This is What We Mean by Diversity, Equity & Inclusion—and Why We Need More of Them in the Massage Therapy Field

MASSAGE Magazine created this special issue on diversity, equity and inclusion because this topic is alive for our society as a whole—and because there is a great need for progress in all three of these areas currently in the massage field.

The people whose voices follow in this section are those working for diversity, equity and inclusion for all races, cultures, sexual orientations and genders. They explain why we all need to understand and implement authentic practices that bring more people to the decision-making table—and how, by doing so, the massage profession will grow in a way that offers more opportunities to all people, whether as massage clients or the therapists who serve them.

We Must Create a Community of Belonging

Allow me to take you on a journey. You have always been observant and aware to the power of touch. Even when you’d hurt yourself as a child, if no one was available to comfort you, you could place your hands and hold yourself in a way to calm the hurt. At the end of a long day, you were the kid who would stand behind your mother and offer a gentle shoulder massage or kneel in front of her to rub her tired feet.

Fascinated with the power of touch, you tended to notice people’s hands and the stories their hands would tell about them. From delicate and thin to worn and dry, you would people-watch and pass time imagining the stories of their life all inspired by the hands. You were told you had “heavy” hands—that your presence was very apparent through your touch.

In an effort to not cause hurt or harm, you learned how to vary the pressure of your touch, from hovering just above the skin to let your energy field make an initial connection to the deep pressure work your fingers could do as a therapeutic tool. Yet, you were encouraged to pursue a degree in college. After-school and summer programs would pull on other natural talents and abilities, but consistently reminded you of the expected path to success for your generation was college and corporate careers.

You did it all— summer camps, internships, seminars and workshops. It paid off in academic scholarships and a great university experience. But then, you sit in your corporate cubicle feeling unfulfilled and surrounded by other miserable people. That’s when you soul search for what is fulfilling to you. It goes back to those early memories of the power of touch and its ability to make people feel better. It was dormant, but still there.

Fast forward to one of your first Saturdays at an iconic spa. The books are full and you are loving the work you do.

But when you call out your guest’s name, she says you can’t touch her. Why? Because she is not ever had a therapist of color and she is not comfortable that you will be capable of taking care of her.

Your manager rushes in and supports you, and you provide a phenomenal experience for this guest, proving you’re more than capable. All the while, you choke back the tears of something that has been an underlying obstacle for you your whole life. It occasionally shows up in overt, ugly and hurtful ways. Other times, it is subtle, and easy to convince yourself it didn’t occur. 

Unfortunately, in your new spa and wellness job, while you fill a fulfillment to be aligned with work you feel you were born to do, many other instances occur like this. Instances where one of your identities—your race, your beliefs, who you love— show up as unacceptable in some ways. Reactions occur in many ways and in any environment—from how you’re treated in spaces with peers, advanced classes, opportunities for more visibility and professional recognition, to how quickly you can progress and be promoted in your career in general.

You constantly recalibrate yourself to live authentically and embrace your identities and worthiness despite these traumatic experiences. And you remain committed to be a proponent of touch, of connection that heals and promotes a well world. You love your work and the difference you have made in true lives you’ve touched.

All in an industry and a larger world that doesn’t love you back.

While this is my story and my motivation to create a community of belonging for all underrepresented and marginalized spa and wellness professionals, this story is too common. I want you to know I see you. I feel you. I welcome you. The world needs us to do the work we do. 

Toshiana Baker
Toshiana Baker

Toshiana Baker is an esthetician, spa educator and spa consultancy owner. She founded the Network of Multicultural Spa and Wellness Professionals, which supports multiethnic and multicultural health care professionals with education and other resources. The group is now seeking founding members; read more about it in “New Group Promotes Diversity in Spa & Wellness Careers.”

