The Need for Diversity in Tech, Academia and Behavioral Health

By Swarnima Chaudhary, MPH

The National Mental Health Innovation Center has a mission to combat the stigma around mental health issues and to improve access to mental health by investing our time and resources with innovators in mental health technology. Considering recent national events, we are re-posting this blog because it highlights the need for diversity, equity and inclusion in mental health technology. We stand in solidarity with every nonviolent organization, group and gathering that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion. We advocate for these principles within every organization we work with.   

We also recommend this list of resources from the University of Colorado Office of Equity to learn more about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Original Post Published on May 15, 2020

We need more diversity, equity, and inclusion in tech, academia, and behavioral health. Even in 2020, all three areas have a long way to go toward equity and equal representation in the workplace.  

When comparing the gender, racial, and ethnic diversity of the US population broadly, over half the population is female, and 18% of the population is LatinX. Yet, at major companies like Dell and Microsoft, the gender make-up skews to males by a large margin, and there are less than 10% of LatinX employees. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2017, there were less than 2% of Black full-time professors at college institutions. According to the 2017 National Center for Health Workforce Analysis, 84% of the psychologist workforce was White, while all other races were substantially underrepresented. The lack of diversity in tech, academia, and behavioral health impacts the relevance of services and increases access issues.  

I see how the lack of diversity translates into real-world implications in the spaces that I circulate in as a Technology Project Manager at NMHIC. For example, if I am a tech company made up solely of white men and want to create an experience to reduce stress in low-income communities, I may only seek out behavioral health experts who may also be white men. This group of creators and thought-partners may not bring perspectives of non-cis-gendered Black, Indigenous, People of color to the design and elements of the application. Although armed with good intentions, the creators will most likely create an app that will not work as intended in the real world because they failed to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion principles in the creation process. If all three areas are already plagued with issues of diversity, then the end products will show the symptoms.  

At the Center, I am championing for this status quo to change. Within our sphere of influence, we can start these conversations about the importance of representation. I want to offer some standard definitions and language when talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion:  

  • Diversity: The presence of visible or invisible differences that include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, language, (dis)ability, age, religious commitment, or political perspective. Take a second look at the previous sentence and afford each protected-because-they-are-more-vulnerable-to-systemic-injustices population an intentional read. I ask you to do this because often, while reading an Equal Opportunity statement, people tend to glaze or skim over the words because we have seen it so often as a placeholder at the beginning or end of a document or syllabus.  
  • Equity: Promoting justice, impartiality, and fairness within the procedures, processes, and distribution of resources by institutions or systems. By acknowledging and understanding the root causes of (mental) health disparities within our society, we can tailor team, organization, institution, and systems-level policies to meet people where they need. 
  • Inclusion: whether people, including those who are underrepresented and marginalized in broader society, feel welcomed. Within an organization or group, diverse individuals can participate in decision-making processes and development opportunities. For workforces, it’s about embracing the cultures, languages, ages, sexual orientations, abilities, experiences, and giving a voice to those differences.  

These concepts interact and build upon each other. At the Center, we know that making a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization within systems entrenched in all the -isms is hard, intentional work and does not happen overnight. However, we can walk the walk by starting the hard conversations within our organization about hiring practices, research and tech partners and the systems they operate within to help the communities for whom we want increased access to solutions that have improved the lives of so many others.

Leave a Reply