Senate will grill tech execs after report that Instagram can harm teens’ mental health

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Senate will grill tech execs after report that Instagram can harm teens’ mental health

By Lauren Feiner, CNBC

A Senate panel plans to bring tech executives back to Capitol Hill following a revealing report from The Wall Street Journal about the impact of Facebook’s Instagram platform on teens’ mental health.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, announced the hearing in an interview on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” Blackburn said the hearing would take place in a couple weeks and would include representatives from Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Snap and Google-owned YouTube.

A spokesperson for Blackburn said a hearing date and the specific attendees from the companies have not yet been confirmed.

The Journal’s report, which the outlet said was based on internal documents from Facebook, revealed that the company had been aware of significant negative impacts of its photo-sharing Instagram app on teenage girls. At a March hearing, CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in response to a question about children and mental health, that research he’s seen shows that “using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits.”

While the research cited in the Journal’s report did not show entirely negative effects, it seemed to cut against Facebook’s narrative about mental health. That angered several lawmakers across parties and chambers of Congress, some of whom called for Facebook to abandon plans to create a child-focused Instagram product.

“What we know is a lot of this anecdotal information that we had from parents, teachers, pediatricians about the harms of social media to children, that Facebook was aware of this,” Blackburn said. “They chose not to make this public.”

Blackburn said her staff met Friday with a whistleblower who has worked for Facebook, and who had access to documents on which the Journal reported.

Although both the House and the Senate have hauled tech CEOs to Congress several times over the past couple years, Blackburn said she expects this hearing to stand out because of its bipartisan nature. She said she is working with the subcommittee’s chair, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on the effort and the two will look at rules around how social media is able to market to children, as well as statutes meant to protect them online, like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) Rule.

Representatives for Blumenthal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We are determined to do something in a bipartisan way that is going to protect our children in the virtual space, that will allow them to be able to use the internet, do Zoom school if they need to, do research, but to be protected and to have their privacy protected when they are online,” Blackburn said.

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

Why New York City May Soon Be More Walkable for Blind People

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Accessible Pedestrian Signals help blind and visually impaired pedestrians cross city streets.

A federal judge on Monday ordered New York City officials to install more than 9,000 signal devices at intersections to make it easier for pedestrians who are visually impaired to safely cross the streets.

In an opinion released Monday morning, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer criticized city officials for failing to make the vast majority of New York’s more than 13,000 intersections safe for thousands of blind and visually impaired residents. He ordered the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the installation of the signal devices, which use sounds and vibrations to inform people when it is safe to cross a roadway.

The ruling will change the face of New York City’s street corners, the vast majority of which are only governed by visible cues like flashing countdowns, red hands and walking figures. It also marks a significant advancement for disability rights in major urban centers, many of which have not fully embraced accessible crossings for blind residents.

“There has never been a case like this. We can finally look forward to a day, not long from now, when all pedestrians will have safe access to city streets,” said Torie Atkinson, a lawyer for the American Council of the Blind and two visually impaired New Yorkers, who filed the suit. “We hope this decision is a wake-up call not just to New York City, but for every other transit agency in the country that’s been ignoring the needs of people with vision disabilities.”

Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said that the ruling acknowledged the “operational challenges” the city has faced in its attempts to install the systems over the years.

“We are carefully evaluating the court’s plan to further the city’s progress in increasing accessibility to people who are blind and visually impaired,” Mr. Paolucci said in a statement.

The case, which was filed in 2018, accused the Department of Transportation and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, making roadways treacherous for those who cannot see. Last October, Judge Engelmayer ruled in the plaintiffs’ favors, saying the city had violated the law hundreds of times by failing to install accessible signals.

While the city ramped up installation after the lawsuit was filed, it still lagged far behind the pace needed to make its infrastructure widely accessible for blind residents, the judge said, adding the city’s decision was not rooted in financial concerns or logistical hurdles but in political will and budgetary priorities.

The failure to install the technology more widely, the judge wrote, impedes the independence of people who need them, by making it difficult to cross streets safely in a timely fashion.

Accessible pedestrian signals, or A.P.S., are present at less than 4 percent of city intersections. They communicate when it is safe to cross through voice recordings, beeps and other sounds. They also vibrate to communicate to deaf and hearing-impaired residents.

Despite being seen as critical safety measures, the devices have not been embraced on a large scale in New York, the country’s densest city, where around 2.4 percent of residents are visually impaired. The first accessible pedestrian device was installed at a city intersection in 1957, but the rollout in the decades since has been halting. Current estimates say that nearly 65 years later, the city has installed fewer than 1,000 of the devices.

