invaluable, but only if you’re singing from the same song sheet.
There is tangible evidence that Employee Resource Groups matter — even more so in a remote work environment. ERGs are a way to both surface similar concerns and needs employees may have, as well as create space to teach others how to be better allies. For BLNA women, ERGs are valuable spaces to be safe, brave, and vulnerable. For instance, Verizon has found creative ways to support mental health-focused ERGs and programming for more than 5 years through regular fireside chats with employees called “Wellness Fridays”, organizing expert panels discussing mental health and wellbeing, and encouraging storytelling by employees at all professional levels.
The most effective way ERGs can deepen cultural competency at the workplace is through meaningful partnership. Company leadership and allies must engage ERGs as strategic partners, compensating them for their time and additional effort, and seeing them not just as social groups, but as co-pilots in transforming the workplace. Dell’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion provides a good example of continually supporting ERGs to foster organizational accountability.
3. Lead by example.
Organizations should not rely solely on ERGs to address mental health challenges in the workplace. Fostering a culture of honesty and transparency begins with leadership. EQ is now a highly valued leadership skill, and for the right reasons. Company leadership can play a huge role in normalizing conversations around mental health and work fatigue. We can generate results, build trust, and encourage BLNA professionals to take care of themselves by fostering a work culture that values people over productivity.
With an influx of stories about workplaces monitoring remote employee activity through software, we need to re-assess the kind of work culture we want to build and promote. Do we really want a workplace where tasks are valued over trust?
Inviting professionals to bring their whole selves to work means nothing if there are no support structures in place when they show up — supporting BLNA employees’ mental health and wellbeing requires investing time, effort, thought, and resources. Tech may be a fast-paced industry, but we know tech is at its best when it brings people together. The most important thing in tech is no longer software or hardware; it’s people. Reassessing our approach to mental health at the workplace ultimately makes us better at what we do — inspiring people to connect with ideas, communities, and most importantly, with each other.