What is Health Equity? An Overview for HR

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In our conversations with Jellyvision customers this year, one theme jumped out: diversity, equity and inclusion has increasingly become a top priority for employers large and small. As social and racial unrest have taken a spotlight in the national headlines, employees are calling for change. They’re calling on company leadership to put their words to action, paving the way for more inclusive, equitable workplaces. 

And as employers seek out solutions to drive their organizations forward, one buzzword has risen to the surface: health equity. But what is health equity, and why is it so important? 

We’re breaking down some simple definitions, sharing ideas for how to promote health equity at your organization, and offering expert insights to spark inspiration. Let’s get started. 

What is health equity?

Before we jump into how to achieve health equity within your organization, let’s agree on a common definition of the term.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says health equity means increasing opportunities for all of our employees to live their healthiest lives, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they make. And SHRM adds that it’s our responsibility to make that vision a reality:

“Part of employers’ responsibility in creating health equity is guaranteeing that all employees have equal access to health care and that health care plans go beyond taking care of basic needs.”

It goes without saying that you want your employees to be happy and healthy. But why is health equity such a hot topic right now? Well, the data shows that we still have a lot of work to do to make sure our employees are accessing the same resources and levels of care. More than 1 in 5 adults have experienced discrimination in healthcare, and:

Black women are​
more likely to die during childbirth
3 x
of women say that their weight has been a barrier to receiving appropriate healthcare
52 %
1 in 4
providers don’t offer coverage for same-sex couples

So let’s talk about how we got here, and what we can do as employers to combat these trends.

A brief history of healthcare discrimination

Like all institutions in the U.S., the healthcare system has been baked with discrimination since its inception. Socioeconomic factors play a huge role in the quality of care that patients receive, and that goes for the benefits we offer our employees too. 

Factors like race, gender, sexual orientation, obesity and disability have all prevented Americans from seeking out and receiving equitable care. Among countless examples, Black women were exploited for unethical testing and experimentation when gynecology emerged in the United States. Puerto Rican, Mexican and Native American women have all been subjected to sterilization throughout our history. During the AIDS crisis, a spread of misinformation, lack of funding, stigma and more prevented queer individuals from getting the healthcare they needed.

While we’ve made some progress, these trends still hold true today. Black Americans are more likely to die of heart disease and cancer than their white counterparts, and people of color are two to three times more likely to die of COVID. Recent studies show that doctors are less likely to believe women when they express physical symptoms, attributing their pain to “hysteria” or mental health problems.

We know it’s a depressing topic, but education is the first step — so check out the post below for a full rundown of healthcare discrimination in the U.S.

Learn more about our country’s history of healthcare discrimination.

How to build an inclusive benefits package

When it comes to figuring out how to accomplish health equity at your organization, your benefits package is likely the first place you’ll look. It’s no longer enough to have comprehensive healthcare plans and call it a day. Leading employers are offering a broad range of benefits and perks to meet their employees’ every need—from physical and mental health to financial and family planning resources. 

So now is the time to audit your benefits offerings to make sure you’re reaching your entire workforce, with non-traditional resources that go beyond the basics. Here’s how to get started. 

Find out where your employee benefits package may have a few gaps in inclusivity.

How to promote health equity with your employees

You’ve educated your staff on what health equity is, and why it’s important. You’ve reviewed your benefits package to find out where there might be gaps. 

But we can’t stop there. Today’s leading DEI experts are especially focused on how to promote health equity at both the macro and micro level. We turned to a few leading voices to find out how employers can improve health outcomes, offer a wider range of resources, and create a culture that supports all employees when they’re seeking care. 

Here’s a sneak peek at the tips they gave us: 

  • Make your benefits package as diverse as your workforce
  • Ensure benefits are easy to access, understand, and use
  • Believe your employees when they say they need care
  • Destigmatize seeking and receiving care
  • Develop trust with your employees

Learn more about how to promote health equity at your organization.

A guide to inclusive language in the workplace

As our workforces become more diverse, few employers are fully prepared to meet their employees where they are. In fact, 79% of organizations think building a more inclusive culture is important to their organization’s success, but only 17% have inclusion initiatives in place to foster a sense of belonging. 

If we’re going to transform our organizations to embrace the diverse backgrounds of all of our employees, we need to start with how we communicate. Adopting inclusive language in the workplace is the first step to recognizing the unique identities that exist within our companies, and shows our employees that we see and respect them for exactly who they are.

But as language continues to evolve and political correctness takes a front seat in national conversations, it can be hard to keep up with the right things to say. Which acronyms are the most up-to-date? Which common phrases have been exposed for their racist origins?

If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing, that’s okay — you’re not alone. And your concern means you’re already conscious about making employees feel more included. But we can’t stop there. Let’s educate ourselves together, and put our words to action to make sure the language our companies use is as inclusive as possible. 

Here’s how to encourage more inclusive communication in your workplace.

Health equity starts with you 

As a country, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to uncovering the inequities that plague our healthcare system. And health equity is just beginning to rise to the top of many employers’ minds. So if you don’t feel like an expert right now, that’s okay. 

But now is the time to start trying. Why? Because there’s still so much work to do, and the data shows we can’t wait any longer.

Of course, we can’t solve these problems alone. But we can play a role in addressing these societal inequities and their causes, making sure our employees know about, understand, and are taking full advantage of the resources we’re providing them.

So, join us in a conversation. Let’s partner to make sure our workforces have adequate access to the healthcare they need, when and how they need it.  We don’t have to be experts, we don’t have to be perfect, but we have to start sometime. And that time is now.

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