“On a daily basis I have to deal with trying not to get hit by cars because there is no A.P.S. telling me when it is safe to cross,” Christina Curry, who is deafblind, a term used to describe someone with combined hearing and sight loss, and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement. “Installing so many A.P.S. over the next 10 years means that I and tens of thousands of deafblind New Yorkers will have access to street crossing information and be able to travel safely, freely and independently throughout the city.”

Click here to read the full article on the New York Times.

Degree Designed a Deodorant for People With Upper-Limb Disabilities and Visual Impairment

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The Degree Inclusive antiperspirant was made with accessibility in mind — and with the input of those who've been hoping for more personal-care products just like it.

, Allure

Living without disabilities, for many, means taking certain seemingly simple tasks for granted. When’s the last time you put on your antiperspirant and actually thought for a moment how challenging that action — something you do each and every day without obstacle — might be for someone else? So perhaps it’s because so many of us without disabilities haven’t considered the needs of those who have them that it took so long for a mainstream drugstore brand to finally design something long overdue: a deodorant made to be accessible for those with a visual impairment and upper-limb disabilities.

Unilever has partnered with a team of design experts, occupational therapists, engineers, consultants, and people living with disabilities to create Degree Inclusive. Unlike conventional deodorants — which often involve twisting a cap, turning a stick, or pushing down on a spray nozzle — this new personal-care innovation is built with features that make it much easier for those with upper-limb disabilities and visual impairment to use.

That means a hooked design for one-handed usage, magnetic closures for taking the cap off and on more easily for those with limited grip or vision impairment, enhanced grip placement for easier application for those with limited grip or no arms, a larger roll-on applicator to reach more surface area per swipe, and a Braille label including instructions.

For author, journalist, and disability rights activist Keah Brown, who has limited use of one of her hands and was involved in the Degree Inclusive project, this is a more-than-welcome step in the right direction — especially since Degree made an effort to be as inclusive in the process as they are in the result.

“I’m really excited that Degree took the time to let us be a part of it,” Brown tells Allure. “My hope is that other personal-care brands will jump on board because it’s truly an untapped market. That, and we deserve the ability to feel comfortable and prosper with our personal care as well.”

As for the experience using the product itself, “the biggest difference for me is that I’m able to comfortably hold the deodorant and apply it evenly instead of having to do multiple swipes to get everything,” Brown says. “With this new deodorant, I can get it all in one go, which I love.”

That’s exactly what Esi Eggleston Bracey, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Beauty & Personal Care at Unilever North America, is hoping to hear from those who try Degree Inclusive, and it’s what drives the company to make this project become a reality. “Unilever will not settle until we ensure all of our products are accessible to anyone who wants to use them,” she tells Allure. “When it comes to deodorant, we saw that across the beauty and personal care industry, there is currently no deodorant designed specifically for people with upper body disabilities or visual impairment to use.”

Bracey tells Allure that Unilever is currently completing a beta program for Degree Inclusive to engage and get input from people with disabilities — a process that has already taken over a year so far. “We’ve invited 200 people with disabilities in the U.S. to trial the prototype design and give their feedback on its concept, product features, and messaging, to help improve the design for future commercial launch.”

Click here to read the full article on Allure.

Bob Dole’s Disability Rights Legacy Marked the End of a Bipartisan Era

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Bob Dole at the 2016 Republican National Convention with Mike Pence

By Eric Garcia, The SoapBox

In 1969, Bob Dole gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor on a topic with which he was intimately acquainted. From the moment he lost the use of his right arm and the feeling in his left, in Italy as a soldier in World War II, the challenges of a world not built for disabled people animated both Dole’s life and his political persona: Journalists familiarized readers with his trademark strategies, from holding a pen in his right hand to keep his fingers from splaying to wearing loafers, since he couldn’t tie his shoes. More importantly, the impact of it on his life shaped his ideas and played a role in his own determinations about whom he hired.

In that first address to the Senate, Dole told the story of a man who became a paraplegic and was referred to the state-federal vocational rehabilitation office, which enabled him to get a job as an insurance agent, have a new home, and adopt a child. “It takes place now because the Congress and the federal government initiated and guided a vital, vigorous program of vocational rehabilitation,” he said.

Dole’s praise of a federal government program was surprising given his role as a Republican “hatchet man.” At different points, Dole served as Republican National Committee chairman under Richard Nixon; Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976; Senate majority leader; and thrice as presidential candidate, his last foray coming in 1996 as the GOP standard-bearer who could not prevent Bill Clinton’s reelection.

