Workplace Wellness and DEIB Efforts Are Now Completely Intertwined—Exactly As They Should Be

Written by Akilah Cadet
Designed by Alyssa Gray

Rosanna Durruthy, LinkedIn’s VP of Global DEIB, shares her vision for the future.

In 2020, the traditional workplace landscape changed forever. Due to the onset of the pandemic in March of that year, more people than ever were suddenly working remotely full-time (and for the first time), bringing about a need for employers to consider the ways they connect with and support their employees. And following the murder of George Floyd that May, a widespread racial reckoning with systemic racism in the United States unfolded. This gave way to a near overnight renewed corporate interest in auditing businesses to remove practices and policies rooted in racism, whether implicit or overt. As a longtime diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) consultant, I felt the shift immediately. 

During the summer of 2020, DEIB leaders, initiatives, and programs popped up everywhere; books focused on anti-racism (not newly published books, mind you) were as hard to get your hands on as toilet paper had been just months before. Consultants, like myself, were overwhelmed by opportunity and demand, being pulled from workplaces to interviews to other asks in the name of educating and helping professionals—namely members of the white majority—learn and unlearn. 

This stake in social consciousness continued on throughout the year and into 2021, alongside the ongoing pandemic and acts of racism, with the added force of a presidential election that left a number of human rights in question. Following the January 6, 2021 insurrection on the White House, organizations sought advice from DEIB leaders like me to understand how to talk about societal events in the workplace. 

Companies seemed to be understanding that current events, in addition to the way each person individually shows up in the world, factor into how an employee can do their job. But then 2022 brought discussions of economic instability to the forefront, and the bottom line reclaimed its role as the corporate North Star. 

DEIB efforts are central to upholding the well-being of employees in the workplace. While 2020 isn’t when DEIB efforts were invented, the widespread acceptance of its importance as a constant of workplace wellness can’t fall to the wayside for any reason. But, how can it continue to stay top of mind for leaders who are tasked with navigating a potential economic downturn and the effects such a shift could have on workplaces, like depleted resources and layoffs?

It’s a question to which Rosanna Durruthy, Vice President of Global Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at LinkedIn, has a simple answer: “[DEIB] doesn’t belong to a diversity team,” she says. “It belongs to every member of the organization, starting with the leadership team.”

Durruthy, who has been leading LinkedIn’s diversity efforts for four years, commands a presence. When we recently connected via Zoom, I was taken by her gentle yet stern demeanor. Her compassionate vibe was disarming, but she was also clearly a force who would hold anyone accountable—and that’s precisely what she aims to do.

Diversity leaders tend to be the only executives who do DEIB work within a given organization, and Durruthy says that needs to change. She, for example, leads LinkedIn efforts through role-modeling the behaviors everyone should have. As a Cuban and Puerto Rican Afro-Latina lesbian who is comfortable in her own skin—but wasn’t always—it’s a passion point of hers to ensure a feeling of belonging to anyone who might feel disenfranchised in their workplace.

"While values define your company at its core, and are among the most important aspects for attracting and retaining great employees, creating an inclusive and diverse culture creates purpose and helps answer the 'why' that keeps employees coming to work every day," Durruthy says. "It’s also important to note that belonging is vital to culture. It’s what allows employees to feel like they can be their authentic selves…it’s the epitome of why culture matters in the workplace."

In order to ensure she and other DEIB leaders are not the only people doing meaningful work in this space, Durruthy says it’s crucial that company leaders—at the very least—are educated in DEIB and ambassadors of its values. "As business leaders, it’s our responsibility to be inclusive by providing support, empowering talent, and ensuring all professionals—especially those from historically underrepresented communities—have access to resources and tools that enable career advancement." This sets up the foundation for improved representation of underrepresented groups to be positions of leadership, which Durruthy says supports both workplace wellness and, ultimately, more profitability for the company—"significantly more," she specifies.

In her previous roles leading diversity initiatives at Citibank, Merrill Lynch & Co., Blockbuster, and Cigna, the question Durruthy used to guide herself was, “How do you create a space for people who do not have the background to be better?”

Stocksy / Bonninstudio

Setting a foundation for traditional diversity work includes strategy, metrics, surveys, training, and coaching, but Durruthy says allocating time and patience for leaders who have not been been othered or don’t know what it is like to be othered is just as if not more important and impactful. 

What she’s not worried about, though, is the future of DEIB efforts and their central positioning within the very definition of workplace wellness—and I am glad to hear it. “Companies willing to pay attention will continue investing,” she says, adding that others will be “forced to evolve.” Even in the midst of economic uncertainty and cutting of costs, DEIB must remain a priority to enrich the experience of those who are on staff.

“What are we doing to enrich the experience of those we still have even during workforce reduction?” asks Durruthy. To her, ensuring DEIB efforts are every single person’s job on staff—no matter how small or large that staff is—can help.

What's important is that we don't regress. The murder of George Floyd coinciding with the pandemic forever changed workplaces, and in many ways for the better. The fallout included a humanistic approach to workplace wellness that acknowledges the way news cycles and social media affect the health and well-being of employees. One cannot be their best self at work if they don't feel safe or secure bringing their full self to work. For instance, when workplace culture acknowledges the intersectionality and differences among its employees, it's clearer why some are affected by the Türkiye-Syria earthquake, while others may be processing yet another police brutality headline.

Resources can be in place to help both of these employees. It underscores the ongoing importance of upholding a workplace culture that supports every tenet of DEIB; it's is inextricable from the very concept of wellness.