Employer Efforts to Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Benefit Programs Expected to Surge

Willis Towers Watson survey finds social determinants of health hold increased importance in employer health and wellbeing strategies

The number of employers that will promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their benefits programs and workplaces is expected to jump sharply over the next three years, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson, a leading global advisory, broking, and solutions company.

The Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey found that four-fifths of employers will take steps to promote DEI in their workplace culture and policies over the next three years compared with just 55% that took measures over the past three years. Additionally, seven in 10 employers indicated they would promote DEI-related aspects of their benefit programs (72%) and wellbeing programs (69%) over the next three years, more than double those that did so the past three years.

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“Employers recognize the need for greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace and are taking steps to address equity and access in their benefits programs,” said Rachael McCann, senior director, Health and Benefits, Willis Towers Watson. “By shifting benefit program discussions from inclusivity to equitable health and wealth outcomes, employers will be able to identify specific areas for improvement — and that often leads to a focus on access, affordability, and quality.”

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Organizations are taking actions around the following benefit plans, programs, and policies to align with their DEI objectives:

  • Half of the respondents (50%) have acted on their maternity benefits, family planning, and fertility programs; another 33% plan to do so this year or are considering doing so in the next two years.
  • Just under half of the respondents (46%) have acted on transgender benefits; another 30% plan to do so this year or are considering doing so in the next two years.
  • Over half of respondents have addressed employee resource groups (55%) and leave of absence programs (53%); about one in four plan to do so this year or are considering doing so in the next two years.

Social determinants of health initiatives gain momentum

More employers think social determinants of health (SDoH) — the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes — is integral to evaluating benefits and wellbeing program effectiveness and will factor significantly in the future. More than eight in 10 employers (83%) believe SDoH will be essential to their organizations’ health and wellbeing strategies over the next three years. Currently, only two-thirds of employers (67%) consider SDoH important. The survey found more employers are implementing programs that support LGBT+ individuals, gaps in care, and broad physical and emotional wellbeing.

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The survey found many employers are examining key health care indicators through the SDoH lens with many more expected to do so:

  • Nearly four in 10 respondents (37%) have conducted an assessment to examine access to virtual care among various employee groups; another 31% are either planning or considering doing so by 2023.
  • Over one-third (34%) have evaluated the quality of the SDoH factors within their preventive care and screening visits; another 32% are planning or considering doing so in the next few years.
  • Nearly one-third (32%) have examined health care utilization by key conditions; another 37% are planning or considering doing so in the next few years.
  • More than a quarter (27%) have evaluated the affordability of benefits (relative to salary); another 29% are planning or considering doing so in the next few years.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated already existing health disparities. Yet, it has also helped employers to understand the need to address social determinants of health in their benefit program strategies. By doing all they can to understand the needs of each workforce sector, employers can make it possible for all employees to thrive,” said Julie Stone, managing director, Health and Benefits, Willis Towers Watson.

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