At the same time, Dole was a consummate dealmaker whose efforts helped bring about the Americans With Disabilities Act, which he co-sponsored not just with Republicans such as John McCain and Orrin Hatch but with prominent liberal Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Tom Harkin, as well. President George H.W. Bush would sign the bipartisan bill into law.

“The fact that the ADA was bipartisan was hugely important, and Senator Dole was a key player in that,” said Chai Feldblum, the lead attorney on the team that drew up the bill. Feldblum’s words are all the more remarkable considering she more famously worked as the legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union’s AIDS Project, and they illustrate how concern for disabled people once spanned the wider political spectrum, from liberals like her to Republicans like Justin Dart and Evan Kemp, who served on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Dole’s passing on Sunday has allowed Washington, D.C., to engage in one of its favorite activities—reminiscing on the days when bipartisanship reigned; the ADA looms large as a prime example. But it also forces a round of uncomfortable questions, regarding the way the Republican Party has strayed from Dole’s heyday, abandoning the positions on disability rights it once proudly defended.

“The history of the Republican [Party] writ large in the area of civil rights, up until recently, there’s been a strong and sustained advocacy for civil rights,” said Tom Ridge, who was a Republican congressman at the time of the ADA’s passage and is now chairman of the National Organization on Disability. Ridge’s words about the decline of bipartisanship on disability aren’t empty “party of Lincoln” platitudes: Dole voted for the Civil Rights Act as well as the Voting Rights Act; he brokered a compromise that helped extend the Voting Rights Act in 1982 with future ADA collaborator Kennedy.

“Regrettably, there hasn’t been as strong a champion within the Republican Party since he left the Congress,” said Ridge.

The arc of Dole’s political career traces the trajectory of a Republican Party that largely gave up on governing in favor of promulgating a scorched-earth form of politics as America entered the 1990s. Similarly, as the Republican Party has shifted from being a party that focuses on using government to enact conservative policies to a party that simply wants to defang government, it might mean the end of the old way of disability advocacy and the successes it wrought.

Dole’s introduction to disability was inextricably linked to a desire for bipartisanship. As he recovered at Percy Jones Hospital, Dole met future Democratic Senators Phil Hart and Daniel Inouye. His recovery would also guide Capitol Hill’s debates in a direction favorable to the disabled.

“I was a nurse, and he liked me because a lot of nurses helped him get through his disability after World War II,” said Maureen “Mo” West, who was Dole’s adviser on disability during the debate around the Americans With Disabilities Act, noting that Dole’s chief of staff at the time, Sheila Burke, was a nurse as well. Before that, West had worked for Senator Lowell Weicker, the liberal Republican from Connecticut who introduced the ADA in 1988, who conservatives loathed so much, William F. Buckley endorsed Joe Lieberman to replace him.

But Washington’s recherche du temps perdu betrays the fact that even at that time, disability advocates did not receive a smooth ride in the halls of power. In fact, when the initial legislation for the ADA was first introduced in 1988, Dole had his own concerns—such as the removal of the “undue hardship” criteria for reasonable accommodations, what was considered a public accommodation, and what those public accommodations would be required to do in terms of retrofitting—despite being a co-sponsor.

And gauzy memories about the ADA’s passage gloss over those whom the law left behind. The ADA specifically excluded homosexuality from protection against discrimination, and lumped it in with “transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders.”

The bipartisanship of the era didn’t always lead to laudatory results when conservative Democrats teamed up with right-wing Republicans. This was the case when Senator Jesse Helms, the racist and homophobic senator, attempted to rekindle an amendment from conservative Democratic Representative Jim Chapman from Texas that would have allowed for restaurants to shift people with diseases such as AIDS from working in food-handling jobs.

The conservative movement, unmoved by the spirit of bipartisanship that guided the ADA’s passage, vehemently denounced the law. Upon its signing, National Review chided the law in a piece titled “Disabling the GOP.” Conservatives lumped the ADA together with a litany of other bills passed contemporaneously, such as the Clean Air Amendments Act and the 1991 Civil Rights Act. Ed Feulner, the founder of the Heritage Foundation, decried all three pieces of legislation as “a new onslaught of economic and social nannyism.”

Click here to read the full article on The SoapBox.

