If diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are a top priority for you as an HR leader, you’re not alone.

DEI has been at the forefront of recent conversations for a variety of reasons. The pandemic forced employees to slow down and reflect on what they really want from their jobs. A rise in anti-Black and anti-Asian sentiment put a spotlight on the deeply-rooted racism of our systems, institutions, and policies.

The outcome of these events is that more workers are turning to their companies to take action. In fact, 72% of employees want their employer to invest in creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. 

While many organizations are rising to the challenge, they still have questions. A big one for HR folks is: how do I make my benefits as diverse, equitable, and inclusive as possible?
That’s one of the questions we tackled during Engage 2022. Natalie Johnson, co-founder and Managing Director of Paradigm, led a conversation about how to put a DEI lens on your benefits program. If you missed it, listen to the recording or check out our recap below.

Putting a DEI lens on your most common employee benefits

In today’s world of work, DEI is a must-have for most organizations. “Just as much as employees expect their employers to offer healthcare and PTO, they expect them to invest in DEI,” said Johnson. 

But your benefits offerings and DEI initiatives don’t have to be separate entities—they can amplify each other. This is exactly what Natalie and her team at Paradigm help their clients do. Using their DEI strategy platform, Blueprint, they conduct organizational audits to understand their clients’ benefits offerings, including how they’re deployed and utilized.

Understanding what benefits are available helps Natalie and her team identify potential gaps and areas of opportunity where employers can improve their offerings to appeal to a more diverse workforce.  

Healthcare and mental health

Most organizations offer access to health plans, and many more are starting to provide mental health benefits. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean these offerings are inclusive. If your insurance plan doesn’t cover LGBTQIA+ friendly providers, for instance, then you may be limiting options for many of your employees. Here are some questions Natalie recommends asking yourself when assessing your healthcare benefits: 

  • Does your organization have benefits that are inclusive of non-binary and/or trans employees (e.g. gender transition)? 
  • Does your organization remind employees about benefits and flexibility policies at a regular cadence to encourage use? 
  • Does your organization provide timely reminders to employees about benefits and policies available during critical times (e.g. reminding employees about mental health benefits during a crisis)?

Parental leave and caretaking

Being inclusive with parental leave and caretaking policies starts with language. Instead of using terms like “maternity leave” and “paternity leave,” turn to more gender-neutral, non-cis conforming language like “primary caregiver” and “secondary caregiver.” Ask yourself these questions as well:   

  • Does your organization have benefits that are inclusive of same-sex and non-biological parents (e.g. adoption benefits)? 
  • Does your organization have benefits that support current and future caregivers beyond what is legally required (e.g. childcare or childcare subsidies, expanded parental leave, eldercare leave, fertility support)? 
  • Does your organization provide managers with guidelines on how to provide access to flexible work arrangements for all employees who need them? 

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Working norms and physical spaces 

Go beyond the “standard” benefits and think about other aspects of the employee experience, such as the design of your office and your work policies. Even a few thoughtful touches can make a huge difference to your underrepresented employees. Natalie shared questions to help you assess your working norms and physical spaces: 

  • Does your organization document working norms (e.g. hours, response times, availability expectations, communications)? 
  • Does your organization invest in tools to support remote inclusion and productivity (e.g. training, online collaboration tools)? 
  • Does your organization provide official guidance and/or policies on remote work? 
  • Does your organization provide gender-neutral/affirming restrooms?
  • Does your organization accommodate lactating employees with either facilities or flexibility? 

How to start prioritizing DEI at your organization 

If you’re ready to start prioritizing DEI at your company, Natalie shared a process to help you get started. 

1. Assess the inclusivity of your practice

The first step is to assess the current state of your benefits, policies, and programs. Use the questions we shared in this post as a starting point. Or, better yet, hire a company like Paradigm to help you conduct an audit of your existing benefits! Understanding where you currently are will help you get to where you want to go. 

2. Use data to understand differences in employee needs and experiences 

Using data can help you reveal potential problems, gaps, and opportunities when it comes to your DEI efforts. Johnson encourages companies to look at data around utilization and employee outcomes—especially across different demographics. For example, you can analyze the utilization of mental health benefits for your employees of color or the attrition rates for your working parents. 

3. Listen to employees from underrepresented groups 

While every employee needs to be heard, pay special attention to your underrepresented groups since they’re the most likely to be excluded from your benefits. To collect employee feedback, you can:  

  • Distribute an anonymous survey 
  • Have informal, one-on-one conversations 
  • Turn to your employee resource groups for insights 

4. Make changes that further inclusivity, and continually assess and evolve

Finally, it’s important to recognize that DEI initiatives aren’t something you do once and check off your list. Natalie emphasized that companies need to take a consistent and iterative approach to DEI. ‘This is an ongoing process that you want to engage in. Things change and needs change, so your benefits and policies should be just as flexible and dynamic.” 

Take the first step toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace 

Making the commitment to further the DEI practices of your organization isn’t easy—but it is necessary. With the right approach, you can make the workplace a safer, more supportive environment for all your employees. If you found this recap helpful, we encourage you to check out the entire conversation with Natalie and our other HR and benefits leaders.

Watch all five sessions from Engage 2022. 

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