With the USA's reputation as a melting pot for all sorts of nationalities, cultures and ethnicities from around the world, those moving to the States can expect to meet a diverse range of people from all walks of life as they settle down in their new home. Here are some aspects of diversity and inclusion in the USA that new arrivals may encounter.
Accessibility in the USA
The level of accessibility in the USA varies widely from state to state – this is due to the variety of physical environments throughout the country, as well as the fact that states are able to set their own laws and policies regarding accessibility. Some states, therefore, have particularly good reputations for accessibility, while others may be more difficult to navigate for those with disabilities.
Some of the cities noted for being particularly accessible are Las Vegas (Nevada), Seattle (Washington), Orlando (Florida), Portland (Oregon) and Washington DC. Despite being renowned for its diversity, New York City’s subway is currently only 25 percent accessible for people with disabilities. That said, the city has plans to make the subway system completely accessible by 2034 and there are plenty of wheelchair friendly restaurants and historic sites to enjoy throughout the city.
Across the country, minimum accessibility standards are set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These standards must be met by any new construction, and older buildings undergoing renovation or add-ons also need to abide by these rules. This applies to all public accommodation, government and commercial facilities.
Public transport will generally have accessibility features such as ramps and lifts. Assistance is usually available for those who need it, and service animals are generally allowed on all forms of transport.
LGBTQ+ in the USA
The USA has a generally progressive stance towards LGBTQ+ rights. In 2004, Massachusetts was the first state to legalise same-sex marriage – by 2015, same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 states. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is outlawed in over 20 states, including California, Virginia and New York and most other states on both the east and west coasts. Discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression is outlawed in around the same number of states, though not all ban both forms of discrimination. The Equality Act, currently proposed in the US Congress, would make these forms of discrimination illegal throughout the country, should it be passed.
In 2022, the US became one of the few countries in the world to allow a third gender option on official documentation – passport applicants filling out the gender section now have the options of “M” for “male”, “F” for “female” or “X” for “unspecified” or “other gender identity”. In future, the same options will be included on Social Security card applications.
Lively LGBTQ+ communities can be found in just about every corner of the USA. Traditionally liberal states like California, New York, Virginia and Illinois are still home to some of the largest and most vibrant LGBTQ+ communities, but gay-friendly bars and activities can be found in even the most conservative of states, such as Alabama and Wyoming.
Gender equality in the USA
Since 1920, when women in the United States gained the right to vote, the country has made significant steps in improving gender equality. In its 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, the World Economic Forum ranked the US 27th out of 146 countries, placing it between Latvia and the Netherlands. Despite the steps that the US has taken to decrease gender inequality, some barriers to true gender parity still remain.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the gender wage gap in the US is 17 percent in 2022, compared to 38 percent in 1979. The global gender wage gap is currently 12 percent. Persisting gender norms are a factor; women were traditionally expected to put their home life first while men were expected to be driven and successful breadwinners.
In the US, expectant parents are not entitled to any parental leave, and the question is left to employers, some of whom do offer parental leave as a perk. That said, the state of Virginia recently introduced a law mandating that insurers issue short-term disability policies for childbirth, which would allow new mothers to claim benefits for 12 weeks. While this may not be a cure-all, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Similarly, the US government does not protect abortion rights, and each state sets its own regulations.
Women in leadership in the USA
The American public is largely supportive of women in leadership positions, but the reality often doesn’t live up to the ideal. Despite making up more than 50 percent of the workforce, women hold the minority of senior leadership positions. In Fortune 500 companies, only 8 percent of CEOs are women.
Progress has been made in female representation within politics, most notably with the presidential nomination of Hillary Clinton in 2016. Though Clinton did not win the election, numerous women in politics have stated that she inspired them to run for Congress. The election of Kamala Harris as the first female Vice President in 2021 has also been held up as a sign of major progress.
Mental health awareness in the USA
Rates of mental illness in the USA are fairly high, with one in every five people suffering from a mental illness at some point in their lives.
