It goes without saying that the ongoing pandemic has drawn attention to many disparities among Americans, including access to healthcare and improved health outcomes for patients. It's not just COVID-19 either - racial injustice, the red-hot abortion debate, and other timely topics have revealed gaps in employer care that can't be filled with a quick signature.
According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, health equity is defined as everyone having a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible, including in the workplace. A recent study of large U.S. employers conducted by McKinsey found that women of color and LGBTQIA+ employees have the highest share of unmet basic needs in the workplace. The results also showed that 34% of LGBTQIA+ employees considered switching employers in the last 12 months to seek out better health benefits.
This Pride Month and every month after, employers and benefits providers should ensure that their benefits reflect and tangibly support the LGBTQIA+ community, and go beyond simply changing your logo to a rainbow. Companies across the country and world are extending equality and consideration to the LGBTQIA+ community throughout the year. Here are a few examples:
- GE Power: GE Power supports employees through Pride Alliance employee resource group (ERG). The mission of the alliance is to raise awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues as well as create a network and safe environment free from discrimination. Through the Pride Alliance, GE creates a space where employees can discuss life experiences and concerns and seek out appropriate resources and support.
- Coca-Cola: Coca-Cola has long been a supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community. Since 2006, the company has a perfect score on the Human Right's Campaign's (HRC) Corporate Equality Index.
- IBM: Technology corporation IBM has been on the frontlines of workplace equality and added a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy as early as 1984. IBM's dedicated LGBTQIA+ business development team focuses on the community to recruit and retain diverse talent and implement inclusive benefits.
In 2020, 14 Washington State companies earned perfect scores on the HRC's Corporate Equality Index including Amazon.com, Microsoft, Starbucks, Expedia, Nordstrom, T-Mobile and Zillow. For employers to identify health and benefit priorities, it is best to start by listening to LGBTQIA+ employees. Engagement is best received when organizations seek to understand the needs of their employees, and these discussions will aid in identifying opportunities for improvement.
As a first step, it's important for employers to understand that LGBTQIA+ employees often have different experiences with the healthcare system than other employees; for example, LGBTQIA+ employees may experience discrimination from healthcare providers or health systems when seeking care. A study from the Center for American Progress showed that the LGBTQIA+ community experiences discrimination in healthcare systems and that discrimination discourages them from seeking care presently or in the future. This discrimination takes many forms; doctors or other healthcare providers may refuse patients care because of actual or perceived sexual orientation or refuse to recognize family, including children or a same-sex spouse or partner. Transgender respondents reported higher rates of discrimination compared to other populations within the LGBTQIA+ community.
Healthcare and employee benefits should help employees live more productive and healthier lives, both in and outside the workplace. Not only does the development and implementation of a broad range of LGBTQIA-inclusive healthcare and benefit strategies further promote larger Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategies and lead to a more inclusive organization for all employees, they can also lead to improved company culture, higher productivity, less absenteeism, and higher rates of employee loyalty and retention. Those are results that have positive bottom-line impacts for any company.