Steps You Can Take Now to Build Diversity in Your Massage Clientele

Are you looking for ways to serve a more diverse massage clientele? Referrals to your practice, attracting new clients and new relationships with providers may come with new expectations about providing culturally effective care and improved outreach and services to underserved communities, as advocates for health equity, diversity and inclusion are looking to see whether structural and systemic changes in massage therapy can reduce health inequities and promote access to more diverse patients.

Some of the fundamental steps for a massage practice seeking to attract and retain more diverse clients include making services available to non-English-dominant clients, tailoring services to the unique needs that diverse clients may face in seeking integrative health care services, and hiring diverse staff.

Let’s start with a basic premise of health equity: All people, regardless of their unique circumstance, deserve the best quality of care to live their fullest potential for well-being and good health. Unfortunately, in the U.S. today, a person’s zip code is a far greater predictor of overall health than their genetic code because of income inequality, housing and socioeconomic conditions.

Poor housing, food insecurity, exposure to toxins and discrimination deeply impact the lives of people living in different communities. The nation’s leading health care organizations, like the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association, are making health equity a priority with a deeper sense of urgency, and they are recognizing that systemic racism remains entrenched in every element of the care continuum. Only comprehensive reforms and individual provider commitment to inclusion will reduce health inequities made all the more clear during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What can you do to advance health equity? Plenty.

If your practice is near low-income communities, diverse neighborhoods or if you have relationships with community clinics serving those communities, you have an opportunity and a responsibility to look carefully at how your practice is seen or experienced by members of these communities.

When someone walks into your offices, does it reflect a respect for diversity? Does your clinic have signage in multiple languages that are inviting and welcoming? Are your receptionists trained to interact effectively with non-English-dominant clients? One step you can take is to partner with health clinics and get feedback on how your clinic is viewed or experienced by diverse patients.

For example, make the referral process as easy on the patient as possible and be willing to have intake forms in multiple languages. Train your receptionist to use an online interpreter service if there is a concern for language barriers.

Another factor to consider is how you engage diverse clients and what outreach or marketing strategies you use to attract new clients. The majority of clients for massage therapy are white. Clearly there are benefits for massage therapy regardless of race or ethnicity—but for some communities of color, massage therapy may be viewed as a luxury. As you think about the clients you see today, look at how you might customize your approach.

For example, do you offer any hours on the weekend to accommodate those who cannot leave their work for treatment during the workday? Do you have payment plans to spread out fees to make the services affordable? Do you promote awareness about the benefits of massage as a way to manage stress and as a way to address physically demanding work?

There may also be a lack of knowledge about the benefits of massage or cultural values that impact the people you see. Muscle pain and discomfort or recovery from physical trauma may be viewed as something that cannot be eased, as something to accept or endure as part of life. (In the Latino community, this acceptance of life’s fate or fatalismo has been a factor in a number of treatments for chronic disease.)

These beliefs and cultural values can influence the degree to which individuals may not only seek care but whether they persist with treatment. Training in culturally competent care is an important professional development opportunity for massage therapists to seek out in the service of diverse patients.

Lack of staff diversity in health care is another factor that limits accessibility for diverse patients. Patients have more confidence in their health care team when they see others who are just like them. Approximately 65% of massage therapists are white (non-Hispanic) and the U.S. Department of Labor projects a higher-than-average growth in this profession.

If you have the capacity to add staff to your clinic, include diverse candidates in every search for new employees. Participate in regional programs at community colleges or certificate programs designed to increase the pipeline for diversity in the profession. Be willing to mentor those in training who may be from diverse communities; your guidance can make a difference in their completing the program.

The hard work of reducing systemic bias in the massage profession requires a strong personal commitment to mitigate unconscious bias that all human beings have. We are wired to think in us-versus-them dichotomies. Depending on where you were raised, you have been exposed to a myriad of stereotypes or beliefs about different ethnicities, gender, LGBTQIA and race.

Take a moment to read recommended books on addressing racism, or form a book club on this topic that involves diverse individuals that you will listen to as they speak about their experiences. Be mindful of the impact of bias in your interaction with others and commit to speak up and say something in the face of bias and bigotry.