People with disabilities still face barriers finding work during the pandemic—here’s how companies can help

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Photo of an asian woman in a dress and a cane. People with disabilities still face barriers finding work during the pandemic—here’s how companies can help

By Morgan Smith, Make It

For nearly 20 months, debates about the future of work have dominated meetings and Twitter feeds as the coronavirus pandemic upended every aspect of our jobs from commutes to office dress codes. These conversations continue to influence companies’ return-to-office plans and their remote work policies. But despite the pandemic taking a disproportionate toll on their job prospects and well-being, people with disabilities continue to be left out of many of these critical conversations.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double that of those without: 9% compared to 4.4% as of September. People with disabilities are also far less likely to be employed than workers with no disabilities. There are several factors driving this disparity, including discriminatory hiring practices and fewer people with disabilities completing bachelor’s degrees.

The pandemic has only exacerbated this gap. Before the pandemic, workers with disabilities were more likely than those without disabilities to work from home, a new report from Rutgers University found. But because people with disabilities are more likely to hold blue-collar and service jobs, they have had far fewer options for remote or flexible work arrangements during the Covid-19 crisis, the report notes.

As employers announce plans to bring people back to offices and experiment with hybrid work schedules in the coming months, workers with disabilities and disability advocates are urging companies to rethink the structure of their organizations to better accommodate people with disabilities. “Folks with disabilities have been asking for flexible and remote work options for decades and have been consistently denied,” Maria Town, the president and CEO of The American Association of People with Disabilities, tells CNBC Make It. “Now we know these jobs can be done remotely — and people don’t want to see these options go away the moment we decide the pandemic is over.”

The pandemic created new challenges for workers who were already struggling
People with disabilities already experienced “significant” barriers while navigating the pre-pandemic job market — the pandemic has both amplified existing barriers and removed certain hurdles, Town points out. Job applications and interviews are increasingly online, but Town observes that many people with disabilities don’t have access to the assistive technology they need to navigate online job boards. “The expectation is that you will find and apply for jobs online, and for many people with disabilities, that’s not possible,” she says. “But they can’t approach a community center or store in person and ask if they’re hiring anymore, because it’s riskier during the pandemic.” Some people with disabilities are more likely to get infected or have severe illness from coronavirus, according to the CDC.

The ongoing pandemic has also heightened the isolation people with disabilities faced prior to the pandemic. A recent study published by the Disability and Health Journal shows that people with disabilities experience loneliness and social isolation at much higher rates than those without disabilities. “With social distancing and the rise in new variants, it’s even harder to find out about job opportunities and connect with others,” Town says.

People with disabilities have also struggled to get certain accommodations approved for their work throughout the pandemic. Town notes, for example, that some immunocompromised teachers have been asked to be in the classroom or host in-person office hours despite their concerns of falling severely ill from the virus. People infected with long Covid may also qualify as disabled, but struggle to get the accommodations and benefits that come with a more well-known condition.

Click here to read the full article on Make It.

First of its kind –The ZIPPIE Sphynx is a truly transportable tilt wheelchair specially designed for families on the move

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man pushing happy daughter in ZIPPEE wheelchair

Sunrise Medical is excited to expand the ZIPPIE pediatric mobility line with the new ZIPPIE® Sphynx™. For busy families that are always on the go, this compact, transportable wheelchair has static tilt and recline to accommodate various client needs.

The Sphynx’s patent-pending one-step fold is easy and intuitive, quickly transforming into an ultra-compact package that will fit within a compact car’s trunk. Weighing only 28 lbs., the Sphynx can be easily lifted for the ultimate portability.

With available tilt angles of 10⁰, 20⁰, or 30⁰, clinicians can select a seat position to accommodate weight shift as needed to support optimal posture. The Sphynx back support can be quickly adjusted from 85⁰ to 100⁰ recline to assist with feeding, digestion, respiratory function, and visual orientation. To support a broad range of users from pediatric clients to young adults with diverse mobility needs, numerous adaptable seating and positioning options are available, including JAY® and WHITMYER® options.

“At ZIPPIE, we wanted to design an adaptive stroller that could support active families when they want to get out and explore without compromising seating and positioning,” says Kelsey DiGiacomo, Pediatric Product Manager at Sunrise Medical. “The Sphynx is easy to transport for children who need postural support.”

For more information, please visit: www.sunrisemedical.com.

ZIPPEE wheelchair imageAbout Sunrise Medical: Committed to improving people’s lives, Sunrise Medical is a world leader in the innovation, manufacture and distribution of advanced assistive mobility devices and solutions. Distributed in more than 130 countries under its own 17 proprietary brands, the key products include manual and power wheelchairs, e-mobility products, motorized scooters, seating & positioning systems and daily living aids. Operating in 18 countries, Sunrise Medical group is headquartered in Malsch, Germany and employs over 2,200 associates worldwide.

For additional information, please contact David Algood; David.Algood@sunmed.com.

