One of the most critical responsibilities of any human resources leader is fostering a culture of inclusivity. Creating an organization where all employees from all backgrounds can bring their full selves to work helps each person perform in their role and contribute to the dynamism of the broader workplace.
Being inclusive has always been essential to organizational success. Research summarized in the December 2013 Harvard Business Review demonstrated how diversity drives innovation within organizations. Later, the 2018 Delivering Through Diversity report published by McKinsey & Company documented how companies with the greatest gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were also the most profitable.
Now, millennial and Gen Z job seekers select employers based on how diverse and inclusive their teams will be. As explained in a Feb. 18, 2021, Washington Post article,
A September  survey from Glassdoor, 76 percent of employees and job seekers said a diverse workforce was important when evaluating companies and job offers. Nearly half of Black and Hispanic employees and job seekers said they had quit a job after witnessing or experiencing discrimination at work. And 37 percent of employees and job seekers said they wouldn’t apply to a company that had negative satisfaction ratings among people of color.
In the public sector, ensuring an agency’s workforce reflects the community it serves is critical to making connections and establishing trust. Regardless of industry or sector, to work on diversity and inclusion is to work directly on organizational success.
HR leaders will find many tools in the D&I arsenal, but none may produce greater result than offering equitable and inclusive benefits. The reason is simple: Offering benefits employees need and will use makes them feel seen, heard, secure and cared for by an employer that appears likely to provide a long and satisfying career.
Support for Families Is Lacking in General
Benefit programs are full of holes, many of which result from plan administrators’ blind spots. Employees who only think about their benefits in moments of need suffer the most in this situation. They either go without care or take on medical debt when they discover what their health plan does not cover. They also end up feeling confused or abandoned when what had looked like all-encompassing support turned out to be exclusionary. Health plan documents appear to assure coverage for everyone but the person who is actually enrolled.
Looking for Resources on Fostering DEI at Your Agency?
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This experience is particularly common for working parents and for those pursuing parenthood, which is a larger group of employees than ever before. In 2019, the Family Equality Council shared survey results showing 63 percent of LGBTQ individuals in the U.S. workforce who were then 18-35 years old were considering growing their families. Those workers will lack some forms of family-building benefits at organizations that offer only health plans which require a medical diagnosis of infertility to access coverage for fertility treatments. Of course, this assumes an employer offers fertility coverage in the first place.
Adoption and surrogacy journeys are often considered outside the realm of health insurance entirely. And for those who are fortunate enough to become parents, support from work usually consists entirely of parental leave and nothing else.
Meet Parents’ Needs or Expect Them to Leave
It is no wonder that millions of people are today reconsidering their relationship with their jobs. Many factors combine to drive the so-called Great Resignation, but a determination that their employer really does not care about them is clearly at the root of many decisions to quit and find a new job. In other words, workers want to feel seen, heard and respected as individuals. They will go to employers that do those things.
Organizations will show they are listening to employees in different ways, but every employer should follow three principles when looking to design truly inclusive benefits for working parents.
Put Yourself in Parents’ Shoes
Parents who work have been conditioned to expect very little. Three realities feed this low expectation.
First, even paid parental leave is relatively novel. Parental leave parity, where both parents regardless of sex can take extended time off to welcome a new child, remains almost unheard of. This is despite the fact that an ever-growing body of research shows employees are more likely to stay with and produce more for organizations that grant paid parental leave to men and women. Summaries of relevant findings appear in a McKinsey report titled “A Fresh Look at Parental Leave: Why the Benefits Extend Beyond the Personal” and a Harvard Business Review article titled “Maternity Leave Isn’t Enough to Retain New Moms.”
New parents are particularly underserved by employer-sponsored benefits during the postpartum period. This may be because leave is thought to be a panacea. But, in fact, more than half of maternal deaths occur during the postpartum period. Postpartum depression can continue for more than a year after birth. Maternal leave definitely is not enough.
A second set of disappointments and frustrations hit close to home for me as an adoptive parent. Individuals and couples are often left on their own to pursue parenthood without interventions, through fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization, or via adoption. Each of those experiences presents unique challenges and stresses, particularly for first-time parents.
Third, loss is very much part of the experience of becoming a parent. As many as 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriages. Traditional health care leaves many expectant parents who lose a pregnancy isolated in their grief. Poor follow-up care for women who experience a miscarriage has always been a problem, as well, especially for women of color and for those with low incomes.
The health care landscape is notoriously complicated. Employers know this, but they still give individual employees little support and guidance on choosing plan options, finding the right providers and understanding how to pay for care. This situation persists even after more than one study has shown how economists who specialize in analyzing health care markets consistently fail to make the best theoretical choices between PPO and HMO plans. No one should wonder, then, when an employee encounters barriers to accessing culturally sensitive and gender-affirming care, especially when they live outside of large urban centers.
What this all speaks to is how critical having a health care advocate is. Making such services available through an employee assistance program can make sense, but most EAPs are underutilized. This is in part due to EAPs being modeled on outdated understandings of how consumers behave. Limited offerings also keep employees away. But the idea of ensuring each employer can partner with a health care advocate is a good one.
Online and virtual consultations via video calls and smartphone apps have made personal care advocacy more available, and employers would be wise to make these tools readily accessible to employees. Patients who are fully informed about their options in language they can understand will be more likely to seek appropriate care and maintain beneficial relationships with care providers—which will keep employees happier and on the job.
Updating employees on benefit plans once a year ahead of open enrollment will not suffice. A single email or pamphlet does not meet the employer’s obligation to clearly communicate new offerings and plan changes.
Never miss an opportunity to share relevant, actionable health information. Tap into employee resource groups and other networks to ensure that employees know which services they can access and understand how those service might be beneficial for them. Be sure to make messages inclusive.
Now, more than ever, it is clear that employers and health plans have to do away with old notions of what is good enough for working parents and parents-to-be. Employees deserve more.
Eighteen months into the pandemic, HR leaders, perhaps more than anyone else in their organizations, are tasked with understanding where employees are today—what they have endured just in order to continue to deliver at work—and what kind of workplace they might wish to experience when we eventually, collectively, get to the other side of all this. Recognizing this means recognizing the work of building an inclusive organization and offering inclusive benefits is never finished.
Each person’s sense of feeling included depends on context. The context of being employed and operating within a workplace includes employee benefits, HR leaders can establish trust with employees and position their organizations for long-term success by seeing, hearing and respecting the needs of working parents and other employees who want to start families.
01 September 2021
HR News Article