The work ahead for health care, in both major settings and small practices, is a marathon, not a sprint. Make the commitment to work on one element of your practice now and keep building on your efforts. It’s the right thing to do—and the smart thing to do—as you work to secure the future of your practice.

Maria G. Hernandez, PhD
Maria G. Hernandez, PhD

Maria G. Hernandez, PhD, is the president and COO of Impact4Health LLC, a consulting firm to health care organizations dedicated to health equity. Impact4Health is a subsidiary of InclusionINC, founded in 2001 as a woman-owned business.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion — Glossary of Terms

1. Diversity – psychological, physical, and social differences that occur among any and all individuals; including but not limited to race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, age, gender, sexual orientation, mental or physical ability, and learning styles.

2. Ableism – discrimination against persons with mental and/or physical disabilities; social structures that favor able-bodied individuals.

3. Ageism – discrimination against individuals because of their age, often based on stereotypes.

4. Ally – a person who takes action against oppression out of a belief that eliminating oppression will benefit members of targeted groups and advantage groups.

5. Cultural pluralism – recognition of the contribution of each group to a common civilization. It encourages the maintenance and development of different lifestyles, languages and convictions. It strives to create the conditions of harmony and respect within a culturally diverse society.5

6. Implicit bias – we have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people. Thus, we use the term “implicit bias” to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. (Test your implicit bias here: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit)

7. Inclusion – the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate.

8. Microaggressions – a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.

9. Non-binary – term for people who do not subscribe to the gender binary. They might exist between or beyond the man-woman binary. Some use the term exclusively, while others may use it interchangeably with terms like genderqueer (see Genderqueer), genderfluid (see Genderfluid), gender nonconforming (see Gender Nonconforming), gender diverse, or gender expansive.

10. Personal gender pronoun – A gender neutral or gender inclusive pronoun is a pronoun which does not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed.

11. Privilege – power and advantages benefiting a group derived from the historical oppression and exploitation of other groups.

12. Racial equity – the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer influenced how one fares. Racial equity is one part of racial justice and must be addressed at the root causes and not just the manifestations. This includes the elimination of policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or fail to eliminate them.

13. Racism – a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

14. Social Justice – a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.

15. Unconscious bias – the subliminal tendency to favor certain people or groups of people based upon learned stereotypes. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

Sources

1. Step Up For Equity – stepupforequity.com

2 Meaning Thru Movement – meaningthrumovement.com

3 World Health Organization – who.int

4. Team Harmony Foundation – teamharmonyfoundation.org

5. Educate Not Indoctrinate – educatenotindoctrinate.org

6. Perception Institute – perception.org

7 UC Berkeley Initiative for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity – diversity.berkeley.edu

8. Human Rights Campaign – hrc.org

9. PFLAG – pflag.org

10. LGBTQ+ Resource Center, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee – uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support

11. University of Maryland – diversity.umd.edu

12. Center for Assessment and Policy Development – capd.org

13.Merriam-Webster – merriam-webster.com

14 The Social Justice Training Institute – sjti.org

15. UCSF, Office of Diversity & Outreach

Promoting Self-Care in My Hispanic Community

As a Mexican American, I observed the adults around me work very hard. At the same time, I learned by observation that relaxation was something you only did once all of your tasks/chores were completed. In our household, relaxation meant sleeping for six to eight hours at night. What I did not see then was an adult incorporating self-care routines like massage to enhance good health.

My grandmother learned skills from her mother and grandmother to improve ailments. For example, if a baby had an upset tummy, my grandmother would rub warm olive oil on a baby’s abdomen. There was also the practice of sprinkling baby powder on a child’s back, then using a dry cloth to gently lift the skin, which was believed to help with dehydration. There were other rituals that bear a close resemblance to what we know as massage therapy, cupping or energy work. So, if my family already practiced these rituals, why did they not incorporate self-care regimens into their busy schedules? I believe the answer lies in education and perception.