Creating Career Pathways through Inclusive Apprenticeship

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Man in wheelchair on computer doing Apprenticeship

Companies are searching for candidates to fill positions in growing industries, including clean energy, healthcare, information technology, cybersecurity and finance. Yet, more than half of human resource professionals believe the pool of qualified candidates that can fill these jobs is shrinking, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Apprenticeship programs can aid employers in tackling this challenge.

Traditionally, apprenticeship programs have focused on training job seekers to enter skilled trades in occupations such as manufacturing and construction. However, new approaches to apprenticeships are taking shape to meet employers’ talent needs in a wider range of industries; these programs help diversify the workforce and enable job seekers with disabilities to gain credentials and skills to succeed in high-growth, high-demand industries.

An inclusive apprenticeship program is an employer-driven program that can help provide access to lifelong career pathways for job seekers from diverse backgrounds, including those with disabilities. Training and instruction focus on helping apprentices master skills needed to succeed in a specific occupation. These programs offer opportunities for job seekers with disabilities from diverse backgrounds to sharpen their skill sets and pursue career paths through work-based learning that is accessible to everyone.

The Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship is an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. We collaborate with employers and the organizations that connect employers with apprentices–known as industry intermediaries–to expand the number of inclusive apprenticeship programs in the U.S. Job seekers with disabilities can benefit from joining a program that is fully committed to diversity and inclusion. For instance, people with disabilities who enroll in inclusive apprenticeship programs can:

  • Attain accessible on-the-job training and work in an accessible environment
  • Earn money through wages or stipends while training to be an apprentice
  • Gain skills and credentials (e.g., certifications, certificates, etc.) that can facilitate a pathway to in-demand jobs
  • Work directly with employers and mentors–those who understand the importance of inclusion and accessibility–to receive on-the-job experience

If you are interested in learning more about inclusive apprenticeship programs and enrolling in a program, these resources can help you on your career journey:

Visit Apprenticeship.gov

Pediatricians say the mental health crisis among kids has become a national emergency

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Pediatricians say the mental health crisis among kids has become a national emergency

By , NPR

A coalition of the nation’s leading experts in pediatric health has issued an urgent warning declaring the mental health crisis among children so dire that it has become a national emergency.

The declaration was penned by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, which together represent more than 77,000 physicians and 200 children’s hospitals.

In a letter released Tuesday, the groups say that rates of childhood mental health concerns were already steadily rising over the past decade. But the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the issue of racial inequality, they write, has exacerbated the challenges.

“This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020,” the declaration from the pediatric groups says.

When it comes to suicide in particular, the groups point to data showing that by 2018, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24.

Teenage girls have emerged particularly at risk. From February to March of this year, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts were up 51% for girls ages 12 to 17, compared with the same period in 2019, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, the data shows that in 2020, the percentage of emergency department visits for mental health emergencies rose by 24% for children between the ages of 5 and 11 and 31% for those 12 to 17, compared with 2019.

“Young people have endured so much throughout this pandemic and while much of the attention is often placed on its physical health consequences, we cannot overlook the escalating mental health crisis facing our patients,” the American Academy of Pediatrics’ president, Dr. Lee Savio Beers, said in a statement.

The crisis affects children of color even more
The declaration from the pediatric groups notes that the disruptions children and families have experienced during the pandemic have disproportionately affected children of color.

A recent study in the journal Pediatrics showed that 140,000 children have lost a parent or grandparent caregiver to COVID-19. A majority of those children were kids of color.

The study showed that, compared with white children, Native American children were 4.5 times more likely to have lost a primary caregiver. Black children were 2.4 times more likely, and Hispanic children nearly twice as likely.

“We are caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, their communities, and all of our futures,” said Dr. Gabrielle Carlson, president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

Lululemon pledges $75 million to wellbeing programs

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Lululemon Athletica inc. has committed $75 million to supporting physical, mental, and social wellbeing programs by 2025

By Anne Stych, Biz Journals

Lululemon Athletica inc. has committed $75 million to supporting physical, mental, and social wellbeing programs by 2025, starting with a $5 million investment in three nonprofits, and through the launch of a Centre for Social Impact.

Lululemon said that through the Centre, it will invest in removing barriers through philanthropy, research, and advocacy, amplifying its existing social impact programs, with a goal to positively impact more than 10 million people.

The three organizations that will receive initial grants are:

  • The Girls Opportunity Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation that empowers adolescent girls around the world through education.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the United States’ largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Lululemon will help lead the establishment of a 9-8-8 crisis number for mental health and suicide prevention services.
  • The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.

