Podcast Ep. 55 Mindfulness in the Workplace: Strategies to Support Young Employees of Color

Feb 9, 2021

In this episode of The Forum Podcast, Dr. Karinn Glover (Albert Einstein College of Medicine) shares insights into the mental and physical impacts of structural racism, racial trauma, and bias on young employees of color.

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Today’s pandemic, economic crisis, and national racial reckoning have only exacerbated challenges and produced additional risk factors that can jeopardize young people of color in the workplace. In this pocast, Dr. Karinn Glover, a psychiatrist and mindfulness expert, shares insights into the mental and physical impacts of structural racism, racial trauma, and bias on young employees of color, with special attention on the mind-body connection. Dr. Glover will also discuss the mindfulness-based techniques listeners can share with employees, as well as resources and tools for identifying mental health and emotional well-being symptoms and seeking support.

Learning Outcomes
  • Learn techniques and tools to cope with issues like racial trauma, microaggressions, implicit bias
  • Decrease isolation and loneliness; and increase sense of community, belonging and supportive network
  • Gain knowledge around culturally-relevant traditions and practices from communities of color

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The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

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Ben Rue: Hello everyone, and Happy Black History [00:02:00] Month. Thank you for tuning in for today’s podcast, Mindfulness in the Workplace: Strategies to Support Young Employees of Color with Dr. Karinn Glover of the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. This podcast is sponsored by Best Buy. I am Ben Rue, program associate here at The Forum on Workplace Inclusion.

Today’s pandemic, economic crisis, and national racial reckoning have only exasperated challenges and produced additional risk factors that can jeopardize young people of color in the workplace. In this session, Dr. Karinn Glover, a psychiatrist and mindfulness expert, shares insights into the mental and physical impacts of structural racism, racial trauma, and bias on young employees of color, with special attention on the mind-body connection. Dr. Glover will discuss the mindfulness-based techniques listeners can share with employees, as well as resources and tools for identifying mental health and emotional wellbeing symptoms and seeking support.

In this podcast, you’ll learn techniques and tools to cope with issues like racial trauma, microaggressions, and implicit bias. You’ll learn to how to decrease isolation and loneliness, and increase the sense of community, belonging, and supportive network, and gain knowledge around culturally-relevant traditions and practices from communities of color.

Karinn A. Glover, MD, MPH, is Director of Adult Behavioral Health at Montefiore, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She focuses on health, equity, diversity in medicine, medical student and residency education, community engagement, and increasing access to mental health for marginalized populations.

Dr. Glover earned her undergraduate degree from Howard University, then attended Columbia University, where she obtained a Master of Public Health degree. She then attended SUNY Downstate College of Medicine, where she obtained her Doctor of Medicine. Dr. Glover uses mindfulness-based techniques in her psychiatry practice, as well as her career coaching for diverse professionals, and is committed to addressing [00:04:00] the mental health needs of patients and families.

Dr. Glover is experienced in teaching, having taught evidence-based psychopharmacology treatment modalities to residents and medical students, HIV Mental Health in Primary Care for Family Medicine residents, and case conferences for Internal Medicine residents. She has been recognized with many awards for her efforts, and has written two publications. Dr. Glover is also a former Vice President of the Black Psychiatrists of Greater New York & Associates.


Ben: Thank you so much for being here, Dr. Glover. I’m so looking forward to this conversation.

Dr. Karinn Glover: Thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here.

Ben: As for me, too. I was going to say, “Happy Black History Month,” shortly. [laughs]

Dr. Karinn: Yes.

Ben: I hope it’s a good one.

Dr. Karinn: Happy Black History Month. There’s so much to learn about and be proud of.

Ben: Exactly. Exactly. Well, speaking of things to be proud of, I thought of before we jumped into the questions, if you could just give us a little bit of your backstory. I know I went over your bio earlier, but from previous conversations, I think you have a pretty interesting backstory. I think it’d be pretty helpful for our listeners.

Dr. Karinn: Okay. Yes, for sure. I am Karinn Glover. I am a psychiatrist. I was not always a psychiatrist, though. I am African American, born in the Bronx, raised in Westchester County in White Plains. I’m the daughter of a high school history teacher and of a jazz musician/public health administrator. My parents grew up in Harlem. They came of age in Harlem. My grandparents are deceased, but they were Southern people and they, like lots of African Americans, migrated north in the ’40s and ’50s when they recognized that [00:06:00] the south just was not a safe place for them.

