| Apr 28 2021

PEOs Can Help Their Worksite Employers Take DEI from Ideal to Real

Michael Bux
PEO Practice Leader
Jennifer Cordes
Association Solution Leader

The past year has brought rising awareness of the many inequities and disparities in our healthcare system, as well as calls for American businesses to step up inclusivity and social responsibility efforts. Because more than 55 percent of the US population—180 million people—gets health insurance coverage through their employers,[1] American businesses are the gateway to healthcare for the majority of the country’s households and families. It is essential that their benefits programs reflect the values we all are trying to uphold: diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

But supporting all employee cohorts, including those based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, and veteran status, through benefits provision is not enough. Many companies set out with the best of intentions yet tend to fall short. Often, this is because organizations are reactionary rather than proactive when it comes to their DEI strategy. Mercer’s Let’s Get Real about Equality 2020 research shows that while 81 percent of US employers say they are focused on improving DEI, only 38 percent of employers have a multi-year DEI strategy.[2]



It is essential that Professional Employer Organizations and their members recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach no longer works, and that there are many aspects of DEI that go much deeper. Getting to that depth requires bridging the “say/do” gap with a multi-faceted benefits strategy for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Saying something while doing nothing is no longer an option.

While many benefits may appear equal, there can be unintended inequality as a result of benefits strategy decisions. Inclusive benefits are integral to an organization’s broader DEI strategy; some examples of such benefits include all gender care, mental health, LGBTQ+, inclusive family planning, all families care, parental leave, ethnic focused care, and social determinants of health.

Here's how PEOs can help their worksite employers take DEI from ideal to real:

  1. Identify employee needs through data analytics and active listening.
  2. Implement benefits that support diverse personal needs, with a focus on underrepresented groups. Black employees participate in retirement plans 21 percent less than White employees; Hispanic employees participate 40 percent less than White employees, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute.[3] Ensure that your health plan offers access to diverse providers and that provider directories include information about providers’ race, ethnicity, and languages spoken.
  3. Adjust benefits communication materials to be more inclusive and diverse.
  4. Conduct a thorough review of the DEI philosophy, strategy, and execution for each vendor/carrier partner.

Things may never be quite the same as they were pre-Covid. In some ways, the pandemic has pushed corporate America into exciting new directions from a benefits standpoint. The new norm is not just renewing health, dental, vision, life, and disability with your current carriers, but also to push them in new directions, to add to your offerings, and to create a benefit experience that meets the needs of all the diverse populations you serve.


[1] Keisler-Starkey K, Bunch LN. Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2019. United States Census Bureau, 2020. Available from: https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2020/demo/p60-271.html.

[2] Mercer. (2020). “Let’s Get Real About Equality”. Available at https://www.mercer.us/our-thinking/next-generation-global-research-when-women-thrive-2020.html.

[3] Copeland, C. (January 2020). “Retirement Plan Participation and the Current Population Survey: The Impact of New Income Questions on These Estimates.” EBRI, Issue Brief 499, p. 14. Available at https://www.ebri.org/crawler/view/retirement-plan-participation-and-the-current-population-survey-the-impact-of-new-income-questions-on-these-estimates.

More Mercer posts

Show More
Show Less

Subscribe to receive insights straight to your inbox

Insights in Your Inbox

Register for Mercer US Health News to receive weekly e-mail updates.

*Required Fields