How to Make Black History Month Matter: Support Black Health and Wellness in Your Workplace

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In order to strengthen the workplace and address diversity and inclusion goals, employers must address critical areas that support Black health and wellness in the workplace. Part of the Black History Month 2022 Series.

How to Make Black History Month Matter: Support Black Health and Wellness in Your Workplace

Last week, I addressed ways you can become a better workplace ally to your Black colleagues. As a manager, employer, or senior decision-maker, you can also adopt ways that support Black health and wellness in the workplace. With healthcare benefits largely covered by employee benefit programs, employers should pay attention to how their benefits programs address issues faced by the Black community.

According to Jamila Evans with the Century Foundation, “Even with improved access to medical care under the ACA (Affordable Care Act), the disparities in health outcomes between African Americans and whites are stark. African-American women are three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women. The African-American infant mortality rate is twice the rate for white infants. African Americans are more likely to die from cancer and heart disease than whites and are at greater risk for the onset of diabetes. However, death rates for African Americans with cancer and heart disease did drop over a fifteen-year period. Across many chronic illnesses, however, African Americans are still more likely to die compared to other racial and ethnic groups.” 

In order to address healthcare disparities within the Black community, managers, senior leaders and employers must talk about them. Photo from depositphotos.com

The people who make decisions about benefits must become knowledgeable about these and other healthcare disparities. Even if you are starting from zero, you can always improve the workplace environment. Below are ways you can support black health and wellness in the workplace.


Ways Employers Can Improve Their Focus on Healthcare

Whether you are the senior leader making decisions about employee benefits, or a staff person who receives them, we can all learn how to create an equitable workplace that cares for its Black employees. While we can hope and believe that our benefits are experienced similarly across identities, the facts tell us otherwise. Below are three reasons you should care about how staff in your workplace access their healthcare benefits.

Racism’s Wear and Tear on African Americans

“In addition to instigating poor health outcomes among African Americans, racism also creates barriers to economic opportunity and uneven access to health care. Even the health care system itself perpetuates racism and bias toward African Americans. This has been well documented with examples, including differences in pain management and treatment of African Americans when compared to whites experiencing the same health conditions, use of African Americans’ bodies in medical experimentation, and racial bias in health algorithms for the purpose of guiding health decisions and assessing health care costs. Actions like these have led to a general distrust of the health care system within the African American community. Racism cannot be divorced from the other social factors outlined in this report, which give reason to the fact that African Americans are disproportionately affected by them.”

Even in healthcare, racism can impact the ways Black folks receive care. Photo by Jason Segarra on Scop.io.

It is important to recognize the stain of racism on all institutional structures, including healthcare. While even the Black History Month theme focuses on mental health and healthcare, it is tinged with the biases that Black folks experience when trying to access it. We can no longer just tell people ‘just go to the doctor/therapist’ without understanding how those requests can be fraught with biases when trying to receive adequate care.

Choose Inclusive Healthcare Providers

“Racial discrimination abounds in healthcare, creating alarming consequences for people of color. Per a recent report by the Urban Institute, between September 2019 and September 2020, 10.6% of Black people surveyed faced discrimination by a doctor or other healthcare providers, or their staff based on race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or health condition compared to 3.6%of whites and 4.5% of Hispanics.

“While healthcare has a long way to go to create an equitable environment for people of color, representation matters. According to Stanford University, increased racial diversity among medical professionals has the potential to lower cardiovascular mortality among Black men by 19%. When health plans are approaching renewal, work with your broker or professional employer organization (PEO) to select coverage with diverse in-plan physicians. Failure to act could result in serious consequences.”

One way to ensure that potential plans meet the needs of a diverse workforce is to ask your staff better questions. Pay attention to doctors and other providers/physicians seen by identified communities, including your Black staff. And then ensure that new plans include those doctors and other providers!

Ask your staff who their current trusted physicians are and ensure new plans include these providers! Photo by Jordi Calvera on Scopio.

Prioritizing Black Health and Wellness Through Allyship

“Black employees should not be the only ones committed to prioritizing Black health and wellness at work—or educating fellow colleagues on what building an inclusive environment entails. 

“If you want to learn how to become a better ally, here are some resources to read and share with others in order to build more inclusive workplaces: 

“Ultimately, Black History Month is a time for inspiration and reflection. It can be definitely stressful to deal with challenging, uncomfortable dynamics at work related to Black History Month.  At the same time, perhaps the most important thing to remember is the spirit in which the celebration was first envisioned: to recognize Black excellence and celebrate the contributions Black Americans have made throughout this country’s history. “

As shared last week, in order to prioritize the needs of Black staff, we need better allyship behaviors. The time to start this reflection may begin during Black History Month, but ensure it continues. Take time each month to ask more questions and build an environment where everyone thrives and excels!


Resources

The Century Foundation: Racism, Inequality, and Health Care for African Americans

Empower Work: Prioritizing Black Health and Wellness at Work

ExtensisHR: Support Black Health and Wellness in Your Workplace

About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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