On the DEI Journey, Health Equity Must Be a Goal

A sharpened focus on racial and social justice is leading employers to think beyond traditional diversity initiatives. Certainly, recruiting a diverse workforce is a critical first step, but if company policies and culture do not foster an inclusive workplace, members who don’t feel included will not stay. Incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) throughout the employee lifecycle is critical to attract and retain a diverse workforce. Employers are acknowledging that their DEI efforts need to be amplified through policies and programs – and that includes benefits that support organizational DEI strategies.

Within the benefits program, perhaps the most urgent issue is that of health disparities: differences in population health outcomes that result primarily from social and political injustice (and not from lifestyles, behaviors, or genes). During the pandemic, we’ve seen that death rates for Black and Hispanic individuals due to COVID-19 are much higher than for white individuals – shocking statistics that have been a wake-up call for many employers. But once you recognize that you’ve been part of the problem, you can take action to become part of the solution. 

For those just beginning the journey, where to start? First, get the data you need to support change. This requires incorporating member demographics such as race and ethnicity into your data warehouse, in addition to gender and age, which likely are already present. Evaluate your population holistically and then focus on sub-populations to identify health disparities. This can guide you to specific interventions to improve health equity, such as providing education and resources. Listening sessions with employee groups are equally important to help identify gaps and opportunities for improvement.

Employer actions. Take stock of the resources you have – and identify those you need – that can help you learn how to improve benefits for marginalized populations and whether benefits decisions align with organizational DEI strategy:

  • Listen to employees through your employee resource groups, business resource groups, and/or diversity councils to understand their needs and priorities.
  • Employ a health equity lens when making decisions on policy and operational topics.
  • Communicate intentionally with targeted messaging, especially for marginalized populations (and ensure communications are accessible for employees with vision and/or hearing loss).

Benefit vendor actions. Leverage resources in your health plan, disability plan, employee assistance program (EAP), digital point solutions, and other vendors in your benefit ecosystem. Incorporate them into your DEI and benefits strategies by:

  • Conducting DEI benefit vendor assessments to identify strengths and opportunities.
  • Requesting all health plans to display information about provider demographics in the provider directory, such as race, ethnicity, gender, etc. 
  • Receiving reports on health disparities and updates on health plan strategies and outcomes in achieving health equity.
  • Evaluating your EAP’s educational modules and other resources on topics relevant to marginalized populations, such as surviving racial discrimination and hate crimes; navigating through the coming out and transitioning process for transgender employees; and coping with a new diagnosis of chronic illness.

Community actions. Understand how your organization fits into your community and leverage opportunities to accelerate DEI in the community:

  • Collaborate with other employers committed to addressing health disparities and health equity.
  • Join in multi-stakeholder initiatives (including groups representing patients, plans, providers, and policymakers) to develop and implement strategies to improve health equity.
  • Partner with healthcare systems and providers who serve marginalized communities to determine how best to support them.

While these steps can help you get started, DEI is a continuous journey. To learn more, check out this recent webinar Identifying Health Disparities, Striving for Health Equity and our white paper on inclusive benefits.

Michael Garrett
by Michael Garrett

Principal, Total Health Management, Mercer

Tabit Xthona
by Tabit Xthona

Senior Consulting Analyst, Mercer Health & Benefits

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