January 31, 2022

Why Employers Should Be Focusing On Inclusive Wellness

Greg Fontus interviews Kym Ali on why employers should be focusing on inclusive wellness, especially during this great resignation era. 
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Kym Ali is a Registered Nurse who spent five years abroad traveling the world while developing her professional career “Until she tragically lost her job to systemic racism and had to relocate back to the States. Two weeks after returning home, her niece passed away at college.
“The stress took a toll on me. Two days after my niece passed away, I had a heart attack in my “30’s.
Kym knew she had to stop being strong, like so many women of color do, and take care of her physical and mental health. After several unsuccessful therapy sessions, Kym knew she had to take matters into her own hands. Kym began to heal herself by becoming a mental health coach and behavior change specialist and now she’s back to living her best life. Kym now supports healthcare facilities and Fortune 500 corporations by creating healthy and inclusive workplace settings. Her work has been featured on FOX, CBS and NBC and Voice of America. 
ABOUT OUR HOST - Greg Fontus
Greg Fontus has over 10 years’ worth of knowledge and experience challenging and empowering others to be inclusively excellent. As a sought-after diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategist, trainer, thought leader, and motivator he has made it a mission to inspire and impact others to be positive agents of social change in order to create environments where all people matter and belong regardless of identity.
Greg holds graduate degrees from the University of South Florida in Curriculum Instruction and from Vanderbilt University in Divinity. He also holds DEI certifications as a Cook Ross Unconscious Bias Trainer, a Green Dots Bystander Intervention Trainer, and a National Coalition Building Institute Trainer. As someone dedicated to the work of inclusion, equity, justice, and advocacy, Greg has accepted as his personal call to action the words of civil rights leader Rev. James Lawson who stated: “We are citizens of a country that does not yet exist. It is our duty to usher that country into existence.”
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Greg Fontus (0s):
Hey, everyone. This is Greg Fontus, Lead Consultant for DEI at Proactive Talent. Today, we are chatting with Kym Ali, who we'll be talking about inclusive wellness, and it will begin right after this message.

Proactive Talent (20s):
Proactive Talent is the leading power partner to your recruiting engine. We're a coalition of recruiting and talent brand practitioners who provide the necessary tools and talent to tighten your hiring gaps, most of your retention rates, and embolden your company mission, giving you the competitive edge needed in the ever-changing recruiting industry. With a holistic approach, we work alongside clients to help them build a powerful recruiting engine that enables them to efficiently attract, recruit, and retain top talent. We specialize in adding power to your full candidate journey from talent attraction to hiring, to retention.

Proactive Talent (1m 6s):
Our clients include enterprise companies like Uber Postmates, Siemens Energy, Boston Consulting Group, Basic American Foods, and GoDaddy, as well as fast-growing startups like Calendly, Discord, and Gong. Please reach out to us today. We would love to have a conversation. You may contact us at www.ProactiveTalent.com. That's www.ProactiveTalent.com.

Greg Fontus (1m 42s):
All right, everyone. Hello, once again, to another episode of our Ask Me Anything DEI podcast. Listen, I am super excited about our guests today. I know I'm going to allow her to introduce herself to you all, but we have none other than Kym Ali who is here, who is going to be just giving some insight as we just dialogue about all things DEI. Kym, how are you this day?

Kym Ali (2m 8s):
Hi, Greg. I am doing well. Thank you so much for that powerful introduction.

Greg Fontus (2m 14s):
Awesome. Awesome. You're very welcome. I'm glad that you're here. Listen, Kym, for those listeners that are here tuning in, can you share with them who is Kym Ali? Who are you? What do you do? What is your area of specialty? All of those types of things. Go ahead and share a little bit about yourself for us.

Kym Ali (2m 34s):
Absolutely. Well, as Greg said, my name is Kym Ali. I am a registered nurse coming up on 17 years now. I cannot believe I'm that old, but yes, my background is in maternity nursing and I had the opportunity to, not only work all across the United States, but even worked overseas in a country called Qatar for five years. I had an unfortunate event that happened over there that led me down the road of DE&I work. Now, I own my own consulting firm and I provide inclusive wellness and diversity equity and inclusion solutions to companies.

Greg Fontus (3m 21s):
All right. All right. What did you mean by inclusive wellness? Let's go there. That's what you do. You have your own firm. You have your own practice. What does that even mean in your world?

Kym Ali (3m 33s):
Sure. Well, we all know that the workforce is diverse now, right? We have people from different social-economic backgrounds and so inclusive wellness is the practice of taking a look at your employee demographics. What neighborhoods do your employees live in? Do they have access to grocery stores? Is transportation an issue? Are they able to get their annual exams to see what their current health status is? For a lot of people, that is actually a luxury so just encouraging companies to be more inclusive with their wellness and EAP programs.