“At Lululemon, we believe everyone has the right to be well and we know the path to wellbeing is possible when tools, support, and resources are accessible to all,” said Esther Speck, Lululemon vice president of global sustainability and social impact.

Lululemon said that since 2016, its Here to Be program has supported more than 750 non-profit organizations with grants amounting to $25 million, and that its Peace on Purpose program has provided thousands of UN workers with mindfulness and self-care tools for their physical and mental health since the collaboration’s launch in 2019.

Click here to read the full article on Biz Journals.

It’s a New Era for Mental Health at Work

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illustration to describe mental health. A person in a suit with water color design covering their face

By Kelly Greenwood and Julia Anas, Harvard Business Review

When we published our research on workplace mental health in October 2019, we never could have predicted how much our lives would soon be upended by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Then the murders of George Floyd and other Black Americans by the police; the rise in violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs); wildfires; political unrest; and other major stressors unfolded in quick succession, compounding the damage to our collective mental health.

One silver lining amid all the disruption and trauma is the normalization of mental health challenges at work. In 2019, employers were just starting to grasp the prevalence of these challenges, the need to address stigma, and the emerging link to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). In 2020, mental health support went from a nice-to-have to a true business imperative. Fast forward to 2021, and the stakes have been raised even higher thanks to a greater awareness of the workplace factors that can contribute to poor mental health, as well as heightened urgency around its intersections with DEI.

Although employers have responded with initiatives like mental health days or weeks, four-day workweeks, and enhanced counseling benefits or apps, they’re not enough. Employees need and expect sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces, which requires taking on the real work of culture change. It’s not enough to simply offer the latest apps or employ euphemisms like “well-being” or “mental fitness.” Employers must connect what they say to what they actually do.

Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report in partnership with Qualtrics and ServiceNow offers a rare comparison of the state of mental health, stigma, and work culture in U.S. workplaces before and during the pandemic. This follow-up study to our 2019 Mental Health at Work Report uses the same metrics and includes additional questions and segmentations on the effects of the pandemic, racial trauma, and the return to office; it also fleshes out our less comprehensive study from April 2020. As in 2019, we collected responses from 1,500 U.S. adults in full-time jobs, with statistically significant representation across racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, membership in the LGBTQ+ community, generational divides, primary caregiver statuses, levels of seniority, and other factors. Here’s a summary of what we learned and our recommendations for what employers need to do to support their employees’ mental health.

The Employee Mental Health Experience

When we examined the data on how employees experience mental health challenges, we found that prevalence increased from 2019 to 2021 and that younger and historically underrepresented workers still struggle the most.

Increased attrition. More employees are leaving their jobs for mental health reasons, including those caused by workplace factors like overwhelming and unsustainable work. While the 2019 rates of attrition were already surprisingly high, they’ve gone up even more since then. Sixty-eight percent of Millennials (50% in 2019) and 81% of Gen Zers (75% in 2019) have left roles for mental health reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily, compared with 50% of respondents overall (34% in 2019). Ninety-one percent of respondents believed that a company’s culture should support mental health, up from 86% in 2019.High prevalence. Mental health challenges are now the norm among employees across all organizational levels. Seventy-six percent of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, up from 59% in 2019. While that’s not surprising due to the many macro stressors, it supports the notion that mental health challenges affect nearly all of us on a regular basis.
Our 2019 study showed the same prevalence of mental health symptoms across all levels of seniority, debunking the myth that successful leaders are immune. Perhaps as a result of having to lead through this unprecedented era, our 2021 study showed that C-level and executive respondents were now actually more likely than others to report at least one mental health symptom. Let’s finally put the stigma to rest and admit that mental health challenges affect us all.

Widespread disclosure. More employees are talking about mental health at work than in 2019. Nearly two-thirds of respondents talked about their mental health to someone at work in the past year. This is an important step in the right direction, especially in terms of reducing stigma, which affects willingness to seek treatment. That said, only 49% of respondents described their experience of talking about mental health at work as positive or reported that they received a positive or supportive response, which is comparable to 2019 rates.DEI implications. Demographics continue to play a strong role in workplace mental health, with younger workers and historically underrepresented groups still struggling the most. Millennials and Gen Zers, as well as LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx respondents were all significantly more likely to experience mental health symptoms. Like Millennials and Gen Zers, caregiver respondents and members of historically underrepresented groups — including LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx respondents — all were more likely to leave roles for their mental health and to believe that a company’s culture should support mental health. In fact, 54% of all respondents said that mental health is a DEI issue, an increase from 41% in 2019.