My grandfather saw his cousin get lynched. He knew that family was not safe, so he moved up to Harlem and started a life, basically an internally displaced refugee. Started a life in Harlem and worked any job he could find to keep his family afloat. I am the child of and grandchild of people who made very deep sacrifices for my success. I think the other part of my identity that people don’t usually know about is that I worked in marketing before I went into medicine. I was in INROADS, which is a nationwide program that develops and prepares talented minority youth to work in business, and industry, and in healthcare. It was through those experiences in INROADS, working for Verizon, which at the time was called NYNEX, I’m totally dating myself, that I got exposure to essentially like business environments and corporate environments. I got coaching on how to be a successful person in the workplace.

That experience has served me through my entire life. It also had its share of trauma, as you can imagine, because being a 17-year-old, 18-year-old in corporate spaces, where I’m being developed for leadership and coached for leadership, a lot was requested of me, but I had a lot of opportunities to shine as well.

Ben: That’s so great. I think that’s such a great story. Well, not the whole lynching part, but your journey. [chuckles]

Dr. Karinn: Thank you. Thank you.

Ben: What are young POCs facing when entering [00:08:00] corporate environments?

Dr. Karinn: One of the things that I think has not changed from when I was a young person of color entering corporate environments, is this adjustment to a different culture. Because there’s just American culture, there’s American subcultures, and there’s American corporate culture. It was a lot to wrap my mind around the different expectations that people had of me, learning the language of the office environment. I was working in telecom, so there were tons of abbreviations and acronyms that I had to learn.

Then I had to learn essentially about levels, like hierarchies in the workplace, and when it was appropriate to talk to somebody who’s higher than my boss and when it wasn’t. Navigating leadership, regardless of culture or background of the person, that’s, I think, a major skillset that you learn when you’re working in a corporate environment. Then you also learn about the kinds of topics and conversations you can have and the kinds that are taboo in the workplace as well. All that sometimes comes through trial and error. If you’re lucky, you get some coaching. If you’re lucky, you get some wisdom from your parents or from a mentor. It’s a lot to learn a language, a new schedule, hierarchies–

Ben: A whole new culture. [chuckles]

Dr. Karinn: Right. Just overall culture. Those were some of the harder things that I had to navigate. I think those things remain perhaps one of the things that POC youth are facing when they enter environments like the [00:10:00] one I went into. Now, in these days, is that they’re navigating racial trauma in different ways. They’re navigating racial discrimination in different ways. They’re also using social media to communicate and find support. I think there are lots of factors that affect how somebody integrates in a work environment, and how they self-regulate in a work environment in these times.

Ben: Definitely. How can mindfulness be helpful with all of that?

Dr. Karinn: I guess it’s helpful to first define mindfulness. I feel like everybody talks about it, but not necessarily by breaking it down. I think I’ll start from the way that I learned it. I learned about meditation through my father, who is a saxophone player. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, extremely talented guy, who also worked in administration at the New York City Department of Health. He had to go between his artistic self and his work self, and he had to be able to keep a graceful equanimity about him in multiple environments.

One of the ways that he would do that was through meditation. From a young age, I saw my father practice yoga, I saw him meditate. I just thought he was like a weird bohemian guy. It took time for me to fully appreciate some of those lessons around breathwork, and how to be very present with the people you love, and to focus on tasks to be very good at them.

Ben: Sounds like a cool dad to me.

Dr. Karinn: Oh, he’s awesome. [00:12:00] Of course, when you’re young, you think your parents are just goofy and weird, and you wish you could just trade them for anybody else. I’ve since come to appreciate my parents very deeply, and I’m glad that they’re both healthy and well. The good part about mindfulness and why it clicked for me was that it didn’t require some dedicated religion or practice. It really was about simply being in touch with your breath and learning the skills to take stock of how I’m doing, and then to respond after I’ve done that self-investigation. It can be done in one minute. It’s through that practice, that I became sharper at work, that I became calmer, particularly under stressful times, and able to find solutions to problems more easily.