Since I began my massage therapy journey in 2015, I have tried to help others make the association between self-care and the practices they or their families utilize, like the ones I have mentioned that my own family used. This led me to wonder why these practices were not used to maintain good health on a regular basis.

The definition of diversify means to make or become more diverse or varied. The basics of self-care routines like massage therapy have long been practiced throughout the world for ages. Where we need to diversify, I believe, is our perception of self-care as a whole.

As a licensed massage therapist, I challenged myself to learn about the reasons people shied away from self-care. I started with my own family and then started talking to many others. I identified the common beliefs and practices, much like what my own family practiced, and then found the association to self-care. I created informational resources and shared every chance I could.

Maybe if we all did the same, we might find that one flyer or one social media post or one hands-on demonstration will change the general perception about self-care.

Lisa Martinez, LMT
Lisa Martinez, LMT

Lisa Martinez, LMT, is a Houston, Texas-based massage therapist. Read her article, “The Evolving Acceptance of Massage in Mexican-American Culture.”

5 Ways Massage Therapists and Integrative Practitioners Can Support Diverse Communities

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic exposed systemic biases in health care that have existed for centuries and brought them to the forefront of our public health system. Racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and are at a higher risk of contracting and dying from the disease. But racial inequality in health care does not start or end with COVID-19; systemic biases in generational wealth accumulation, education, employment, housing and other social barriers have all created poorer health outcomes among communities of color.

Racial minority groups are less likely to utilize complementary and integrative health care (CIH), encompassing massage therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, compared with non-Hispanic whites. In the study, “Racial/Ethnic Differences in the Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in US Adults with Moderate Mental Distress,” published in the Journal of Primary Care Community Health (2017), the authors noted, “In the patterns of CAM use among US adults, existing literature shows that racial/ethnic differences exist in CAM use.For example, non-Hispanic whites used at least 1 CAM therapy the most, followed by Asians, African/black Americans, and Hispanics. Some patterns for specific racial/ethnic groups are also known. For instance, one study reported that Hispanics were more likely to use CAM when they could not afford or have limited access to conventional medicine.

Massage therapists and integrative practitioners are aiming to provide a full range of health care options for every person in every community, but a lot of work must be done. Organizations are actively working to address issues of equity, systematic racism and unconscious bias in the field.

For example, the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education recently launched its Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Task Force to help create better representation in massage therapy education and leadership. Similarly, our team at Northwestern Health Sciences University delved into the effects of biases in health care, particularly within massage therapy and the CIH community, and defined key ways to support diverse communities:

1. Build trust. A foundational step is building trust with diverse communities. The American health care system has a long history fraught with distrust and manipulation of minority patients. As practitioners, we must listen and fully understand our patients’ concerns and take them at face value. Before beginning the massage, be mindful of one’s own biases that may slip into the therapeutic relationship and work to see goals and beliefs through the client’s eyes.

2. Elevate professionals of color. Academic institutions, private practices and professional associations should reflect their community and work to create a diverse organization. We must focus on delivering care and elevate professionals of color. This may include participating in learning opportunities and partnering with other organizations with the shared goal of social justice. By doing so, organizations may explore reviewing their history of diversity, equity and inclusion and potential instances where they have implicit biases.

Although this may prove a difficult step, recognizing history and working to create a more equal and just future is crucial. This is not just an exercise in equality. By bringing more diversity to the table, we bring the unique assets and points of view to bear on seeing issues more fully and solving problems more creatively.

3. Increase diversity in the workforce. The massage therapy practitioner community lacks diversity; only 8% of massage therapists are Black professionals, compared with 64% of practitioners being white. To increase diversity in the workforce, we must actively recruit members from communities of color to get involved and pursue careers in the profession. This helps create a more inclusive environment. It has been reported that when a Black client has a practitioner they can relate to in this way, the client immediately feels more comfortable, which ultimately leads to better outcomes.

