Benefits thought leader Jen Benz opened her mega-session at the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference this week with a question: How many of you feel that most companies have followed through on the diversity, equity and inclusion promises they made in 2020 after the racial reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd?
It was no surprise that just a few hands in the room of 100-plus attendees went up, setting the stage for a much-needed discussion about the practices that are working for companies, in the session titled “Next Steps: How Benefits Can Address Racial Equity.”
Andrea Trudelle, director of benefits and leaves for Tailored Brands, described why one of the most important things for employers looking to make a difference on equity with their benefits is their mindset.
“Employers need to be radical in their inclusiveness,” she said, meaning don’t design your benefits from the traditional viewpoint of who’s eligible. “I think we should look at it from the lens of who are we leaving out? And why are we leaving them out? If you’re going to exclude someone, exclude them intentionally. Don’t do it by mistake.”
She gave an example of fertility, childcare, even eldercare benefits. Not everyone will use those, but many employers offer them for the majority. But why not also offer transgender benefits, even if just one person wants them? “Put it in for one person because it’s not going to cost you that much,” she says. “But that one employee, he will forever praise your name and sing your song.”
Jessica Brooks, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health, suggested three ways to work on a benefits plan for equity.
- Have a conversation with “every single one of your vendors,” she says. Make sure they are focused on equity. Talk to your health plan, your diabetes vendor, your financial wellness vendor and others. Ask exactly what they’re doing on this topic. “What is your roadmap to equity? How do you define equity? And ensure they include race, because oftentimes, we try to hide behind diversity, to escape the fact that racism exists.”
- Put your data to use. Despite the concerns around using race data, she suggests that it’s crucial to use that information to design benefits that truly make a difference. One example is mammograms. “Black women, for example, are less likely to get breast cancer than a white person but two and a half more times likely to die from it,” she says. That’s a spot where employers can use their benefits program to ensure mammograms are provided to help with breast cancer, providing access to earlier mammograms, for example.
- Look beyond your population to include their families. Employers collect data on employees but also provide benefits to many others through their families. And those people might have different goals than employees.
Ray Goldberg, founder of Pier Forward, emphasized the importance of recognizing what’s happening among different employee populations in regard to disease rates. Data is important but, for many organizations, work might need to start even before adjusting benefits plans.
“These discrepancies are literally killing people,” the former vice president of global benefits strategy for Marsh & McLellan said. “Part of this starts with just talking about these statistics. They’re uncomfortable.”