Ben: Thank you so much for that. I relate, my dad’s a musician as well. He plays the guitar. Also very, very-

Dr. Karinn: Oh, I love that.

Dr. Karinn: It’s always been his passion. He gets very much in the zone when he’s– It’s almost spiritual for him when he’s playing.

Dr. Karinn: Yes, for sure.

Ben: That’s very mindful for– Yes, I completely get that. How can the Steve Fund help? What do they offer that can help with mindfulness?

Dr. Karinn: The Steve Fund has this overall approach to emphasizing and helping companies wrap their minds around the challenges faced by young people of color as they enter the workplace, and then giving those young people tools for success. We should probably talk about the concrete ways that mindfulness, in particular, can be so helpful for young people in the workplace. One of the things about workplaces these days, especially before [00:14:00] COVID, I should say, was that workplaces are literally distraction places. You go there, and as soon as you arrive, somebody comes to you within five minutes of your arrival, and they’re talking to you about the most important things, and you haven’t even adjusted to being there yet.

Then, throughout the day, people are popping in, you’ve got meetings, but as you’re in your meeting, if your laptop or your cell phone is there, you’re getting notifications that are constantly pulling away your attention. Mindfulness is a wonderful tool for proceeding through your day with a moment-to-moment awareness of when you’re distracted, how to minimize those distractions, and then how to improve your focus when you’re trying to apply yourself to different tasks.

Then if you’re switching going from task to task, mindfulness can be used so that you can do that with a greater sense of purposefulness and intentionality. That’s why mindfulness can be super useful in the workplace. Then on top of that, for what are the challenges that young people of color are facing, the Steve Fund can be particularly helpful in customizing the experience of adjusting to the workplace.

Ben: Could you just give us a little bit of who the Steve Fund is?

Dr. Karinn: The Steve Fund is the nation’s only organization focused on supporting the mental health and emotional well-being of young people of color. They work with colleges, universities, nonprofits, and mental health experts and families with kids, and corporate entities to promote and build understanding and assistance for the mental and emotional health of the nation’s young people of color. They hold an annual conference series, and they have a workplace advisory council to really [00:16:00] address some of the mental health needs of young people of color.

They do a lot of their work through just simply having seminars and workshops, doing some individual coaching, and creating programs and strategic partnerships to spread the word, and really provide a lot of awareness and dialogue for young people and their employers to understand better some of the challenges faced by young people of color.

Ben: Wow, that’s really awesome. That sounds like they’re doing a lot of really good work. Sounds like the work that they’re doing would be challenging enough at regular times. How should we be approaching the complex challenges of the COVID times that we’re living in, and the ever-present forces of structural racism, and their effects on the work environment?

Dr. Karinn: That’s a small question.


Ben: How does the Steve Fund fix that?

Dr. Karinn: I think it’s something that we have not talked about in the workplace. I think we’ve historically really tried to avoid anything that can make people feel uncomfortable, even if it means that as soon as they walk out of the workplace, they live uncomfortable lives. We know that certain populations, certain darker complicated populations are more likely to have humiliating encounters with police, to also have family members who are at higher risk for COVID.

The idea is that, when our young people of color enter the workplace, we really want to make sure that we’re providing, hopefully, a sanctuary from some of the more difficult aspects of being in a minority community in the United States. When we recognize that employers want to provide some safe space, some equity in the workplace and not re-traumatize [00:18:00] people when they get there, and retain really smart, very talented workers. The idea is recognizing that there are some parts of our country, some parts, some aspects of being in the United States, that very much detract from your mental health, that detract from your physical health.

The Steve Fund really wants to work with employers, and young people to help reshape work environments so that there’s greater equity so that there’s purposeful, intentional recognition of the talents of young people of color, rather than thinking of them as less qualified or even missing their talents entirely. Believe it or not, unconscious bias is a thing. Then it often leads to people being rendered invisible in the work environment and being passed over for promotions.

Ben: Oh, true. I hate to do this, but we are running down on time. We’re going to get to our last couple of questions. Again, I just want to thank you so much for being here and for this great conversation. My next question is, what are key takeaways for us as we consider this time in our history, last year in 2021, or the 13th month of 2020?