4. Create an inclusive educational environment. Lastly, and potentially the most important, is the educational aspect, which is twofold. Educational institutions must build a welcoming and supportive environment to encourage Black and other students of color to seek professions in the massage therapy field. Curricula on disease management should reflect the Black experience, including the impact in learning materials and case studies, and explaining how massage therapy can enhance the health care experience.

By creating a more inclusive education system, we can garner the interest of more diverse physicians and as a result support a more diverse community. One concrete example of creating a more diverse and equitable learning environment is to use texts that include many colors of skin for learning about the body and physiological effects of touch, such as skin flushing and blanching.

5. Provide broader education on the benefits of massage therapy. Such benefits include reducing stress, providing headache relief, reducing muscle tension and so much more, in order to help diverse communities feel comfortable seeking this approach to health care.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 75.5% of Black men and 75.7% of Black women develop hypertension by the age of 55. Massage therapy provides many benefits to those with hypertension, as it is uniquely designed to reduce stress and thereby potentially impact cardiovascular health. As we broaden our education in and on the field, we can better support every community.

Massage therapists should provide a full menu of care to every client. It is our goal to support the health and well-being of everyone. When we focus and support each patient and put more effort into reaching diverse communities and elevating leaders, then we will be one step closer to helping every community member.

Michele Renee, DC, MAc
Michele Renee, DC, MAc

Michele Renee, DC, MAc, is director of integrative care at Northwestern Health Sciences University, on whose behalf she wrote this essay; and president of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education.

Help Make the World Healthier for LGBTQ People

As massage therapists, much of our job requires us to be attentive to the needs of our clients, enter into our sessions free from judgement, and create a healing space for people to be authentically themselves.

If we’re truly paying attention to what’s happening outside those massage room doors, though, we see that equality and justice are not guaranteed for the LGBTQ community, that many are still being judged based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that far too many are simply not able to live openly.

As massage therapists, we can and should strive to create a safer and healthier world for our LGBTQ clients, even after their appointment is over. After all: How many times have you offered “homework” to a client to help them benefit from their massage as long as possible? Now imagine if that client didn’t have to walk out your doors into a hostile world, but was fully embraced as the beautiful human they are.

Can you say “stress relief?”

Whether you are a solo massage practitioner or an employee in a large, corporate spa, all of us can do something to make a healthier and safer world—for everyone—possible:

• Include a space for clients to specify their pronouns on your intake forms. Don’t assume someone’s pronouns and make a habit of introducing yourself with your pronouns as well. Document your clients’ pronouns so your colleagues know how best to address them, too. Wearing a pin or button with your pronouns on it is another way to signal your allyship, while also normalizing pronoun introductions.

• Consider changing your signs on single-stall bathrooms. Do you really need one for men and one for women if there’s just one toilet in there? Some places go a step further and remove the men and women signs altogether, and instead install one sign that says urinals and one that says toilets. After all, people don’t need their gender to pee—they just need the right plumbing.

• If you work for a company that includes health insurance, advocate for your transgender colleagues so they are equally covered. If cisgender (that is “not-transgender”) employees have access to hormone therapy for conditions like menopause or hypogonadism, then transgender people should also have access to these medically prescribed treatments as well. Anything less is discrimination, plain and simple.

• Start (or join) an employee resource group at your company. ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups and are found in over 90% of Fortune 500 companies because they bring marginalized voices to the forefront, highlight the diversity of the team, help companies identify ways they can better reach specific demographics among their employees and customers, and foster a more inclusive workplace. If your company doesn’t have an employee resource group yet, approach your human resources department and find a way to create one at your office or spa.

• As an individual/or as a business owner, make sure you regularly call your elected officials to voice your opposition to bills that discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and support bills that further equality. Remember: They work for you, not the other way around—so let them know what you think. Whether you work for a large or small business, encourage the owner to write press releases that push back against anti-LGBTQ legislation. After all, if legislators won’t listen to their constituents, they almost always listen to money.

• Make sure your business isn’t donating to organizations or politicians that promote inequality. If they are, challenge them to discontinue that harmful practice, and put their money behind causes that foster equality instead.