Kym Ali (4m 21s):
That way, it's assessable for everyone.

Greg Fontus (4m 25s):
Excellent. I love that. I love that. It's such a valuable thing to have that mindset and that focus when working, partnering, working in an organization. It's solely important to have those things. I guess for me, the question I want to ask you is why now? Why focus on inclusive wellness at this point in time? Sure, I recognize that our world is in a very particular space, a very interesting space as DEI is on the rise. Organizations are turning more of a focus towards DEI, but we are in a great resignation, right? We're in a place where people are just leaving their jobs so why now?

Greg Fontus (5m 8s):
Why focus on inclusive wellness now?

Kym Ali (5m 10s):
Great question. Well, if we look at the pandemic and the communities the pandemic has impacted the most, for example, African-Americans are only 13% of the US population, but we are 17% of the number of COVID deaths. Same with the Hispanic community. I think they are now 15 to 16% of the US population, and then they account for roughly 20% of the COVID deaths. That's an indicator that this population has health disparities.

Kym Ali (5m 51s):
We have the highest rates of hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease. It's time that we start looking into the community and making our communities healthier because the people that live in the community work at companies. They are a part of an organization. When you look at it, how much money is an organization losing for absenteeism due to illnesses? How much money are they spending on health insurance premiums because people have preexisting conditions when they are hired with the organization and performance.

Kym Ali (6m 33s):
when you aren't feeling well, and you're sick and tired, you can't show up and perform 100% because you're sick. I think if organizations look at it from that vantage point, they will start to see an increase in their bottom line.

Greg Fontus (6m 54s):
Yes. Essentially what I'm hearing is, what you're saying is there is an intersection that exists between one's physical, emotional state, as well as their performance. When those things are locked-up with one another, that can resolve into greater performance results, greater meeting your KPIs or objectives, all of those types of things. Is that what I'm hearing from you?

Kym Ali (7m 22s):
Yes, Greg. That is what you were hearing.

Greg Fontus (7m 26s):
Powerful stuff, powerful stuff. It's really taking a different approach or more of a holistic approach, rather, to the idea of authentically showing up yourself, being able to show up, not just in your identities and particularities, but in your health, in your mental, emotional state, all of those types of things. It's just powerful. It is powerful. With that being said, Kym, what are some of the barriers that prevent some of that? What are some of the things that you feel may get in the way of being able to have this inclusive wellness? What are some of those challenges, some of those hurdles? Whether it is self-hurdles, whether it's organizational barriers, what are some of those things that get in the way of being able to truly walk, live, and breathe in this inclusive wellness?

Kym Ali (8m 14s):
Well, one, lack of knowledge. If you have not identified the problem or a correlation between the two, then it will be difficult to come up with solutions. That's one. Now, most organizations are still working remotely so people don't have to come to the office. When you don't physically see your team, health and wellness get put on the back burner, so to say. Then three, even the whole inclusive notion, this is still new and uncomfortable for a lot of people.

Kym Ali (9m 0s):
When people hear inclusivity, diversity, equity, and inclusion, a lot of people become afraid, right? What is going to change if we start trying to make more inclusive, healthy workspaces? Am I losing something? Is my job at risk? Just breaking down those fears and anxieties of the unknown will help break through a lot of barriers.

Greg Fontus (9m 29s):
Yes, that's good. That's good. That's good. I love all of that. I love that. I love that. Switching gears, just a tad bit, but it's still staying in this wheelhouse of inclusive wellness. I just love this concept. I just love this idea. That's why I want to stay with it. With it, how does an organization, say, we're working with a startup organization or an organization in a hyper-growth phase, how do we then work alongside with them to develop and create a strategy to where inclusive wellness is a part of that? What does that tangibly look like in the day-to-day practice, especially, in particular, in this remote space that we're in, this remote world that we're in, which doesn't look like many organizations are going back into the office?

Greg Fontus (10m 19s):
What does it look like? How do we implement that into a day-to-day strategy?

Kym Ali (10m 28s):
Well, the first is doing the assessment, look at the demographics of your employees. How many are of African descent, Caribbean, or African-American? How many are our Hispanic population, West Indian, Asian? Then you want to educate yourself on cultural norms. What are some of the dishes that they like to eat? Perfect example. I was actually looking up a case study the other day and this was done in New Mexico, which has a high Mexican population.

Kym Ali (11m 8s):
Mexican foods are based on a lot of starches - the tortilla burritos, nachos. There's one company that managed to implement nutritional courses. That was the foundation of their inclusive wellness program. They were able to show that, "Hey, you can still have the foods you love, but just swap things out." For example, instead of using flour tortillas, they would swap it out for maybe corn or even use lettuce as a substitute. Instead of using sour cream, use Greek yogurt as toppings.

