Underrepresented groups have been historically marginalized in the workplace. Employers are looking for opportunities to drive meaningful change and bring an end to these ongoing injustices.

One place to start is with employee benefits. From health insurance to retirement accounts to education assistance, benefit packages touch numerous parts of peoples’ lives. Recently, MyHealthMath brought together a panel of experts to share how employers can leverage their benefit packages to advance DEI that extends beyond the workplace.

Here are five steps to get started:

1. Assess who is using and benefiting from employee benefits.

Employee benefits can make a big impact on individuals’ lives, as well as increase their satisfaction and productivity at work. But if only some people use your benefits, you risk exacerbating inequities, explains Anton Gunn, an employer consultant and expert on Socially Conscious Leadership. Gunn recommends that employers look at the benefits they offer and then analyze who is using them, breaking this down by income level, salary earnings, and demographics.

“You’ll likely see that you’re providing some benefits to employees, which are not being taken advantage of by certain groups,” says Gunn, “And this can put them at a disadvantage.”

Think about it this way: It’s not fair if only higher wage earners are taking advantage of tuition assistance. Or if only employees who live near the office use employer-sponsored childcare. Looking at your benefits with an equity lens means making sure that every benefit offered is accessible and valuable to employees across different population groups.

2. Engage a diverse team when discussing benefit options

Who is involved in your company/organization’s benefit decisions? Do they reflect the employee population you’re trying to serve? One way to promote equitable benefits is by talking to the people you want your benefits to support—and that means engaging a diverse team of stakeholders.

Consider the Emerging Market Initiative (EMI) from Froedtert Health, says Health Catalyst Chief DEI Officer, Trudy Sullivan Stoudamire, MBA. “They’ve joined forces with diverse community members who are commercially insured, and then connected with the areas’ leading corporations,” she says. “So, as they [employers] make strategic decisions about lower costs opportunities and innovative approaches to access… they are hearing from those diverse representatives within the company.”

3. Reconsider the benefits you offer

Once you’ve done your assessment and have your team, consider what changes you might make to your benefit packages. Microsoft’s Director of Population Health, Amy Berk, MSN, RN, suggests asking the following questions:

  • Do your health plans cover virtual care? This can increase health care access and improve health outcomes.
  • Do you offer multiple health plans, so that employees can find a plan that works for their specific medical needs?
  • Are mental health benefits available without an added cost?
  • Do you offer wellness benefits?
  • Have you looked beyond typical benefits to opportunities for education and childcare?

These are just a few ideas to launch a conversation. Remember, engage a diverse team, and base your choices on their needs. 

4. Make benefit education accessible 

Once you’ve chosen your benefits, make sure that people can understand them. After all, health benefits are confusing—that’s why most employees are in the wrong health plan.

Better choices start with education. But too often, employers don’t give employees dedicated time to learn about their benefits and attend benefit meetings, explains Stacey Gordon, MBA, consultant, and Author of UNBIAS: Addressing Unconscious Bias at Work. “Give people the time to get the education to make informed decisions,” she says.

Similarly, try to have benefit meetings at different times of the day to accommodate different schedules. And offer additional educational resources beyond your benefit meetings, like FAQs, videos, and one-on-one support.

5. Provide transportation to healthcare

In 2017, nearly 6 million people in the U.S. delayed medical care because they didn’t have transportation. Making it easier for people to get to the doctor can have a big impact on equity—especially given that transportation barriers most affect those with less money and those with chronic conditions.

Employers can play a big role in removing transportation barriers, says Gunn. He suggests looking into onsite health care, providing health care shuttles, or reimbursing employees for the costs of getting to their appointments. When you have a healthier workforce, the costs will pay for themselves.

“[You’re] losing money to FMLA and people not being productive; they have diabetes and depression… Look at how much money you are losing because people don’t have healthcare access,” says Gunn. “Then decide to make a choice to absorb those costs and have the healthiest, most productive workforce.”

Looking for more ideas on promoting DEI through health benefits? Learn from this panel of experts on the on-demand webinar, How Benefit Programs Can Eliminate Health and Pay Disparities. Watch the full webinar here.