Dr. Karinn: Another very simple question I’m happy to tackle, and hopefully I’ll get invited back to review. Maybe we can do a year in review and see how happier we made out but [unintelligible 00:19:45] [crosstalk]

Ben: Let’s get on the books now. [chuckles]

Dr. Karinn: Okay, good. What I’m hoping for right is that these days after the violent killings of Briana Taylor, and George Floyd, and Ahmaud [00:20:00] Arbery, that we’re more willing as a society to sit down and really take into account that some people live very different realities. They are still Americans, and with respect to that to even go further and accept that the experience of different people as Americans, that knowing that those experiences can be so distinct as to jeopardize their mental health and their physical health. To know that people who have humiliating encounters with police, there’s lots of data to show that they may go on to avoid medical care. They may go on to have cardiovascular disease.

As employers are wrapping their minds around benefits for their employees, I hope employers start to think in terms of, “How can we create work environments that are not traumatic? How can we make sure that our benefits help connect our employees with clinicians who are also committed to being non-biased, in clinicians who are committed to being non-racist?” Also acknowledging that racism is not just burning across on somebody’s lawn or wearing a camp Auschwitz t-shirt, like some protesters did recently. Recognizing that there are structures in place, habits in place, company cultures that reinforce some of the inequities that we’re dealing with in many aspects of our lives.

Ben: Thank you so much. You just brought up a lot of great points, and you’ve talked about all the different forms of racism that young people of color are going to encounter. You mentioned in health care as well. What are some of the health challenges specifically young POC are facing?

Dr. Karinn: Specifically, I think [00:22:00] the one that is the most urgent is what young black women face when they are pregnant. Young people of color, particularly black women or women of African descent in our society have a three to four times higher risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications than white women. The big reason that researchers use to explain that discrepancy is racism. It is the day-to-day experiences of racism, discrimination, interpersonal racism, but also structural factors as well that these women are related often to folks who are living with less, and who are the victims of structural racism, the folks who have grown up in neighborhoods that are perhaps polluted. They grew up maybe with family who were very, very financially unstable and had to go to inferior schools. They may have grown up in neighborhoods that were policed differently, which leads to its own level of stress and humiliation.

It’s that repeated exposure that has a way of wearing people’s health down and particularly pregnant women, pregnant black women are highly vulnerable to terrible pregnancy-related complications. I think for employers who are hiring black women of childbearing age, they need to be aware of the ways that the workplace can either enhance one’s wellness or ways that the workplace are traumatizing people and stressing them out so much that they are bound to have terrible complications [00:24:00] from their pregnancies.

Those are some of the things that I think are super urgent for young black women. I think the other thing that needs to be taken into account is that for blacks and Latino people– I’ve been going back and forth about using the term Latinx versus Latino, and the consensus I’ve gotten is use the word, Latino. That’s what I’ll be using. I think it’s important to bear in mind that again, the day-to-day experiences of racism and discrimination and bias, unconscious or otherwise, have a way of affecting blood pressure, the way that a person controls their blood sugar, such that they may be prone to diabetes later in life, simply based– I shouldn’t say simply, but in many ways related to the day-to-day experiences of the stress associated with racism.

There are wonderful researchers coming out of Harvard that have been working on this for the past 20, 30 years, Nancy Krieger and David Williams among them. They have TED Talks to explain this to people. The data is there. I just think it’s important that we make the most of this time, that we’re willing to reckon with some of the legacies of racism in our society so that we can create work environments that are as the least traumatizing possible, and perhaps the most life-changing when it comes to making the most out of a period of people’s lives, where they should be growing and learning and prospering and flourishing.

Ben: A lot to think about there. A lot of think about, and brought up another question actually. A lot of companies are trying to emphasize wellness in their benefits packages, attract young millennial talent and then support [00:26:00] employee wellness efforts. Given all these changes in society that we’re having right now, these huge shifts, what should companies be thinking of when thinking about the health and wellness of their employees, especially their employees of color?

