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Building a DE&I benefits tool kit


The workplaces of today are certainly diverse: they are a mix of employees with different racial backgrounds, ethnic groups, abilities, genders, and sexual orientation. These diverse groups have very specific needs; and organizations that address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) through targeted, personalized and meaningful benefits offerings can create workforces that are resilient, productive, loyal and attuned to the needs of clients.

This means integrating a company-wide DE&I plan that sets values the organization wants to embrace, establishing policies that support these values, publicly committing to DE&I initiatives and bringing in DE&I experts to help achieve these targets. Once such a plan is in place, benefits offerings also need an update to reflect the organization’s new approach.

Creating such a plan should start with a review of the geographical distribution of employees to get a better idea of what’s covered by each provincial health plan and where benefits need to be augmented. Plan sponsors should also review supplemental benefits coverage to ensure there is sufficient coverage for newly covered therapies. They should communicate with employees to determine what benefits they would like to see offered. Employers should benchmark their DE&I plan against competitors to determine whether it is in line with other industry offerings.

Once this review is undertaken, the organizations then need to decide what types of services, therapies and medications it will cover to build its inclusive workplace.

What’s encouraging is that many plan sponsors already understand the value of these types of initiatives. According to a 2022 Benefits Canada survey, 91% of benefits plan sponsors believe they promote and support a diverse and inclusive workplace, with 44% strongly agreeing with this statement. In addition, 72% of those surveyed have a documented strategy for DE&I in the workplace.

Medications for transitioning

According to Statistics Canada's May 2021 census, one in 300 people in Canada aged 15 and older are transgender or non-binary. These individuals often require access to specialized treatments, procedures and medications. Some individuals who are intersex or gender diverse may need hormones or hormone blockers, or require services such as laser hair removal or binders.

However, while Canada's public health insurance plans usually cover major surgical procedures, many other procedures are not publicly covered; and these surgeries and medications can be a financial hurdle. To assist employees access and pay for these services, plan sponsors may want to cover or increase coverages for fertility and reproductive aids, support for midwives and surrogacy and adoption, puberty blockers, hormones, masculinizing chest surgery, and counseling, among others.

If a plan is adding certain surgical procedures, it is also important to assess whether medications that are taken alongside these procedures are also covered. 

It’s also imperative that benefit plans sync with provincial plan coverage to ensure there is no duplication. In Ontario, for example, what’s covered publicly are such procedures as augmentation mammoplasty or mastectomy, orchiectomy, phalloplasty or penile implants.

Some provinces cover hormones, such as injectable testosterone, anti-androgens and estradiol.

Generally, employers end up paying for such procedures as laser hair removal, liposuction, electrolysis, voice modification surgery, tracheal shaves and hair transplants, among others.

Specialized mental health programs for BIPOC employees

Black, indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) employee populations require different mental health supports that address their specific needs in ways that resonate with them. Many racialized employees feel a lot of stigma around disclosing a mental health issue. Others feel disconnected from traditional mental health initiatives and require tailored solutions.

For example, a 2018 survey of 328 black Canadian residents by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, found that 60% said they would be more willing to use mental health services if the mental health professional were Black. And, 95.1% felt that the underutilization of mental health services by black Canadian residents was a major issue that needed to be addressed.

Studies have shown that culturally adapted cognitive behavioural therapy can be very effective at improving the mental health of Black people, as well as First Nations groups. It’s why Ontario Power Generation Inc. recently introduced an internet-based cognitive-behavioural therapy program designed specifically for OPG’s First Nations staff. A mix of elder support, the work of traditional healers and cognitive behavioural therapy, the psychological support is specialized and relevant. It’s a culturally responsive solution that helps its First Nations populations feel supported and heard.

The payoff: a supported, loyal workplace

Investing in robust DE&I initiatives can help break down barriers for employees who feel stigmatized. A recent McKinsey survey about inclusion at work found that respondents of all backgrounds faced barriers to inclusion—particularly those who identify as LGBTQ+.

The study also found that a sense of inclusion is strongly linked with employee engagement. Respondents who feel very included in their workplace are in turn more engaged in their roles and more loyal to their employer in the long term.

Thus, offering benefits that are targeted to these groups can help alleviate this sense of not being included, and make them feel as if their needs are being met. This will in turn lead to greater productivity, fewer absences and increased commitment to the organization.  

As for those plan sponsors worried about the affordability of augmenting their benefits offerings, benefits such as gender affirmation procedures, mental health supports and increased coverage for infertility are not a big investment if they mean happier employees who stay longer at the organization. In terms of specific cost-cutting measures, there are also numerous strategies that can offset costs, such as switching biologic patients to biosimilars, leveraging Product Listing Agreements or mandating generics to generate savings. 

What organizations need to remember is that creating a highly inclusive workplace means carefully crafting a DE&I plan that will meet the diverse needs of employees. It involves a close look at what offerings are currently in place, research into what provincial plans already cover, an examination of what other organizations are providing and a deep dive into the specific needs of employees within the organization. Once that has been done, the new benefits offerings can be added, reducing barriers to care and promoting diversity, equity and inclusiveness within the organization.