By introducing gender affirmation and fertility benefits coverage, DuPont Canada is aligning its benefits plan with its multinational diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.

It all started with an informative webinar and Kelly Desautels’ own personal experience. In July 2021, the organization’s human resources leader was invited to a lunch and learn session on LGBTQ2S+ perspectives and a discussion around intersectionality for greater inclusion. At the end of the webinar, an audience member asked, ‘What can HR do better?’ And the panel answered, ‘You can look at your benefits plan. They’re exclusive in Canada. You can find ways to bring greater inclusion into your plans.’

Specifically, the panellists suggested gender affirmation support, says Desautels. “A lightbulb went off for me and I thought, ‘Why aren’t we doing that?’ That’s entirely aligned with our DEI strategy in the broader multinational company.”

Read: CIBC offering enhanced gender affirmation coverage, fertility benefits, paid parental leave

In addition, a friend of Desautels has a family member who’s in a relationship with someone who transitioned. “I’ve only known them since they transitioned, but in the conversations I’ve had, I can appreciate now just how huge it was, how it affects every aspect of your life,” she says. “It was just an incredible change. So this individual relied on support from their family to be able to financially afford the treatments that needed to be done.”

That experience highlighted how many people may not have family support and that they often don’t have a lot of options, she adds. “It’s not a terribly expensive benefit, relative to other things that are offered and, to me, it was really a no-brainer. It was the right thing to do for our organization.”

More broadly, DuPont had recently introduced gender affirmation and fertility coverage for U.S. staff, so the Canadian organization was aligning its new benefits with the wider North American strategy from a DEI benefits perspective.

DEI and mental health

The new inclusive benefits plan includes a $10,000 lifetime maximum coverage for gender affirmation and fertility benefits, which could include treatments and prescription drugs.

However, it’s also meant to work alongside the benefits offered by each provincial government. “That amount will flex depending on whether there are coverages available in the province,” says Desautels.

Read: Molson Coors offering gender affirmation coverage to Canadian employees

A lot of Canadian provinces and jurisdictions cover just the reassignment surgery, but that’s only half of the picture, says Farzeen Mawji, national practice leader in inclusion and diversity at Gallagher Benefit Services (Canada) Group Inc. “That takes care of the medical side, but when you’re thinking about gender affirmation, . . . so many things complete that picture.

DuPont Canada’s benefits by the numbers

$10,000 — The new lifetime maximum available to employees and their dependants for gender affirmation and fertility benefits

$1,500-$3,000 — The new annual mental-health coverage

8 — The number of employee resource groups available to global employees

“When we’re thinking about belonging, which is the goal of DEI, . . . [it’s important] to make sure the benefits side of things is taking care of the rest of that journey, to really help that person live into the gender identity they’re feeling and that they’re now able to represent what’s true to them.”

DuPont Canada communicated the new benefits in fall 2021 and launched them in this calendar year’s flex benefits plan.

The plan, which has been in place for close to 30 years, has three levels — for example, option No. 2 is fully covered by the company and option No. 3 is an employer/employee cost-share. It was in a bit of a “run and maintain” mode, says Desautels, noting the organization started to look at opportunities to revamp the plan in the last couple of years.

In 2019, DuPont Canada improved its mental-health benefits for the 2020 calendar year. For option No. 2, it increased its mental-health coverage from $1,000 to $1,500 per employee per year, while option No. 3 grew from $2,000 to $3,000. It also added a telehealth benefit and expanded the types of health-care professionals covered under the plan.

Read: Plan sponsors focusing on well-being, virtual health care in year two of pandemic: survey

“We’ve had supports in place for our benefits plan for probably 10 years, but the coverages were low and we didn’t have psychotherapists,” says Desautels. “Now we have social workers, psychologists and psychotherapists. . . . I think the mental-health space is a really critical part of DEI and benefits.”

Mawji agrees, noting the mental-health aspect must be considered, properly nurtured and supported within the workplace environment. “You can have mental-health treatment, . . . but that’s really treating when something has happened. Psychological safety is getting in there before something happens, creating that environment where you can have diversity of thought, you can share contrary opinions, you can bring your vulnerable, whole self to work and feel empathy from your peers and your leaders. And then, from that point, when you have that basis of opening and understanding, then diversity, equity and inclusion really takes root because you’ve got that solid foundation for it to grow.”

A collective voice

While DuPont’s DEI program is run globally, it has a DEI committee in Canada that’s sponsored by Desautels and the company president.

It also partners with broader initiatives, like employee resource groups. These were originally launched as a U.S.-based concept, but now all ERGs are global and open to any employee who wishes to participate. Over the past 18 months, the company’s Canadian DEI team has invited representatives from each of the global ERGs to speak at quarterly town halls to educate employees about the important work being done by the groups and to encourage participation.

Read: Back to basics on employee resource groups

“The ERGs play a really important role in educating, fostering awareness, providing an opportunity for a collective voice around shared issues or concerns and supporting the DEI objectives and goals,” says Desautels.

Every year, the HR team plans activities around key dates, such as Black History Month, Pride Week and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. DEI is also an important part of the organization’s talent acquisition and talent development opportunities. “For the last few decades, we’ve had that as a core part of our HR program.”

Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.