For DC advocacy organization Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI), company culture means a lot more than PTO days and remote versus IRL work.
Last week, the org launched its Workplace Equity Initiative, centered on how removing racism in the workplace can actually help improve the physical and mental wellbeing of Black women employees. The initiative, which is supported by $1 million in grant funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, hopes to create firm strategies to take on workplaces inequities, with the goal of improving the overall health of Black women.
Angelica Geter, chief strategy officer of BWHI, told Technical.ly that Black women age 7.5 years faster than their white counterparts because of racial discrimination, which is often baked into workplace and hiring practices.
“What people don’t think about is the trauma of racism and gender discrimination and how that can have an impact on your confidence,” Geter said. “And how people process stress in their bodies is different for everyone.”
The initiative has three pillars to create actual, tangible change at workplaces across the US:
- The Imperative will first be creating a Corporate Fairness Index, which evaluates companies and identifies which are safe workplaces for Black women.
- It will be developing training programs, customizable to each company, on best policies and practices to reduce racism in the workplace and support Black women employees.
- It developed an Art of Wellness toolkit with empowerment and wellness tips to help Black women navigate racism in the workplace. This will include instructions on how to get connected with health services, how to get a mentor and how to negotiate salaries and promotions.
“We’re talking about the impact that racism has on our health and how it’s impacting our stress levels,” Geter said. “It’s affecting us at a cellular level, but there aren’t any national standards to say, this is what Black women need to thrive in work. This is the kind of support Black women need so that they can be able to manage their stress levels, to be able to elevate in certain positions and have emotions that they want.”
"We are losing thousands of Black women each year because of the stress that's associated with racism and discrimination. So we have to improve our quality of life."
According to BWHI, Black women lose an average of $964,400 over their lifespan due to income disparity. Trends like this, Geter said, mean that Black women often times leave companies in search of better pay (another stressor) and are a general indicator that companies don’t pay enough attention to the retention rate for Black employees. Many times, recruiters work to get these employees in the door but don’t make enough of an effort to keep them there, which is where initiatives like this come in.
Physically, Geter noted that digestive system issues, heart disease, breast cancer, stroke and other health outcomes can all be associated with how Black women process their increased levels of stress caused by these issues. In fact, she noted, experiencing regular racism at the workplace and outside of it can also increase the risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder for Black women.
“It is affecting our bodies in a very real way,” Geter said. “So if we don’t do something, our lives are at stake. We are losing thousands of Black women each year because of the stress that’s associated with racism and discrimination. So we have to improve our quality of life. We have to be able to implement resources, policies and practices and shift the system in order to protect our health.”
On top of initiative partnerships, Geter said the BWHI is hosting strategic sessions with executive leaders to get feedback on the program. Plus, she noted that she’d eventually like to create an advisory council of executive leaders to see how the organization can generate even more change.
“It’s not enough to say, okay, there could be some bias here, we may have some inappropriate practices and we have to take it a little bit further,” Geter said. “We have to expand that to be able to shift the culture, change the policies, change the practices and create a more supportive environment across the work.”-30-