Dr. Karinn: I want employers to really think about, not only providing equal access to places and institutions for wellness activities, but thinking about the unique needs that certain populations have. I’ll give you the example of when I was a young corporate employee, somebody was showing me around and they showed me the beauty salon or the barbershop. They called it a salon. They didn’t want to genderize it. I looked at it and I saw that people could go there for a haircut or get their hair blown out but I thought, “Are they doing black hair there? Black hair is very curly and requires a whole skillset to be able to work with.” I thought “Here, they think they’re providing equal access to a particular wellness service or a particular benefit when in reality, they didn’t hire the people who have the skillset for my hair.”

I think it’s important to keep in mind that as employers, we have to make sure that we’re providing benefits that everybody can use and that there’s actual skillsets for people to make the most of, particularly if we’re referring people to our employee assistance program. We want them to know that when they ask for help, we can give them a therapist who is familiar with their culture, who is familiar with the experience of being a black man in America, or familiar with being an Indian American, or [00:28:00] familiar with being Asian American. Even if not extremely and exquisitely familiar with the ins and outs of somebody’s culture, at least culturally humble enough to not make assumptions about whole populations, which is what has happened, I think, for a very long time in the field of cross-cultural mental health.

Ben: That’s why, and I think why equity is so important now and cultural [crosstalk] [inaudible 00:28:29].

Dr. Karinn: Exactly. It really is. This willingness to ask yourself some really good questions about the kinds of benefits you’re providing. There’s a whole questionnaire that the Steve Fund has developed to help corporations understand better where they are on the spectrum of health equity, on the spectrum of workplace mental health, and on the spectrum of– I forgot the name of what you call it when you have a diverse employee base, and making sure that everybody feels like they belong

Ben: Well. Again, that’s being equitable– Inclusive. Inclusion.

Dr. Karinn: Right. Inclusion.

Ben: The EI of DEI.

Dr. Karinn: Yes. Exactly.

Ben: Exactly, yes, equity and inclusion, I think are two of the most important aspects because they have the salon, which is great but, like you said, “Well, if I went in there, would they be able to do anything with my hair?” It’s just like, “Well, yes, you have a salon and you have all these other great things and you have Black, White, Asian, all like different groups working here but no only a certain group of people working there can use that salon.”

Dr. Karinn: Right. Are we valuable enough for people to think to [00:30:00] themselves, instead of, “I don’t see color,” maybe thinking instead of like, “I see the differences between my employees, I see that they have different needs, and I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m going to work overtime to figure out how to meet the different needs of my employees.”

Ben: Yes, and I see there’s an endless– Another podcast I did was about not being afraid to be wrong or make a mistake because a lot of people have employers will opt just not to try rather than make a mistake and offend someone and it’s like, you can approach it that way or you can approach it like it’s opportunities to learn. Like you said, there’s countless people who are now here and willing to teach.

Dr. Karinn: Exactly and I think that’s also why it’s so important to have an Employee Resource Group, ERGs, where employees of different backgrounds get to give feedback to their employers in ways that are solicited, in ways that you know you’re not going to face backlash for offering feedback to your employer. Then it’s also important to have mentoring in a way to keep on offering being very intentional about supporting the career development of employees of color because we know that, especially given what you just said, employers may feel weird about asking the questions and getting it wrong, but also, young people of color often feel weird and like they’re getting it wrong all the time too. What if we could both acknowledge our own sense of awkwardness and our own experience of feeling weird in the workplace, but then also move past that to just ask the questions that need to be [00:32:00] asked?

Ben: Exactly. Pushing past that weirdness. It’s like, it’s natural. Once you get past that, then you can actually get actual things done than trying to avoid that weirdness at all costs, [crosstalk] and then making things worse. I could talk to you for hours-

Dr. Karinn: Likewise.

Ben: -but unfortunately we do have to wrap this up. Thank you, again, so much for being here and for this great conversation, and I look forward to continuing next year.

Dr. Karinn: I would love that, Ben, thank you for having me.

Ben: Thank you so much, Dr. Glover, for that wonderful conversation, and thank you to our listeners for joining and a special thank you to our sponsor Best Buy. To learn more about wellness in the workplace, please feel free to visit thestevefund@www.stevefund.org Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Forum podcast are available at workplaceforum.org [unintelligible 00:33:02] podcast. You can also find our podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, and Stitcher. Thank you again for listening and have a great day.

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