How employers can think about designing benefits for diverse workforces

BALTIMORE—As employers face a complex labor market, designing benefits through an equity lens can be a key way to retain top workers, experts say.

One of the first steps is to ensure that company leadership reflects the diversity of the workforce so that they can serve as effective champions of employees' needs, said Sheri Johnson, associate vice president of member enrollment and billing at UCare, a Minnesota health plan.

And as employers push for a more diverse workforce, which can be a challenge, they need to be listening to employees about the issues they're facing, she said.

"I think it's so important for us to just keep our minds open that our life experience is not necessarily the life experience of our employees," Johnson said on a panel at the Healthcare Innovation Congress on Tuesday.

David Adamson, M.D., founder and CEO of ARC Fertility, echoed the sentiment, saying it's critical to understand that, culturally, employees may have very different views of certain benefits or issues.

Johnson said an example of this at work is identifying which populations may not be understanding or utilizing their benefits effectively and find new ways to connect with them. She said at a previous job, for example, there were immigrant workers who did not understand the potential need for life insurance, as it was not the norm in their home country.

So, the leadership team had to craft messaging differently once it had a greater grasp on their lived experiences, she said.

Diverse leadership also drives a greater sense of belonging, which can be a valuable tool for retention as well, Johnson added.

"People can look at the leadership team and say, 'Everyone belongs here,'" she said.

Designing benefits for a diverse workforce—and ensuring they use them—also requires employers to dig deep on navigation, said Ginger Miller, director of health and benefits at Utz Brands, a national snack food company. Such outreach must be culturally competent and available in multiple languages, she said.

It means listening to people to catch underlying issues that may be driving healthcare challenges, Miller said. For example, assisting an employee in tracking down specialty care could identify a crucial social need such as housing insecurity.

Those conversations can help employers identify potential gaps in benefit offerings that should be addressed, Miller said.

"It's important to have conversations with individuals," she said.

Adamson said ARC Fertility, which offers fertility benefits to employers, sees this at work in its own market, as fertility is an issue that effects many people but that they're also hesitant to speak about. Employers won't tap into benefits they believe their workers won't use, he said.

But while employers may not have the pulse of this issue, a third of workers say they're interesting in fertility or family planning benefits. And these options don't stop at heterosexual couples, as they're of interest to LGBTQIA+ couples and single parents as well.

"The reality of it is there's a huge need for family forming benefits," he said.