Kym Ali (11m 49s):
Instead of the salsa, which is loaded with sodium, use just plain fresh tomatoes. What they did next was they partnered with the local clinics so that way people could go and get their blood pressure, blood sugar checked. Within a matter of a couple of months, people were able to come off of some of their medications. People adopted a healthy lifestyle and their performance increased at work because they weren't getting the itis after lunch. That's not normal. Food should give you energy, not making you tired and sleepy. Just small changes like that, not only was the company able to save money, but they were able to increase engagement and increase the performance of their employees.

Greg Fontus (12m 45s):
Wow. I feel like my whole diet is about to change now. You just came for my whole life right now. Yes, I gotta think about that one. I don't know how I feel about that.

Kym Ali (13m 8s):
You're from the Caribbean, right?

Greg Fontus (13m 8s):
I do have Caribbean roots. Starchy and all those things. I'm gonna have to process that one. No, but that's awesome. Tell me, you mentioned you're an RN, been doing that for a number of years, how much of that and that experience, in particular to being overseas, how much did that influence this inclusive wellness? How much did that influence your way of thinking, influence why this is a passion area of yours? How much did that influence you?

Kym Ali (13m 47s):
Well, long story short, as I said in the beginning, I was working overseas and unfortunately, I lost my job to systemic racism. The events that led up to me being fired, it was stressful. It affected my mental health, my emotional health. If the organization had resources in place, such as maybe inclusive wellness or employee resource groups for minorities, maybe it wouldn't have affected me so much.

Kym Ali (14m 27s):
Because of that lack, it encouraged me to start my own company. That way I can be a source to individuals who are maybe working in a toxic work environment or if there's an organization that recognizes that there are social-economic gaps between minorities and Caucasians, then maybe they want to help them and make their quality of life better. In a nutshell, that's why I started my business.

Greg Fontus (15m 4s):
Wow, I'm sorry, you did lose your job, but I'm grateful for your business and what you're doing because it is so needed. As you're sharing these things, I'm thinking about just how we're in this great resignation period where individuals are just leaving their jobs. They're saying that they don't want to be in that same stressful environment like it was pre-pandemic. I'm just thinking, I'm curious and would love to get your thoughts on this, would that have been different? Would we be experiencing a great resignation if companies and organizations had in place inclusive wellness practices or more intentional about that in the foods, the work hours, and offering gym membership, credits, or whatever have you?

Greg Fontus (15m 52s):
Because I'm under the belief that I think that the numbers would not be as high. I think, individuals will be more connected to their workplaces, but because those practices weren't in place, that's why these numbers are so high and in this movement of the great resignation. Curious to know what are your thoughts.

Kym Ali (16m 14s):
Yes, absolutely. I agree, but there's another piece to that as well and that's the belonging. If you're on LinkedIn, guys follow me on LinkedIn, but I did something about that and I said, "Burnout versus belonging. Why are people really leaving?" People are tired. People don't feel included. I've heard of stories where people are intentionally left out of zoom meetings now because we're working remotely. People are overlooked for promotions now. People are intentionally left off with emails that are pertaining to them now.

Kym Ali (16m 58s):
People want to feel valued, right? Everyone wants to be where they belong and appreciated, and it's impacting people's mental health. McKinsey & Co. did a study last year. It was the end of last year and it's called Women in the Workplace. You can look it up. Sixty percent of black women said they have experienced some form of emotional trauma in the workplace over the last year. People are tired. Being home has opened up people's eyes. People can see, "Hey, I can run a business while I'm home," "I can go back to school," or I can go work someplace where I'm respected, I'm valued, and I can show up to work and be my best self.

Kym Ali (17m 48s):
That's another reason why we are seeing the great resignation. People are just fed up.

Greg Fontus (17m 58s):
No, absolutely. I love that, but here's where I want to push a little bit if that's all right. You talk about burnout versus belonging and I completely agree. Yes, people do want to feel like they belong. They do want to feel like they matter, but to be honest, when we, for me, in particular, once I started working in this remote world, the ideas of work-life balance really became cloudy, and being at home, got a little bit more exhausting. There are many who have this zoom burnout, Microsoft teams burnout, or Google Meet burnout, whatever platform your organization is using.

Greg Fontus (18m 40s):
We get tired of being a part of those duties. It gets exhausting waking up and you're home all day. Maybe, you have your children that are with you. You are in the same spot most of the day. It gets frustrating at times. It gets exhausting and burnout now becomes part of your reality. How do you navigate those moments where we're saying, "Yes, there's this element of belonging, but being in a remote world now can also lead to burnout?" What do we do with that?

Greg Fontus (19m 20s):
How do we make sense of that?

Kym Ali (19m 26s):
Well, I normally tell people one, set boundaries if you can. Depending on your boss and your coworkers, no more emails after five o'clock and no emails before nine o'clock.

