Creating and supporting an environment of diversity and inclusion is top of mind for most employers today. With increasing globalization and a highly competitive marketplace, organizations need to respond to demographic changes in the communities where they do business. As well, research shows that having a diverse and inclusive workforce allows organizations to attract and retain top talent, leads to more innovation and improves customer experience and business performance. 

For organizations that are committed to a culture of diversity, many are already working to ensure this culture is reflected in aspects of workforce management, such as human resources policies, compensation strategies for pay equity, flexible or remote work arrangements and even the physical work environment. While an organization can undertake a number of initiatives to create an inclusive workplace, benefits should also be considered for their alignment to a diverse and inclusive culture. Here are some key elements to consider:

  • Provide benefits choice

Flexible benefits are an obvious fit in an organization looking to support a diverse workforce. Since choice is an inherent principle of flex plans, they allow employees to customize their benefits into something that best suits their unique needs and life circumstances. 

Read: Fidelity Canada wins diversity program award for driving change

Beyond levels of coverage for health or dental benefits, flex plans that support diversity allow plan participants to opt in and out of benefits; buy up for enhancements that provide coverage for treatment, services and supplies for their own needs; and include excess credits to be directed into a wide range of options like a health-care spending account, flexible spending account, retirement savings, tax-free savings account, student loan repayment or taxable cash. A flex plan can also include the option to buy additional vacation days, supporting employees who need or want additional time to travel, for example. 

  • View booklets, contracts and forms through the lens of inclusion

Administrative forms and documents like enrolment forms, beneficiary forms, dependant elections, coordination of benefits information and plan text should include language that supports same-sex partnerships and parents, as well as non-binary gender options. Employers should work with their insurer to update their program’s collaterals to reflect an inclusive culture.

  • Check your EAP offering for inclusivity

Employee assistance programs deserve a special mention here. In order to provide mental-health support to a diverse workforce, an EAP should include elements such as child-care and eldercare support, faith-based counselling and access to elders for those who wish to access services specifically designed around indigenous health. It should also offer diversity in the counsellors available to plan members and their families. 

Read: What you don’t know about your employee assistance program

Additionally, an EAP should offer a variety of methods for accessing counselling or self-serve support services. EAP providers are also a great source for diversity and inclusion training for people leaders within an organization or for the workplace as a whole, through workshops or coaching.

  • Reconsider paid time off and leaves

Employers can also consider reframing their paid-time-off policy to address the needs of a diverse work population. Personal days are discretionary days that employees can use to cover off things like their own medical appointments, but can also be used for child-care emergencies or eldercare support. As many people celebrate holidays other than Christmas or Easter, employers should consider implementing floating holidays that employees can take for religious observance without having to take a vacation day. 

If an organization’s practice is to limit the number of consecutive days of vacation, it’s important to consider the context of an employee who needs to travel a long distance to celebrate a religious holiday with family when applying the policy. If an organization offers a top-up benefit to maternity or parental leave, ensure that this benefit also extends to those employees who adopt children.

  • Consider how you communicate

A diverse workforce can also mean diverse preferences in how people like to receive information, as well as comfort levels or access when it comes to technology. When communicating to employees, employers should use a variety of media or channels to communicate the message. They should also consider translating information into other languages that are prevalent across the workforce or ask for cultural ambassadors to be available to support others in interpreting important information or completing forms. Also, employers should consider sending information home with employees for broader dissemination of messaging or translation support if applicable in the workplace.

Read: How to communicate health benefits to a diverse workforce

In order for an organization to commit to a culture of diversity and inclusion, it needs to weave supportive practices and language throughout all aspects of the employee and customer experience. Simply asking is a good way to gage how well a benefits programs and other services specifically support diversity. If an organization surveys its employees through attitude or engagement surveys, it should consider tailoring some of the questions to ask about diversity and inclusion, and whether employees feel the organization is set up to attract and retain a diverse workforce. The feedback can help to set priorities for future actions around this important initiative.

Kim Siddall is a vice-president and local practice leader at Aon. She has more than 20 years of experience in the health and benefits industry. These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.
Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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