The Company’s Role in Employee Mental Health

Employees don’t experience mental health challenges in isolation. Employers play a role, too — both good and bad.

Certain workplace factors negatively affected mental health. The way we’re working isn’t sustainable, and it’s hurting our mental health. Until recently, the conversation has primarily centered on preexisting mental health conditions and the related stigma. Increasingly, the focus is on work’s effect on everyone’s mental health.

An overwhelming 84% of respondents reported at least one workplace factor that negatively impacted their mental health. Younger workers and members of underrepresented groups were affected even more severely. When looking across all respondents, the most common factor was emotionally draining (e.g., stressful, overwhelming, boring, or monotonous) work, which also worsened since the pandemic. This was closely followed by work-life balance.

The other workplace factors that most notably worsened since the pandemic were poor communication practices and a low sense of connection to or support from one’s colleagues or manager, perhaps unsurprising in a predominantly remote workforce. The workaholism that characterizes much of U.S. culture has only been exacerbated by the challenges of the pandemic, leading to increased employee burnout.

Companies increased investment in employee mental health — sort of. Companies are finally investing more in mental health support out of necessity, but they still haven’t achieved true culture change. Our respondents noted that the availability of many resources provided by employers grew since the pandemic, including extra paid time off, company-wide mental health days, and mental health training.

In addition, employees used accommodations to a much greater extent — especially those that provided day-to-day support. These included extended or more frequent breaks from work and time during the workday for therapy appointments. Utilization rates for other accommodations included time off and leaves of absence, which saw no growth from 2019. This highlights a contrast in what employees used versus what employers provided, which were often more temporary, Band-Aid solutions. In fact, the “resource” most desired by respondents (31%) was a more open culture around mental health.

Companies took steps toward culture change. While there is still a great deal to be done, some companies have made progress on the culture front, likely fueled by the pandemic. Fifty-four percent of respondents believed that mental health was prioritized at their company compared to other priorities, up from 41% in 2019. In addition, 47% of respondents believed that their company leaders were advocates for mental health at work (compared to 37% in 2019), and 47% believed that their manager was equipped to support them if they had a mental health condition or symptom (compared to 39% in 2019). These are both potentially results of increased training and discussion.

However, the added awareness surprisingly didn’t translate across all dimensions. There was a 5% decline in respondents who felt comfortable supporting a coworker with their mental health and a comparable percentage in who knew the proper procedure to get support for mental health at work.

Employers benefit from supporting mental health at work. Employers that have supported their employees with the pandemic, racial injustices, return-to-office planning, and/or mental health overall have better mental health and engagement outcomes. For example, workers who felt supported with their mental health overall were 26% less likely to report at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year. Respondents who felt supported by their employer also tended to be less likely to experience mental health symptoms, less likely to underperform and miss work, and more likely to feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work. In addition, they had higher job satisfaction and intentions to stay at their company. Lastly, they had more positive views of their company and its leaders, including trusting their company and being proud to work there. This reinforces the tie between workplace culture and its ability to support mental health at work when done intentionally.

What Employers Need to Provide

Employers must move from seeing mental health as an individual challenge to a collective priority. Given all the workplace factors at play, companies can no longer compartmentalize mental health as an individual’s responsibility to address alone through self-care, mental health days, or employee benefits. Here’s what they need to provide to make real progress.

Culture change. Culture change requires both a top-down and bottom-up approach to succeed. Workplace mental health is no different — our recommendations from 2019 still hold. Mind Share Partners’ Ecosystem of a Mentally Healthy Workplace Framework illustrates that everyone has a role to play, starting with leaders and managers.

Leaders must treat mental health as an organizational priority with accountability mechanisms such as regular pulse surveys and clear ownership. It should not just be relegated to HR. Leaders should serve as allies by sharing their own personal experiences to foster an environment of transparency and openness. Due to fear and shame, even companies with the best mental health benefits won’t see an uptick in usage unless a stigma-free culture exists.

Organizations have to train leaders, managers, and all employees on how to navigate mental health at work, have difficult conversations, and create supportive workplaces. Managers are often the first line in noticing changes and supporting their direct reports. Building an environment of psychological safety is key. Mental health policies, practices, culturally competent benefits, and other resources must be put in place and (over)communicated.

Investing in DEI to support employee mental health and address its intersectionality is also crucial. Black and AAPI employees have been hit especially hard by the trauma of systemic racism and violence. Workers who are caregivers — often mothers — have faced school closures and the associated burnout. Our study found that allowing employees to discuss challenging social and political topics at work is also part of a mentally healthy culture. At the grassroots level, employees should be empowered to form mental health employee resource groups (ERGs) and other affinity groups, become mental health champions, and start peer listening initiatives.

