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Racial Equity and Mental Health in the Workplace: Actions to Drive Systems Change

Nationwide protests in the summer of 2020 sparked many of the largest US corporations to pledge more than $200 billion to advance racial equity and confront the nation’s history of systemic racism. Nonprofits, government agencies, and academic institutions made statements pledging support and action to advance racial equity. These externally facing commitments prompted deeper discussions among employers about racial inequities in the workplace, their impact on employees’ mental health, and the opportunity to identify actionable strategies. In the subsequent three years, organizations have demonstrated varying degrees of success in meeting these commitments and dismantling the structural components that perpetuate racial inequity.

The Milken Institute Center for Public Health (CPH) supports action among employers to address racial equity and mental health in the workplace. While employers face many priorities, challenges, and opportunities, advancing racial equity remains a moral and economic imperative, requiring sustained investment and measurement. With more than 155 million employees in the US workforce, creating equitable workplace systems positively impacts employees and extends to their families and communities.

CPH conducted a landscape analysis, a survey, semi-structured interviews, and a thought-leader roundtable to better understand racial equity and mental health in the workplace. Four key themes emerged to drive whole-person strategies: Process, Tools for Action, Evidence, and Gaps and Opportunities. This brief summarizes the themes and insights from this research while proposing actions employers can take to foster systems change and improve employee whole-person health.