When Mercer Canada recently partnered with a vendor on an employee well-being initiative, the human resources team noticed the images included in the materials reflected a stereotypical idea of the traditional family — a heterosexual couple with two children, all Caucasian.
“It wasn’t reflective of our population,” says Julie Duchesne, Mercer’s health business leader in Canada. “We really want to ensure that the people represented best reflects our values and our workforce. We can use our role . . . to challenge vendors and if their culture doesn’t align with ours, we can work with them to change their communication materials as we did in this case.”
For Mercer, fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion is a top priority, says Duchesne. Supporting its diverse employee base, including those from the transgender community, is part of its journey to become a more inclusive workforce, she adds.
In 2018, Mercer expanded its family benefits in the U.K. to include consultations, diagnosis, as well as mental-health and surgical treatment, according to a press release. In Canada, provincial government plans cover the major gender affirmation surgeries, so the company is actively looking at everything available in the market to cover areas left out by provincial plans, says Duchesne, such as aesthetic-based surgeries and mental-health support — from filing the Adam’s apple to hormone therapy to psychological support for employees on the road to gender affirmation.
Offering transgender benefits is part of a broader strategy to encourage a diverse workforce, says Duchesne, noting it brings value to the team as well as to clients. She says the company has taken a number of steps to ensure it’s supporting all members of its workforce. As part of its touchpoints with employees, the company holds webinars and town halls internally that include speakers from the transgender community and colleagues from Mercer sharing their personal experiences in this area.
The company also created a playbook to help guide employees through their transition journey at work, which offers tips on how colleagues can help to make the journey welcoming and seamless. The playbook starts from day one, when the employee is going through the transition, all the way through to when their gender affirmation journey is complete. And it includes insights for employees, such as how they can reintroduce themselves in an email to their colleagues and clients. “We really want to accompany employees through this transition, both from a coverage perspective but also from a mental-health support perspective.”
Having a diverse workforce brings value to the company, says Duchesne, noting organizations expose themselves to risk when they don’t have a diverse workforce. A lack of diversity could make it difficult for them to hire and retain talent or they could face reputational risk, she notes. But not offering these benefits could also prove costly in the end for employers because, if their diverse employees don’t feel they can be their authentic selves, their mental health could suffer and lead to absenteeism and disability, she notes. “There’s value added in doing something and there’s cost and risk in doing nothing, so employers should be mindful of what they do and what they don’t do.”
She also strongly encourages employers to look at how their benefits can support a diversity strategy. And she cautions that building a culture of inclusion from the ground up isn’t something that can be accomplished overnight; it may take years. But the effort will be well worth it, she argues.
For employers starting their journey to an inclusive workforce, Duchesne advises them to start by doing a gap analysis to see where they’re at and where they want to be. Pulse surveys are key to identifying what should be the priority for an organization, she says, and from the feedback, employers can then define their guiding principles and what values are really important. From there, employers can begin to build a roadmap for their journey to becoming a more inclusive culture.
And, she says, employers must also challenge their vendors, advisors and insurers to also think inclusively because there’s still many transgender benefits that aren’t available today in Canada that should be. “It’s up to us to change the future and create a great diverse workforce for all employees.”
This is the second part in a series of articles running this month to dive into how the HR, benefits, pensions and institutional investment industries are supporting the LGBTQ2S+ community during Pride Month and beyond.
Read the first story in the series here: Pride Month: TD taking intersectional approach to supporting LGBTQ2S+ employees
Read the third story in the series here: Pride Month: CN Rail dispute ‘catalyst’ for same-sex pension plan policy reviews
Read the fourth story in the series here: Pride Month: Institutional investors focusing on inclusivity, social factors