Click here to read the full article on the Harvard Business Review.

Your Supplier Diversity Starter Guide

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Businesswoman shaking hands with disabled business owner

By: Tawanah Reeves-Ligon

There are some common misconceptions regarding supplier diversity (SD) programs and how to get started the right way. Among those are the costs associated with a new SD program as well as the quality of services received and the product. However, studies have shown that a properly organized and managed program can not only increase a company’s ROI, but still create ample competition amongst qualified suppliers.

With that being said, supplier diversity does not mean ‘hand out’ or ‘give me’ program. The suppliers must still be inventive, tech-savvy and proficient enough to be able to compete for your business.

So, how do you get started? Here are our top 4 tips:

  1. Preparation

Preparation is key to any successful endeavor. Beginning your supplier diversity program is no different. Is their support from the top echelon of the company all the way to the bottom rung of the structure? Take a step back and self-evaluate for a moment to make sure you’re the right company to begin a supplier diversity program. Is diversity and culture something reflected already currently reflected in your business and values? Next, identify where a lack of support exists and then determine how to bolster enthusiasm, or at least, understanding and expectations in those areas. Supplier diversification is going to be a boon to every area of your business, so highlight the reasons why this decision should and is being made.

Also, talk about how each team can assist in making the transition a success so that there isn’t confusion regarding expectations or the roadmap that’s been chosen. This might look like new training procedures, unconscious bias programs, securing cross-functional ownership of the process and communication with stakeholders. Also, don’t forget to establish your baseline spend with diverse suppliers — this is critical to keeping track of your progress as things move forward. We’re going to touch on this again in the Evaluation step.

  1. Identification

A common question from and challenge for companies beginning their first supplier diversity program is, “How do I find quality, competitive diverse suppliers?” The answer is simpler than you’ve believed and actually quite easy. There are multiple avenues one can use to find suppliers who from underrepresented groups. For example, tapping into groups that cater to diverse suppliers in your area like a local chamber of commerce, minority business council or diverse supplier organization.

Of course, some great organizations to start your search would include, but are not limited to, the National Minority Business Council, Inc., Disability:IN, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and, of course, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. They focus on advocating and expanding opportunities for their respective underserved communities. Another great option is, once you find a supplier in your area, ask them what organizations or groups they are a part of or partner with, so that you can increase your network. Also, if someone in your network has a diverse supplier program already that’s thriving, seek assistance. Finally, publicize your efforts to be more diverse and this will most certainly attract suppliers to you and your program.

  1. Integration

Don’t fall into the trap of failing in organizational change management. Integrating new processes or partnerships can be rocky. The seeming contradiction to remember here is that sometimes the fastest way to hit the end goal is take things slowly and at a measured pace. Be prepared to repeat steps and recommunicate with as well as reeducate teams and stakeholders about their commitment to common goal. Very few steps in your process are going to be one and done scenarios.

Identify a key member, hopefully someone trained or reeducated in diversity, equity and inclusion, to head up your new program and be in charge of not only implementation but tracking as well. Recruited other like-minded individuals to the new department as well to help bolster these new efforts. Be prepared to make a technology investment along with these personnel changes to help streamline your process through analytics, supplier tracking or further training. You might also consider supplier development in your integration plan.

  1. Evaluation

The most important step to any implementation is evaluation. By measuring where you are against where you started and where you wanted to be, it becomes easier to assess what is working and what could work better. This might look similar to the processes already in place in your organization: assessing how well the supplier has overall met your requirements. Did the cost, service, quality and capacity of the needs met for your organization add up in a satisfactory fashion? How much contribution was made to innovation, mitigating risks and losses, as well as sales and marketing growth? What was the savings? Was there an impact to your engagement with customers or the markets you serve? Using these questions and any qualifiers you already use as a guide can help you better assess where your program is and where it can go.

Worthwhile change takes time, effort and intentionality. Be steadfast in the process, and you will see the fruits of your labor. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” as the saying goes, and neither will the best parts of your program be built all at once. Continue to work as a team and communicate openly about questions or ideas. Together, your program can take your business one step closer to your goals.

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Upcoming Events

  1. From Day One
    January 18, 2022
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    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  3. From Day One
    February 9, 2022
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Upcoming Events

  1. From Day One
    January 18, 2022
  2. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  3. From Day One
    February 9, 2022
  4. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  5. From Day One
    February 22, 2022