More employers aiming to promote diversity, inclusion in benefits: survey

Employers are putting an increasing focus on strategies to address the social determinants of health, according to a new survey from Willis Towers Watson.

The survey found that 80% of employers plan to take steps to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in their benefits programs in the next three years. By comparison, 55% said they took action in the past three years.

In addition, 72% said they were planning to promote DEI elements of their benefits programs in the next three years, and 69% said they would promote DEI elements of their wellness programs. That more than doubles the number that did so the past three years.

Rachael McCann, senior director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, told Fierce Healthcare that while conversations around DEI in benefits have been underway for some time, the work was accelerated by the pandemic as well as the nationwide conversation on racial justice following the death of George Floyd last year.

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Benefits experts were also beginning to partner with their counterparts in DEI on retention and engagement, so broadening those conversations was a natural next step, she said.

"If you had one of those elements, maybe we would have seen some of the movement," McCann said. "I think it just put the pace a little bit into overdrive."

Employers have also already taken action in a number of areas, the survey found. Half of the respondents, for example, have updated their maternity benefits and family planning programs, with 33% more saying they plan to do so in the next three years.

Nearly half (46%) of those surveyed said they have made changes to benefits for transgender employees, and 30% said they are planning to do so in the next three years.

The survey also found that employers are taking a closer look at healthcare indicators through a social determinants lens. Thirty-seven percent said they have conducted an analysis to measure access to virtual care among their employees, for example, and 31% said they plan to by 2023.

Thirty-four percent have evaluated the quality of social determinants of health factors within preventative care and screening visits, with another 32% planning or considering similar steps by 2023.