Incorporating these acts into your daily practice doesn’t require you to hyper-politicize your massage studio, and with the exception of maybe some new bathroom signs and charitable giving to pro-equality advocacy groups, doesn’t even require a lot of money to do.

Amber Briggle
Amber Briggle

Amber Briggle (she/hers) is a massage therapist and the owner of Soma Massage Therapy in Denton, Texas. She is also the mother of two, including a transgender child. Briggle volunteers with the Human Rights Campaign and with the League of Women Voters of Texas. Read her article, “LGBTQ People Need Massage Too: 4 Ways to Welcome a Diverse Clientele.”

We Want to Feel Welcome and Like We Have a Place in the Spa World

In the last 12 months, racial equality has risen to the top of headlines all across the world. In fact, diversity in the spa community is at an all-time high—yet minority spa professionals are always complaining about education and events geared toward us.

It is our job to bring awareness and solutions to minority spa professionals. I have witnessed clients not wanting to be serviced by Black spa professionals when I worked at a very popular massage franchise.

The spa magazines, tradeshows, schools and boards need to seek more minority professionals. Throughout the years, Blacks have not been represented in major spa publications. There is a lack in minority educators at most spa shows, and there are very few minority educators who get stage presence during big tradeshows. This weekend while attending the largest spa show in the country there were only two black exhibitors.

Solutions to this huge diversity gap includes more communication in minority communities. I speak at schools all over the country to lead by example. I often hear “It feels good to see someone who looks like me.”

Education leadership is the biggest diversity gap in spa professionals. Product development would be second place. All products are not created equal. Many products are not designed with melanin skin in mind.

To help close the diversity gap, I created the only Black Spa expo in the world in 2017. The one-of-a-kind event is designed to educate on specific treatments and protocol. We host weekly educational meetings to make sure minority spa professionals are staying on track to operate a successful spa. Everything is covered from marketing to creating your own product line.

We want to feel welcomed and like we have a place in the spa world.

Candace Holyfield
Candace Holyfield

Candace Holyfield is a spa expert extraordinaire who currently owns Six Figure Spa Chick, a marketing firm for spa/beauty professionals. Her achievements as the creator of the first Black Spa Awards, author of the first Black Spa magazine, and motivational speaker has inspired other business owners to develop more wealth.

Create a Culturally Friendly Environment

First impressions are lasting ones. We’ve all most likely had experiences in life where a redo would be our saving grace. As a massage therapist who has worked with clients from multiple countries, various venues and environments, one goal I have is to be respectful of cultural differences in the treatments and services I provide.

Culture is not always something as obvious as the color of someone’s skin or a foreign language that is spoken, but sometimes as subtle as what a person’s beliefs are concerning massage itself. As massage professionals we get to do something that even medical doctors these days cannot do, or better said, do not have time to do: We get to talk to and get to know our clients for more than a quick 15 minutes in and out of the appointment time slot.

Having what the health care field may consider a luxury of building a relationship with the individual leaves so much room for us to grow in how we adapt multiculturalism into our work environments.

During the consultation or intake of a client, I not only ask about the health-related issues they have, but I interview them to find out what they know about massage and what cultural common ground we have and truly listen to their responses, which helps to relax the atmosphere. For example, aside from asking them about what they know about massage, I ask them if there are any concerns about how treatment will be administered, areas of the body that are OK or not OK to massage and explain the benefits of the techniques I will be using. These questions address the culture of massage and give them a chance to reveal if they have individual or cultural limitations so I can avoid uncomfortable situations and build trust between myself and the client.

A culturally friendly environment gives what we do new depths, and that is something that marketing can’t compete with but should rather align with.

Jeanette Falu-Bishop owns Massage Business Education & Branding LLC, through which she teaches how to start or improve an already-established massage business through pre-recorded online courses, live trainings and business conferences. Read her article, “Make 2021 the Year of Self-Care: 7 Ways to Set Boundaries, Self-Connect & Succeed.”

