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Are You Doing Enough to Support Your Underrepresented Employees (UREs)?

As a business leader, founder, or HR manager, are you doing enough to support your underrepresented employees (UREs)? It’s a question worthy of serious consideration, and one that majorly impacts business outcomes and employee wellbeing.

We are living in a moment of real opportunity. In some ways, we’re at an inflection point. Many companies are finally embracing the importance of this topic and making strides to do something about it. Whether it’s through employee training, innovative benefits, or tools like a)plan coaching, we commend those leading the charge in finding new ways to support their employees.

In this post, we will explore the impact that COVID-19 has had on UREs and the current state of URE sentiment in the workplace. We’ll then look at key reasons to better support underrepresented employees and some impactful ways to do so.

Who Are UREs?

Underrepresented employees (UREs) are those who are underrepresented in the workplace – whether on a team, department, or an organization as a whole. Examples include Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+ employees, and women.

The Impact of COVID-19 on UREs’ Mental Health

The pandemic was difficult for just about everyone under the sun. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, research found a widespread spike and plateau in people reporting feelings of anxiety.

But the suffering impacted underrepresented groups in different, often more amplified, ways. These groups were already more prone to exclusion, isolation, and mental health issues. On top of those predispositions, a pandemic that economically impacted Blacks, Latinos, and Indigenous people the hardest puts UREs at additional risk of suffering, even as we emerge from pandemic life.

Some studies reveal that the pandemic’s disproportionate impact is evident in the numbers. For example, one Maryland-based study found that the suicide rate among Black people doubled during the pandemic, while it was cut in half for White people. Other studies have published similar findings around a concerning spike in the suicide rate among minority groups this past year.

How UREs Feel in Today’s Workplace

Research in just the past few years has helped shed light on the current state of how UREs feel in the workplace. Even when not accounting for the negative impacts of COVID-19, most of the findings are grim. But we can take solace in the fact that a new wave of attention is being brought to these critical topics. Not to mention new services, like a)plan coaching, are designed to help create positive change in this evolving space.

Black Employees

How do Black employees generally feel in today’s workplace? According to the SHRM’s 2020 report, Together Forward @Work, Black workers reported the following:

  • 33% don’t feel valued or respected at work (compared to 18% of White workers)
  • 46% feel that their organization is not doing enough for Black employees
  • 45% feel that their workplace discourages conversations about race

LBGTQ+ Employees

As with Black workers, members of the LGBTQ+ community are also more prone to feeling isolated at work. In a recent McKinsey study on how the LGBTQ+ community fares at work, the following was found:

  • LGBTQ+ women are underrepresented at every stage of the management ladder, which puts this group at higher risk of feeling lonely and stressed.
  • 3 in 20 LGBTQ+ women and 6 in 20 LGBTQ+ men feel that their sexual orientation will negatively impact their careers.
  • Trans employees are some of the most likely to experience feelings of “onlyness” due to lack of representation. Onlyness increases feelings of pressure to perform.

While this section covers findings relevant to Black and LGBTQ+ employees, note that the overarching themes here apply to all underrepresented groups. UREs face challenges and fears that simply do not afflict non-UREs. It’s time that leadership teams and managers recognize this, and as we explore in the next section, there are plenty of incentives for doing so.

When Supported, UREs Move the Needle

We’ve written before about the business case for inclusion. And while a business case should not be the only reason to better support UREs, it’s worth noting how much better things get for teams that embrace these employees. The ripple effects go deep.

3 Big Reasons to Better Support UREs and DEIB Values

1. Diversity Leads to Better Problem Solving

In Scott Page’s book, The Diversity Bonus, the University of Michigan professor explores how and why cognitive diversity gives teams a “bonus,” or an extra “umph” of problem-solving aptitude. Various studies and coverage on this topic further show how diverse teams (including teams with ample women representation) are better equipped to problem solve efficiently and productively.

2. Inclusion and Belonging Lead to Employee Engagement

Research conducted by Glint suggests employees who feel a sense of belonging are six times more likely to be engaged in their work. Why does this matter? Because employee engagement is a huge game changer. 

Take, for example, the research covered in this SHRM article, which says: 

  • Companies with engaged employees have higher stock prices and generate better returns for their stakeholders
  • Employee engagement leads to higher levels of productivity and lower levels of turnover

And worthy of note: Embracing the correlation between belonging and engagement is particularly important for UREs. In another article from SHRM, research found that this correlation is strongest for historically underrepresented groups.

3. Inclusive Leadership, Innovative Output, and Market Growth

The Center of Talent Innovation conducted research that revealed a “remarkable” correlation between inclusive leadership, innovative output, and market growth. In other words, leaders who champion and prioritize diversity are significantly more likely to innovate and create innovative teams that directly improve a company’s market share and market growth.

Coaching as a Tool to Support UREs

By now we’ve covered a few major points:

  1. COVID-19 has had a widespread negative impact on mental health, and UREs are some of the most at-risk individuals
  2. UREs traditionally don’t feel as comfortable, supported, or represented in the workplace, compared to non-UREs
  3. Fully supporting UREs at your company is the right thing to do, both from an ethical and a business perspective

As a business leader, founder, or HR manager, what can you do to address all of these points? Enter coaching.

Coaching is one of the best tools to help promote the professional development and personal well being of your employees. In fact, a solution like a)plan is specifically designed to support users in a holistic fashion – both professionally and personally. 

As we see it, someone’s personal life directly impacts their work life, and vice versa. While this is true for all people, we recognize that UREs deal with a unique set of challenges. Those challenges often require a unique set of tools, resources, and solutions to identify and solve.

Some common URE-specific challenges include: Feeling anxious about speaking up; being underrepresented by the management and/or leadership team; showing up as your true self, trusting that your voice will be heard, and more. Quite often, the root of these challenges can be found woven into the fabric of a company’s culture. 

Coaching helps organizations identify institutional problems that afflict UREs, while simultaneously supporting these employees throughout the process. Through some of our most successful coaching engagements, the organization identified massive areas for improvement, then underwent a cultural transformation to address those areas. 

The result? A workplace that better serves UREs and gives them the required support to reach their full potential. Then starts a positive feedback loop of an ever-improving culture with employees better equipped to hit desired business outcomes. Everyone wins.

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