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The documentation of formal diversity, equity and inclusion policies and approaches is one of the most significant changes to the Canadian workplace over the last decade.

Progress of this magnitude seldom comes quickly. Employers are being asked tough questions about their implementation of the goals they’ve laid out — and they’re not always getting great answers.

According to a survey by People Corporation Inc., which polled more than 1,500 Canadian employees, just a quarter (25 per cent) said their employer sponsors a benefits plan that aligns with the company’s commitment to DEI. Slightly more than a third (37 per cent) said their benefits plan doesn’t align with their employer’s stated promises and 38 per cent said they didn’t know.

Read: How employers are using data to integrate DEI into their benefits plans

That’s not to say there’s a lack of sincerity among employers. Those who design and manage benefits plans are often the same folks advocating for greater diversity in the workplace. Still, there’s a clear call to action: benefits plan design allows employers to back up their stated DEI commitments.

Employees deserve equal access to organizational benefits and resources, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or disability status. DEI is effective as a talent attraction and retention measure because increasingly, working Canadians recognize they deserve nothing less.

To some extent, Canadian employers remain in a transition period in which a well-designed and properly-executed DEI strategy can serve as a competitive differentiator — but not for long. In 2021, employer review website reported 76 per cent of employees said a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.

When aligning benefits plans and DEI strategy, it’s important for employers to begin with a detailed, open-minded review that takes a firmly self-critical perspective. DEI is an emotional issue for many Canadians — they’re looking for gaps and inconsistencies and employers can’t expect current or prospective employees to assume good intentions on the part of plan sponsors.

In light of this view, two hallmarks of an effective benefits plan stand out: fairness and choice. Fairness is self-explanatory — for example, denying family benefits coverage to LGBTQ2S+ employees was never justifiable. Choice is about ensuring flexible benefits plans accommodate all employees’ needs. This demands creative, collaborative plan design.

Read: How employers are integrating DEI into their benefits plans

Employers can ask plan members about which benefits they value the most or which aspects of the current plan frustrate them. It’s also important for employers to stay up to date on benefits plan trends and remain open to change on an ongoing basis.

Here’s a checklist of DEI best practices for employers to incorporate into their benefits plan:

  • Remove gendered language from benefits plan documents and communications and allow members to identify as non-binary or ‘prefer not to say;’
  • Make it easy for members to be recognized by something other than their given name;
  • Provide coverage for hormone therapy, gender confirmation surgeries and mental-health support;
  • Meet the needs of female plan members dealing with fertility and menopause issues by providing coverage for in vitro fertilization and egg freezing;
  • Provide equitable benefits access to LGBTQ2S+ employees;
  • Provide translation and interpretation services and multi-lingual resources, as well as commit to plain-language best practices in benefits communications;
  • Offer benefits communications via audio, large text and Braille;
  • Work with benefits providers that are trained in cultural competence;
  • Offer faith-based benefits, as well as access to traditional healing practices and Indigenous benefits providers;
  • Provide coverage for drugs that prevent the spread of HIV; and
  • Organize a DEI working group

While there are many ways to align benefits and DEI policies, it isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition — anything that employers can do to make their plan more inclusive is good for their organization. For employers that have experienced difficulty aligning their plan and DEI policies, it’s worthwhile providing that feedback to whoever manages their DEI commitment.

By considering a phased approach to DEI, plan sponsors can ensure their strategy doesn’t get ahead of their ability to implement meaningful change.

Read: How CIBC is supporting LGBTQ2S+ employees, increasing DEI targets