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Diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

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4.1 Impact of discrimination on health and wellbeing

When there are limited measures in place to support diversity and inclusion, the discrimination experienced by an individual can have a significant effect on their health and wellbeing.

When examining the impact of perceived discrimination during social interactions, Richman et al (2010) identified increases in both blood pressure and heart rate in the person reporting the discrimination. Results suggested that ‘perceived discrimination is related to cardiovascular and affective responses that may increase vulnerability to pathogenic processes.’

In other words, people facing discrimination experience an increase in blood pressure and heart rate that may make them more vulnerable to illness and disease.

There can also be an impact on mental health. McMenamin (2021) explains that ‘While society has long associated workplace trauma-induced mental illness with certain occupations like firefighting and the military, the notion of trauma developed from a toxic job or workplace is becoming increasingly recognised throughout the workforce.’

It’s easy to see how these negative impacts on health and wellbeing can lead to a fear of engaging with challenging or difficult conversations and situations.

One way that individuals might choose to ‘blend in’ is by code-switching. This is a when a person tones down some of the characteristics that associate them with a particular community, such as style of speech, appearance or behaviour, in order to fit in.

In their study of the way black professionals navigate mostly white organisations in the US, McLuney et al (2019) describe some of the negative consequences of code switching:

  • Seeking to avoid stereotypes is hard work and can deplete cognitive resources and hinder performance.
  • Feigning commonality with co-workers reduces authentic self-expression and contributes to burnout.