Greg Fontus (19m 47s):
You're coming for my life right now.

Kym Ali (19m 50s):
That's how you avoid remote burnout. Another example, the zoom fatigue. If there's something that can be an email instead of a meeting, just send an email. Also, allocating a workspace, so try not to have your office in your living room because it's hard to disconnect from work when your laptop is staring you in your face while you're trying to watch Netflix. Try to set up boundaries if you can and dress up like you're going to work. I know a lot of people show up to work in their hair rollers and pajamas.

Kym Ali (20m 29s):
Trying to set the tone as if you are actually going to an office so that way, you'll be able to disconnect. At five o'clock, shut it down. No more emails, take your work clothes off, and put on your evening clothes. Those are some of the tips. Take a lunch. Take your one-hour lunch. Don't sit there and work through your lunch. Those are just some of the ways we can avoid burnout from working at home.

Greg Fontus (21m 3s):
Yes, boundaries. Yes, that's critical. That is critical. It's boundaries and routine is what I'm hearing. Follow the same routine as though you were going to work. Wake up, get ready, you go into that space, you take your lunch break, and you shut things down after a certain hour. That's critical there. As I'm hearing that, I'm also thinking about separating the spaces because sometimes if we're sitting on the couch or we're working in the kitchen, then the kitchen becomes the workspace. The couch becomes the workspace and you'll never be able to turn things off and on. I think for me, what has helped me is if I'm in work mode, I'm in the home office.

Greg Fontus (21m 47s):
I'm working there And then when I'm done, I leave there. I don't come back until the next day so that my mind doesn't get triggered in that same setting. Setting those boundaries, having those routines I think is critical as well.

Kym Ali (22m 7s):
Exactly. Another tip, try not to have your work email on your personal phone because even if you're out of the house, if you get a notification from your boss, we're inclined to check it.

Greg Fontus (22m 24s):
You're right. You're right. You're right. I think it's because we live in such a high-demand mindset, this capitalistic high-demand mindset of if you're not engaged then you're losing money. You're not productive. I know for me, I got four different emails on my phone. If it comes up, I'm checking them, but I know I have to do better separating those mindsets. I used to do that, but not so much anymore. Thank you for pointing out all of my flaws. I greatly appreciate you. That makes sense. With that being said, what would be your biggest piece of advice that you would give someone?

Greg Fontus (23m 9s):
I know you shared some things about burnout, but what would be your biggest piece of advice that you would give someone who is in their work experience and they're really trying to move towards creating a culture of inclusive wellness for their organization, whether it be someone in a DEI functional role or whether it just be someone who just has a passion for this and wants to do better? What would be the biggest piece of advice that you would give them?

Kym Ali (23m 42s):
Just think about your employees. Think about everything that has happened in the world in the last two years. A pandemic, so many people have lost loved ones, so many people have become ill, social injustices, right? What are your boys of color going through? Sit down, have a chat with them, do a pulse check on your people and see what are they really dealing with? You may have someone on your team who is really struggling. It is a struggle just to show up at work, right? Any extra support that you can give your team, especially employees of color, I'm sure they will greatly appreciate it.

Kym Ali (24m 24s):
You never know, you could be saving someone's life just by checking in on them.

Greg Fontus (24m 28s):
Absolutely. Phenomenal, phenomenal, phenomenal. We're about wrapping up now, Kym. with that being said, how can people contact you? If people want to know who is Kym Ali, I got to know she is, I want to know more about her. I want to know her story. I want to connect with her. How can people do that? What's the best way that we can find you and connect with you?

Kym Ali (24m 59s):
Sure. I'm always on LinkedIn so you can find me there. It's Kym, and then Ali is my last name. My website is www.KymAli, and you can email me at info@KymAli.com.

Greg Fontus (25m 12s):
Awesome. Awesome, Kym with a Y, everyone. Listen, whoever's listening right now, I need you to pull up your phone, pull up your laptop, go to LinkedIn, and I need you to add her. She is phenomenal. Kym, I just want to say thank you so much for just joining us today. You have provided so much insight, so many things for me to think about and reflect upon personally, as well as professionally. You're phenomenal and I want to just say thank you for joining us today. You've been an extreme pleasure to just talk with today.

Kym Ali (25m 59s):
Thank you, Greg. Well, I have to say, I admire you for having a platform like this. it's really important to share new and innovative ideas so thank you for everything that you were doing for the community.

Greg Fontus (26m 6s):
You're very welcome. Thank you all for tuning in everyone. Have a good one.

Kym Ali (26m 6s):

Proactive Talent (26m 6s):
Thank you for listening. If you have not already, please take advantage of the resources cited in the podcast description. They are there to benefit you. Until next time, goodbye.

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