Must-do strategies: Lean in on benefits strategy to support DEI goals 

March 09, 2023

The proof is in the numbers. Positions dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) have quadrupled in the past five years in the United States. A Mercer survey of more than 4,000 US workers found a strong majority (71%) saying that it is very important to them that their employer supports diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) – hiring, promoting and supporting a diverse workforce – in both their words and actions. So it’s not surprising that a study by McKinsey found employees are 47% more likely to stay with an organization that’s inclusive, and 39% of job seekers are more likely to turn down a job opportunity if they perceive a lack of inclusion.

One of the most important ways that employers support employees is through benefits, so it’s critical to scrutinize your benefit program through a DEI lens. In this post, I’ll focus on a few ways you can steer your employee benefits program towards greater inclusivity and health equity. Make a point of learning where your vendor partners are on their DEI journey; evaluate their capabilities, strengths, and gaps.

Diversity. A good place to start is by looking at your data on your population. If you do not have comprehensive data in house, check with your vendor partners to see how they can support your current state analysis to identify opportunities. Look for differences in health status, healthcare utilization and health outcomes across racial, ethnic and gender groups. Is use of preventive care and primary care consistent across the categories? Take a look at maternity claims and cancer claims to see if you find variations in the use of services or in outcomes. The findings may be a little overwhelming. You don’t have to tackle everything all at once – pick one or two places to get started on closing gaps. 

Equity. Employers are increasingly focusing on – and taking action to address – health disparities related to inequitable access to care. Embedding health equity as a part of an overarching DEI strategy is imperative in improving health outcomes for all employees. Examples include programs to address social determinants of health, developing action plans with vendors, pushing for more diverse provider networks and expanding virtual care access. Provider directories can play a surprisingly important role in advancing health equity by including demographic information such as race, ethnicity, language, and gender of providers. Be open to looking beyond traditional providers. Some progressive employers cover the services of doulas to improve support and outcomes for maternity care for black mothers.

Inclusion. Review your benefit design and communications to identify opportunities to provide more inclusive coverage and benefits that are relevant – and accessible – to all employees. For example: Is care affordable for all? Can employees get time off to seek care during business hours? In providing information about benefits programs, have you considered language barriers, and accommodating those with visual and/or hearing impairments? Do your benefits support gender affirmation, modern family issues and family-forming for everyone?

Looking to the future, what is DEI nirvana? In an interview with Shai Poulard, Nerdwallet's head of global DEI, she said that she hopes her position won't exist in 10 years – as a sign that companies have fully embraced diversity and inclusion. In the meantime, we have some work to do.