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Opinion: Why DEI matters in the workplace

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Across the U.S., June is widely celebrated as Pride Month in honor of the Stonewall rebellion and to raise awareness about efforts for equal justice and equal opportunity for the LGBTQIA+ community. June also offers significant observances, such as Juneteenth, Caribbean-American Heritage Month and Immigrant Heritage Month. Because the month recognizes so many different cultures, identities and experiences, Burrell Behavioral Health has dubbed June as Inclusion Month, honoring our commitment to “Welcoming, Serving, Celebrating All, Through Learning, Collaboration and Action.”

While diversity, equity and inclusion are buzzwords we’ve all heard more frequently in recent years, some may still not be sure what they really mean or why they’re important. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • When a workplace has diversity, it employs a wide variety of individuals who have differences – in where people come from, thoughts, beliefs, lived experiences, abilities, language, and so on.
  • Equity means there is fair access to opportunity and advancement for all people, especially for historically marginalized groups.
  • Inclusion is the level of respect, belonging and value each team member senses from leadership and the organization. Inclusion is when marginalized groups or people feel seen, heard, understood and celebrated.

The why at work
Having a safe, inclusive workplace positively impacts employee mental health and overall job satisfaction. Neuroscience proves that overall wellness requires inclusion – and that exclusion literally hurts. When we feel excluded, imaging of our brain would appear as though we were enduring extreme physical pain.

When we feel judged, left out, overlooked, or unseen at work, we do not perform to our truest potential and are not likely to stay at the organization. When we feel known, valued and included as our authentic self, we report improved mental health and improved job satisfaction and produce to our truest potential. We know when we can live as our truest self, especially at work, we can give our work the best of us.

It’s not just individual employees who benefit from having a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. When an organization is more diverse, equitable and inclusive, the entire system is better for it, and the community benefits. Our world is diversifying, and representation within organizations is key to success. As more backgrounds and experiences are blended together at work, it leads to more innovation and creation of new ideas. Organizations appeal to a wider applicant pool and grow their staff, as more than two-thirds of job seekers want to work for an inclusive workplace and groups committed to social justice issues, according to GlassDoor.com.

Early examples
Any business can check boxes off a list in their attempt to reflect diversity, but the practice of equity and inclusion requires intentional action to truly achieve their benefits into the future. Burrell began its commitment to proactively create an inclusive culture in 2018, developing, hiring and resourcing its first DEI role. Other organizations have hired similar positions, including the city of Springfield, CoxHealth and Drury University.

At Burrell, we’ve found the most important and effective way to improve our system for our entire workforce is to listen first and follow with action. We have to give our team members the opportunity to give feedback, express their needs and share their stories. Then, we must make conscious steps toward fulfilling those requests, creating space and amplifying all voices.

It’s the only way to facilitate a truly inclusive environment that welcomes, serves and celebrates all people, all year long.

Keke Rover is Burrell Behavioral Health’s system director of diversity, equity and inclusion. She can be reached at keke.rover@burrellcenter.com.

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