Significant progress has been made regarding stigma around mental illness – three quarters of Americans say they consider mental health to be as important as physical health. Six in 10 Americans say they are currently seeking or wanting to seek mental health treatment either for themselves or a loved one. However, there are other major barriers to treatment, with high cost and insufficient insurance coverage being chief among them.
To address these challenges, New York’s mayor recently announced an 11-point plan to ensure that the under-served individuals with severe mental health issues living on New York’s streets and in its subways receive compassionate mental healthcare when they are in crisis.
Mental Health America ranks Virginia 48th out of the 50 states for youth mental health, in response to this crisis, Virginia’s governor has proposed a more than USD 200 million investment in the state’s mental health services. This boost in funding is set to reduce the strain on the state’s behavioural health system and increase access to mental health services for its population.
Studies show that expats are at higher risk of depression and anxiety than the general population, with increased stress and loneliness being common precipitating factors. Tackling mental health problems early, rather than waiting to seek help, is associated with better treatment outcomes – so it’s important that expats keep an eye on their mental wellbeing and take action if needed.
To ensure easy access to treatment, expats should ensure that any health insurance provided by their employer is comprehensive, including full coverage for psychiatric and psychological services.
Unconscious bias education in the USA
Unconscious bias is an implicit set of often stereotyped ideas an individual carries about groups of people different to themselves. These ideas are not purposefully adopted but rather develop subtly over time, and people tend to hold unconscious biases about groups they never or rarely come into contact with. As a result, they're often inaccurate and based on assumptions.
Unconscious bias can profoundly affect both personal and work conditions. In the workplace, unchecked bias undermines vital aspects of the company, with negative effects on employee performance, retention and recruitment. In a bid to create a better work environment, many companies are beginning to institute unconscious bias training. There are also a number of online resources that can be used to improve self-awareness regarding bias.
Diversification of the workforce in the USA
Home to over 45 million foreigners, the USA has a long history of immigration, its reputation as a melting pot well earned. People from all over the globe – the majority hailing from Mexico, China and India – continuously flock to the USA in pursuit of the American Dream. In exchange, the USA has a plentiful source of labour, and this diversity has been key in strengthening the US economy.
Expats moving to the USA will find themselves in good company – in fact, the USA has the world’s largest immigrant population in pure numbers, and 17 percent of the labour force is made up of foreigners. Management, business science and the arts are the main employers of foreign-born workers, with 35 percent working in these industries, while 23 percent work in the service industry.
Studies show that diversification of the workplace is hugely beneficial to companies and employees alike. In recognition of this, many of the largest companies in the USA are setting up diversity and inclusion programmes, ensuring that a wide variety of people is represented among employees.
Safety in the USA
Although it's true that the US has a higher crime rate than many other developed countries, its reputation for violence is often exaggerated by the local media.
Loose gun laws and a glaring disparity between the wealthy and the poor are contributing factors to the high crime rate in the US, but expats generally tend to live in neighbourhoods unaffected by serious or violent crimes. Violent crime is more of a concern in city centres than in suburban and rural communities. Poorer neighbourhoods, where crime is more common, are avoidable, and downtown areas and business districts are generally safe.
Some cities have much higher crime rates than others, but people living in the US can expect a strong police presence everywhere. In fact, cities such as Richmond have seen a downward trend in homicides recently thanks to the city’s efforts in preventing gun violence. Basic safety precautions which would be practiced elsewhere in the world should be followed here too, such as avoiding walking alone through less busy areas of the city at night.
There have been a few incidents of terrorism in the US since 2001, such as the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, but the country's various security agencies have largely cracked down on terrorism and are able to intercept any plots before they are carried out. The terrorism threat is now low, and the main risk comes from local individuals inspired by terrorist ideology to carry out so-called ‘lone actor’ attacks targeting public events or places. School shootings have also increased at public schools, but most schools have various security measures in place to prevent any such violence, and the risk to children is low.
Calendar initiatives in the USA
4 February – World Cancer Day
March – TB Awareness Month
8 March – International Women’s Day
19 May – Global Accessibility Awareness Day
June – Pride Month
10 September – World Suicide Prevention Day
October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month
10 October –World Mental Health Day
14 November – World Diabetes Day
1 December – World AIDS Day