Updated June 3, 2021
With Pride Month and Juneteenth this month, take a moment to consider how you can create a more inclusive wellness program for your friends in the Black and LGBTQ+ communities. While you set out with the best intentions, your strategy may not be as inclusive as you think.
I recently took a multicultural competency course with the National Wellness Institute that opened my eyes to this. My instructor started the first class asking, “Is wellness inclusive?” The answer at first seemed to be an obvious, ‘Yes, of course it is.’ I thought about all the wellness programming I’ve been involved with in my 20+ years in the industry: biometric screenings, health fairs, wellness challenges, 5k runs and nutrition campaigns, to name a few. The employers I’ve worked with prioritize and consider their people’s needs in their well-being strategy.
But, when I stop to think about it from the perspective of diversity and inclusion, are they really making it equitable and inclusive? It made me wonder how the wellness industry has historically taken a one-size-fits-all approach. Nutrition campaigns typically reference the general American diet in their imagery, recipes and recommendations. Fitness campaigns assume participants have access to safe outdoor places or gyms.
Traditional wellness approaches such as quarterly campaigns, lunch and learns and health fairs are good and are certainly helpful to a degree, but they don’t often consider each individuals’ needs. Programs rarely address systemic barriers that exist to things like convenient medical care, grocery stores with fresh healthy foods and quality education. Organizations should consider how to make programs accessible for all individuals, factoring in certain health conditions, disabilities, gender identity, race and age, among others.
We are at a pivotal moment. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a renewed focus on health. The disparities that exist between those with access to healthcare and those without quickly became clear. However, there are silver linings to the pandemic.
We’ve been forced to stop and reflect, and many employers innovated quickly to meet their employees’ needs in terms of work-life integration and supporting mental health. There’s a greater understanding of the urgent need to address chronic conditions such as diabetes that left so many Americans vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19. The pandemic may have been a wakeup call to some, and now is a perfect time to provide resources so employees can take action to build a healthy lifestyle.
The key moving forward will be to ensure that any population health initiative is meaningful to everyone and reaches all members of the population. Multicultural competency can improve our awareness of the unique obstacles many around us face. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Conduct a needs assessment before starting any new initiative, and make sure the assessment is written and provided in a way so that everyone can respond.
- Make inclusivity a measure of success. When participation is reviewed, look deeper to see who is not participating. Are there any consistencies among those who are not engaging? Consider those who may opt out because it doesn’t fit their cultural expectations.
- Try to tailor wellness strategies to the person concerned, and make sure you adhere to the appropriate legislation (OSHA, ERISA, HIPAA, etc.) when formulating solutions.
- Consider how social class, customs and nationality may influence wellness program participation. Are there any histories and challenges the population faces? Work collaboratively to identify what is needed to create equal and equitable solutions.
- Take advantage of the resources that are continuing to become available in this space. Virgin Pulse recently published a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit with a variety of practical ideas and tips on how to take action.
- Most importantly, do the internal work that is needed to take into account your own biases and understand that this is an ongoing journey for you and for everyone within the organization. Be open to reviewing your offerings with a different lens. Some tools to consider include:
- Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test – A free test that helps to predict behavior that may be biased to promote self-awareness and avoid making choices or taking actions based on biases.
- Learning for Justice’s Test Yourself for Hidden Bias
- Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives by Howard J. Ross
The world is changing, and multiculturalism is becoming the mainstream. Those implementing wellness strategies must ensure the resources provided are reaching the most at-risk populations. Wellness programs will need to evolve to measure beyond biometric outcomes and consider the realities that individuals face daily. The goal: To develop multiculturally competent wellness initiatives that are inclusive and diverse, consider the specific needs of the target population and are offered in ways that are accessible to everyone. Your team’s well-being will improve when you look beyond one-size-fits-all approaches and build a true culture of health focused on equity.
If you’re looking for ways to promote inclusivity in wellness at your organization, please reach out to me directly or on LinkedIn. I’d be happy to chat and share insights. You can also contact a member of our advisory team, drop a note here or tweet at us!