While the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on public health and the global economy dominated the news cycle in recent years, there has been no shortage of incidents that draw awareness to social disparities the world over, from the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 to the ongoing discovery of unmarked graves at Canada’s residential school sites.

The health crisis itself resulted in what has been referred to as a ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic abuse amid lockdowns that led to employees living in abusive relationships spending more time at home.

These events highlight the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, which extends to employers’ pension and benefits programs. Benefits Canada has continually focused on the role of DEI in these areas and this edition of the magazine marks our third annual DEI issue, examining these sectors through a diversity and inclusion lens.

Read: Majority of plan sponsors believe they promote diverse, inclusive workplace: survey

In 2022, the Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey (the 2024 edition will be available on Sept. 17) found the vast majority (91 per cent) of plan sponsors believe they promote and support a diverse and inclusive workplace, with 44 per cent strongly agreeing with this statement. However, it also noted a quarter (27 per cent) of plan members said they’ve experienced discrimination in the workplace, a percentage that increases to 35 per cent among those who identified as Black, Indigenous or a person of colour and decreases to 22 per cent among Caucasian respondents. Members who have been discriminated against were twice as likely to experience high or extremely high levels of stress (43 per cent) compared to those who haven’t been discriminated against (21 per cent).

While there’s more work to be done, many employers are making strides in this area. The June Employer Strategy (page 14) details BNP Paribas’ approach to DEI and how the employer is attracting diverse talent across the traditionally male-dominated financial services industry. The strategy also landed BNP Paribas a win in the DEI program category at Benefits Canada’s 2023 Workplace Benefits Awards.

“It goes back to having a diverse [talent] pool and an inclusive culture that impacts positively both the engagement and performance of employees and is also representative of the wider labour market,” says Laetitia Fouquet-Pimpin, director of DEI at the financial services company. “Everyone brings different ideas and perspectives and this can impact [the organization] positively in terms of innovation, for example.”

Read: How BNP Paribas’ DEI strategy is attracting, supporting diverse talent

To better support a diverse workforce, employers are also continually enhancing and expanding their employee benefits programs. This month’s Benefits Feature (page 16) explores the latest benefits innovations such as ‘grandternity’ leave for new grandparents and benefits for pet owners, including ‘pawrental’ leave to welcome a new animal companion and the growth of pet-friendly workplaces.

Indeed, many employers are recognizing the evolving needs of their employees and trying to adapt plans accordingly, says David Krieger, regional vice-president of benefits consulting at BFL Canada, noting it’s ultimately about what’s right for each workplace.

“New types of leave programs like grandternity leave are being discussed because of different family dynamics and responsibilities, as well as pet benefits and expanded mental-health supports. [We’re also] getting some questions around education and career development. These areas all face challenges regarding affordability and what solutions exist.”

Read: (Benefits Feature link)

It’s safe to say as Canada’s workforce continues to become more diverse, employers will make increasing use of innovative benefits and pension offerings to attract and retain talent. As we head into summer, enjoy this latest issue of Benefits Canada and we’ll see you again in August.

Blake Wolfe is the interim editor of Benefits Canada and the Canadian Investment Review.