We Can’t Afford to Overlook Any Demographic

Twenty years ago, massage therapists were considered day-makers. Today we are life-enhancers, and that opportunity should be extended to everyone, not just a select few. Creating a conversation around the healing power of massage, inclusive of all populations, truly gives therapists the opportunity to heal the world, which is why many of us became massage therapists.

After the events of 2020, the words diversity and inclusion are on the tongues of employees, employers and clients alike. One recent study revealed that many of the organizations that committed to funding and incorporating diversity fell short of their promises.

Diversity is defined as understanding that each individual is unique and recognizing individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies.

Diversity in the workplace takes the concept further and refers to an organization that intentionally employs a workforce composed of individuals of varying gender, religion, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education and other attributes.

In addition to the application of diversity is the idea of inclusion. The Society of Human Resource Management defines inclusion as “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”

Diversity and inclusion are both important, especially in the spa world. Research has shown that diverse companies are considered to be more valuable, as there’s a mix of perspectives and more insight.

In fact, “Studies show that diversity at any organizational level boosts revenue, increases productivity, and improves innovation,” according to the study “Diversity confirmed to boost innovation and financial results,” published in Forbes Magazine. Diversity is also noted to improve employee performance and, looking at ROI, increase profits, as noted in “What are the Advantages of a Diverse Workforce?”, published in Small Business.

Any companies whose employees lack diversity struggle to attract and retain quality candidates, and this is true for massage and spa locations. Consumers are voting with their dollars and want to see a diverse team at the front line as well as in the boardroom. Those organizations unable to adapt and incorporate individuals with varying backgrounds and experiences will have to issue apologies and explanations.

The demographics that would benefit the most from massage are those who have been disenfranchised and overlooked by many spa and wellness brands. The best steps to take to change the current situation are to hire and promote a diverse workforce, giving them a seat and vote at the decision-making table. This simple and profit-increasing action changes the conversation and will expand the services, products and experiences to include those often overlooked and excluded. 

According to Nielsen, African American women spend $1.1 billion in the spa, beauty and wellness industry, which is nine times more than any other group; yet, African American women are still dying at a higher rate of preventable diseases than other demographics. It seems we perish for a lack of knowledge regarding benefits of wellness and self-care. Studies on the healing effects of massage for conditions such as chronic stress, high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension have been published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals, yet massage and wellness organizations have neglected the highest-spending population who perhaps need these services the most.

Even those in the industry are not exempt from a lack of diversity in services and products offered. Nicola Finley, MD, who practices integrative medicine at Canyon Ranch, noted having to bring her own shampoo and conditioner to the spa to meet her specific needs as an African American woman.

Finley, in her conversation with the Global Wellness Institute in 2020, shone a very bright light on why diversity and inclusion are so important: If you don’t have voices from all aspects at the table or in the room you won’t ensure all guests’ needs are met, and even certain clients will continue to be excluded from the experience. This results in consumers taking their dollars to locations that have planned to accommodate the needs of a varying clientele. In some cases, those overlooked are starting their own location and brands. (Consider the launch of Fenty, by Rihanna, to offer an extensive shade of foundations to ensure the needs of those neglected by traditional makeup lines were met. The company is now worth $3 billion, according to Forbes.)

These trends will continue, and the industry will have to evolve or lose its top spender.

This issue is bigger than black and white. It’s inclusive of age, gender, nationality, religion, education, sexual orientation, ability and socioeconomic status. When we close off, ignore or disregard certain populations, what message are we sending as caregivers and healers? To be in integrity, we must do what’s right even when no one is looking. This is at the heart of what we do as therapists—or should be.

Sherrie Tennessee
Sherrie Tennessee

Sherrie Tennessee is principal educator for The SPASOS, program director of the Hospital and Tourism Management Program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, former director of spa and wellness at Mandarin Oriental Group, and former education manager at Sandals Resorts.


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