Ethnic diversity isn't just good for your bottom line and company culture, it may also help to abate the sky-high stress levels that Americans have been experiencing at work. 

Roughly 70 percent of U.S. adults have encountered some form of discrimination in their lifetime, with as many as 61 percent experiencing this every day, according to a recently released study from the  American Psychological Association ("Stress in America: The Impact of Discrimination").

To conduct the study, the APA commissioned Harris Poll to survey 3,361 adults last August. The results revealed a compelling link between acts of discrimination and stress. Overall, it found that average stress levels were on the incline, as 24 percent of adults are now more likely to experience "extreme stress" than they were in years previous (compared to the 18 percent from 2014).

"It's clear that discrimination is widespread and impacts many people, whether it is due to race, ethnicity, age, disability, gender or sexual orientation," said Jaime Diaz-Granados, the APA's executive director for education. "When people frequently experience unfair treatment, it can contribute to increased stress and poorer health."

Of note, it found that black adults are among the most likely to experience discrimination, with more than 75 percent saying they experience it daily. Similarly, Hispanic adults reported the highest stress levels of all demographics. Black, Asian, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska native adults said that the discrimination they experience is largely due to their race.

"Stress takes a toll on our health, and nearly one-quarter of all adults say they don't always have access to the health care they need," added Cynthia Belar, the APA's interim CEO. "In particular, Hispanics--who reported the highest stress levels--were more likely to say they can't access a non-emergency doctor when they need one. 

This year's survey revealed that certain subsets of our population are less healthy than others. What's more, they aren't receiving the normal amount of care the average adult requires. "This is an issue that must be addressed," says Belar.

There are a number of ways that you, as an employer, can address the issue at your company. Researchers with the APA discovered that keeping positive, and developing a strong emotional support system, is especially key.

Cultivating a more ethnically diverse workforce may help reduce discrimination, though analysts flag that corporate diversity policies are not always effective. High-profile U.S. tech companies such as Google and Intel shell out millions each year as they attempt to boost their grim diversity stats, though such efforts appear to be to little avail.

A  recent study from U.C. Berkeley of more than 700 U.S. companies showed that diversity training programs had very little positive effect, and can even decrease the representation of black women.

At Facebook, for instance, blacks still make up just about 2 percent of the total workforce (the company is majority white and male, according to the most recently available data.) It hired just 7 black workers between June 2014 and January 2015, none of whom hold executive positions, compared to 695 new white workers. It had brought on a head of diversity, Maxine Williams, back in 2013, who implemented diversity recruiting strategies and an unconscious bias training course. 

Those who advocate for more diversity in tech also face significant challenges. According to Leslie Miley, a black engineer who recently left his job at Twitter, hiring meetings at the company "became contentious when I advocated for diverse candidates. Candidates who were dinged for not being fast enough to solve problems, not having internships at 'strong' companies and who took too long to finish their degree.

Only after hours of lobbying would they be hired," Miley wrote on Medium. At Twitter, just about 3 percent of engineers are African American or Hispanic. In December, the company hired Jeffrey Siminoff, the former director of inclusion at Apple, to serve as its own head of diversity. Some have balked at the fact that Siminoff is a white male. 

"Particularly at a company that is lacking in racial and gender diversity, assigning the critical task of changing those ratios to a white man sends the wrong message to the public," noted journalist Mark Luckie, the former head of news at Twitter, writing for the Verge.

Unconscious bias, which may lead to discrimination, occurs in largely homogenous settings. Ryan Williams, the co-founder and president of Jopwell, a startup that connects tech companies to more diverse talent, recalls being one of just a handful of black analysts at his former banking job.

"It can feel intimidating--and sometimes even alienating--if you look around your office and see that you're the only one with a certain background or ethnic identity," he said. "Everyone wants to feel like they can be their authentic self, and having employees who vary in their backgrounds helps make this possible."

The way Williams sees it, it's not enough to just have diversity within an organization. Companies should also consider having diverse talent across all rungs--especially within senior leadership. "Personally, when we see that organizations have senior leaders who are also Black, we feel a sense of empowerment and encouragement," he said.

Failing to take action may end in serious consequences. As Williams puts it: "At the end of the day, the best talent will go work at the best companies." Those companies, he identifies, are the ones that truly foster an authentic, diverse, and inclusive environment.

Published on: Mar 11, 2016