How Employee Benefits Can Support Racial Equity

Organizations are digging deep and looking carefully at their policies, practices, and behaviors to see how they align with their commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Among those are pay practices, recruiting and hiring, training, and individual development. And some organizations may be missing an important opportunity: employee benefits.

First, let’s define the term “racial equity.” According to a blog post by the Annie E Casey Foundation, the concept of ethnicity is “giving people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives.” That includes providing what people need to be fully present, contributing, and successful at work. Racial equity is fair treatment of all races that results in equitable opportunities and outcomes, where people of all races can achieve and thrive.

A recent article in HR Executive highlights the fact that benefits plan design often reflects the needs of majority populations, most often White.  Moreover, decision-makers themselves are also often White, bringing into play their own implicit biases about what matters most to employees.

Many well-intentioned employers send out a survey asking employees what benefits are most important to them. The majority demographic will likely skew the results. A reasonable solution is to simply ask employees in underrepresented groups specifically what they want and need. For example, more prevalent health conditions for Black and Latino employees may not be covered in a traditional plan.  Your employees may have stories and examples about their challenges with health care that can inform benefits decisions.

Employee Resource Groups or ERGs can also serve a role in advising and participating in benefits decision-making. ERGs are formed and run by employees who share characteristics like a common ethnicity, religion, or gender, and they serve to help members with professional development, networking, and addressing challenges. If your organization has ERGs, they can be an invaluable resource for formulating a suite of benefits offerings.

Benefits brokers may have information and recommendations as well.  If decision-makers are clear with their brokers about goals for health and welfare plans, i.e., to meet specific needs of racial minorities, it creates an opportunity for creative solutions.

Employers sometimes assume that everyone understands how benefits plans work, a special challenge regarding complex health care and retirement plans.  All employees need an equal chance to make full use of their benefits. Some plans have great online tools. Employers should consider other means, like written information that can be easily shared with family members and contacts inside and outside the company who can help.

Benefits planning, of course, extends outside of traditional health and welfare programs.  Here are some additional considerations:

Floating holidays: Not everyone celebrates Christmas or January 1 as the start of the new year. Providing floating holidays allows employees to celebrate times of the year consistent with their personal values, beliefs, and practices. Be aware of any potential biases or values judgments that creep into approving floating holidays.

Paid family leave: Family leave need not be reserved for children.  Employees of varied cultures and races may place emphasis on elder care or care of other relatives.

Flexible schedules:  Many employers are working out the complexities of hybrid work, and other options include flexible work schedules, compressed workweeks, or summer flex time. These kinds of arrangements consider unique, individual needs for things like family care, education, and travel.

Training and professional development: If racial equity is about providing everyone with the resources to have an equal chance to succeed, then it makes sense that training and individualized professional development plans are part of the program. Employers can assess an employee’s readiness to perform certain elements of their job and provide a blend of training, coaching, and other learning opportunities tailored to their specific needs.

Designing employee benefits plans have plenty of challenge, not the least of which is cost. Plans that support races and varied backgrounds in thriving and succeeding can result in a payoff that exceeds the dollars-and-cents cost.

Want more information on employee benefits? Contact Employers Council. We can help.