If you put a group of Wall Street veterans in the same room, inevitably the conversation turns to how our industry has changed over the years. New technology, increased regulation and industry consolidation are all topics that will be discussed, and it’s just as likely that words like “diversity” and “inclusion” will (and should) come up frequently. Less often, however, you’ll hear the phrases “mental health” or “substance abuse.”
That’s a tragedy. Our industry has made great strides in creating an environment of openness and understanding, and while there is still room for improvement, the progress has been significant compared to a decade or two ago. Except when it comes to issues like addiction or mental illness, which continue to be among the last taboo workplace subjects.
While financial services never had quite the same public reputation as the “Mad Men” advertising world, our industry has had its share of power players who saw their ability to “work hard and drink harder” as a rite of passage and even a badge of honor. The code seemed to be, “If you can’t keep up, then maybe you don’t belong in this business.”
For many good reasons, that culture waned but the perception that these issues are signs of weakness still seems to exist to a large degree. While companies often offer a wide range of resources and support, many employees seem hesitant to admit they need help and, over time, their careers and personal lives can suffer greatly. That mindset needs to change.
We must create an environment where people feel comfortable talking about these issues—which creates a more inclusive culture in the process— to knock down the remaining barriers and help those in need.
At DTCC, we’ve seen firsthand how addressing so-called taboo subjects directly can make a positive difference. Politics, religion, race, gender and sexual orientation have long been considered too controversial or difficult to discuss in the workplace. But as society and our culture has evolved, we’ve also changed with the times. Last December, for instance, we hosted a Day of Understanding in our U.S. offices to teach and encourage open discussion on these issues to promote a more inclusive environment. Beginning that dialogue has helped us to create greater trust and compassion within our workforce.
As Deanna B, a DTCC employee, said after the event, “Focusing on diversity is not exclusive but a way to value all employees. I don’t have to minimize my life experiences or downplay my hardships. We may look different on the surface, but once we take the time to understand and get to know each other, we then see our similarities.”
We are now taking that same approach with mental health and addiction. Last year, we supported the World Health Organization’s “World Mental Health Day,” and our team in London will be supporting the “Where’s Your Head At?” workplace petition, along with more than 600 other firms in the United Kingdom. The petition notes that more than 300,000 people each year leave work due to mental health illness, costing employers up to £42 billion and the UK economy up to £99 billion. What a colossal waste of talent and money, which could be avoided if we all worked toward creating a more supportive and open environment.
Just as we’re reaching out to employees who suffer from depression or anxiety disorders, we need to encourage colleagues with addiction and substance abuse issues to realize that it’s not simply a matter of “handling it.” They need help, and that help is available without judgment. We want to—actually we need to—create an environment where employees feel comfortable taking the first step.
Last month, I had the chance to discuss this topic with Goldman Sachs’ Marty Chavez at DTCC’s Fintech conference. Marty noted that people approach him more frequently with questions about becoming sober—another important change from “the old days”—and recalled the saying that “you’re only as sick as your secrets.”
Secrets only hurt the people keeping them. Lives do not have to be destroyed, and careers do not have to end because of mental illness or addiction, especially when there are so many options for help. Creating a supportive environment where those who need assistance feel comfortable about being open would be positive change and incredibly beneficial for the industry and everyone in it.