Why a Trauma-informed Approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training Is Essential in Today’s Workplace

Why a Trauma-informed Approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training Is Essential in Today’s Workplace

As a health equity diversity and inclusion consultant, I advocate for a trauma-informed approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training and work. A trauma-informed approach can help create safe, supportive environments for employees from diverse backgrounds because it means acknowledging the impact trauma has on our professional lives.

Often when we think of trauma, we think about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acts of abuse and violence. However, trauma is unique to the person experiencing it. It can be caused by a single event or a series of events and often involves personal loss or threats to self whether real or perceived. It is any experience that causes significant emotional or physical distress and overwhelms a person’s ability to cope with the situation. In addition, we know that systems of oppression that marginalize specific groups, including policies, overt discrimination, exclusion and microaggressions, also create trauma.

Trauma doesn’t impact individuals in isolation but the communities they exist in. Traumatic events or exposure to traumatic images can cause stress and erode trust and faith. In the workplace, employees who have experienced trauma may struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that can impact their job performance. They may also have difficulty with interpersonal relationships and communication. Having a basic understanding of trauma’s impact can be an additional tool for creating safer and more supportive work environments.

What a Trauma-informed Approach to DEI Training Is and Is Not

According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, 70% or 223.4 million U.S. adults have experienced some type of traumatic event in their lifetime. In addition, we are realizing the impact on mental health the pandemic has caused as a source of collective trauma. Trauma-informed DEI training is an approach that focuses on a supportive and safer environment for employees, acknowledging that in today’s world, we all have experienced some type of trauma.

It can help organizations reduce retraumatizing individuals and communities by recognizing the effects of trauma and promoting healing and growth. It can include trauma awareness, cultural competence, communication skills and conflict resolution. It also promotes belonging, self-care, resilience and destigmatizing mental health issues.

A Trauma-informed Approach is not a replacement for an organization’s Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or mental health services and counseling.

The Trauma-Informed Approach

When we think about having a trauma-informed approach to DEI training, focus on creating psychological safety. Psychologically safe workplaces allow people to take risks and fail without reprisal. It means prioritizing environments that promote inquisitive learning and belonging.

The focus is on promoting cultural humility, an inclusive workplace and respecting all employees’ backgrounds and experiences. There should be a clear and comprehensive training plan that includes providing ongoing support and resources for employees. This often involves promoting self-care and opportunities for personal and professional growth.

No organization will approach this the same way, and the goal is to promote resilience, belonging, healing and growth in a compassionate and supportive manner.

Best Practice

Implementation in the workplace requires a thoughtful and intentional approach. Best practices include:

  • Providing an assessment of the organization’s needs and resources
    • Employee perception of safety and ability to be their authentic selves
    • Cost and the ROI
  • Offering a clear communication plan
  • Incorporating trauma-informed principles into the workplace culture and policies
  • Evaluating effectiveness and adjusting as needed

In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a leading source on trauma, outlines six principles that trauma-informed organizations follow:

  • The organization promotes a sense of safety
  • There is trustworthiness and transparency
  • Employees have a sense of peer support and respect and honor their lived experiences
  • Everyone participates; there is collaboration and mutuality
  • People feel like they have empowerment, voice and choice
  • The organization is about cultural, historical and gender inclusion


Implementing a trauma-informed approach to DEI training in the workplace has numerous benefits for both employees and organizations. First and foremost, it works to create a work environment that is supportive, inclusive and safer for all employees, regardless of their backgrounds. This helps foster a sense of belonging and trust among employees, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

In addition, trauma awareness helps organizations recognize and address the effects of trauma on their employees. This can lead to increased empathy and understanding of employees’ experiences, which can help prevent further trauma from occurring in the workplace. This awareness can also help organizations reduce the risk of lawsuits and other legal issues related to discrimination and harassment by recognizing its harm.


There are a variety of resources available for organizations that are interested in incorporating a trauma-informed approach to diversity, equity and inclusion training. Some resources include:


In conclusion, utilizing this approach can be an important and powerful tool for creating a safe and supportive work environment for all employees. By understanding trauma and its impact, promoting cultural humility and creating opportunities for healing and growth, organizations can foster a workplace culture that is inclusive, respectful and productive.

I urge all organizations to prioritize using a trauma-informed approach, especially in today’s post-pandemic world and fast-paced environment. You do not need to be a trauma expert but acknowledge the impact trauma has had on our working environment today in order to create a workplace culture that is truly inclusive and supportive for all.