Benefits Strategy

How Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Play a Role in Choosing a Corporate Wellness Program

Written by Kate

Is your corporate wellness program truly inclusive? This question is becoming increasingly common as the clarion call for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace echoes across boardrooms.

According to McKinsey & Co’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lighthouses 2023 report, the global market for DEI – dollars spent by companies on DEI-related efforts such as employee resource groups (ERGs) – is projected to reach $15.4 billion by 2026.

What does this mean for wellness programs? They should be built on a foundation of DEI principles. Why? Because the very definition of wellness extends beyond physical health. True holistic well-being supports employees’ diverse mental, emotional, social, and cultural needs. Before we discuss how to achieve this in your workplace, let’s understand the distinctions between diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What Exactly is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

To quote diversity advocate Verna Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance.” The Boston College Center for Work and Family defines the terms as follows:

  • Diversity: psychological, physical, and social differences that occur among any and all individuals.
  • Equity: the guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement while striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups.
  • Inclusion: the act of creating environments in which any individual or group feels welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate and bring their authentic selves to work.

In a wellness context, diversity is about catering to your employee population’s varied interests, values, and cultural contexts. Equity ensures wellness resources and messaging resonate and are accessible regardless of an employee’s identity. Inclusion means proactively co-creating programs with your diverse workforce to increase representation, trust, and buy-in.

How to Support Diversity, Equity Inclusion Efforts in Your Wellness Program

While the concepts of DEI and corporate wellness programs may seem like separate initiatives at first glance, research suggests they are inextricably linked. Here are some steps organizations can take to weave these principles into their wellness offerings:

1. Ensuring an Inclusive and Equitable Benefits Package

Since 53% of all firms offer employee benefits, this is one of the most impactful ways to promote DEI in your wellness program. Here are some considerations to make before rolling out the program:

Identify Gaps for Underrepresented Groups

Every workplace has an underrepresented group with different needs from the majority. Take racial minorities and LGBTQIA+ employees, for example. According to one study, American Indian or Alaska Native people are 2X more likely to be uninsured compared to their white counterparts. This leaves many without access to quality healthcare, exposing them to more chronic illnesses than other racial or ethnic groups. On their part, LGBTQIA+ people report 2.5X more rates of depression, anxiety, substance and alcohol use disorders compared to non-LGBTQIA+ individuals.

The first step should be identifying how best to support these groups in your corporate wellness initiatives. Conduct surveys, focus groups, and data analyses to pinpoint benefits gaps for LGBTQ+ employees, minorities, those with disabilities, etc. Common needs to account for include gender affirmation coverage, fertility/family planning, mental health resources, and chronic condition management.

Audit for Accessibility Barriers

The health and wellness of an employee depend on more than willpower. It is also a result of the social determinants of health the individual has been exposed to. To achieve equity in care, employers must address the upstream barriers created by a person’s socioeconomic status. These include:

  • Affordability — The majority of uninsured people cannot afford the high costs of copays. Given a choice between buying food and shelter or paying for health insurance, they may never use, most people will undoubtedly choose the former, but that will then leave them vulnerable in the event that they fall ill. To support this group, ensure low costs and minimize economic barriers like high deductibles that disproportionately impact low-wage workers.
  • Linguistic/Cultural Relevance — Some employees (especially people who speak English as a second or third language) may not fully understand the benefits available to them. To increase utilization, provide translations, culturally competent providers, and resources that simplify the process.
  • Policy Restrictions — The Center for American Progress noted that “even if transgender people have health insurance coverage, most policies contain transgender-specific exclusions that deny them coverage routinely provided to non-transgender people.” Identify and remove technicalities or requirements that inadvertently exclude these groups.

Build Benefits Literacy

People can’t use the benefits available if they don’t understand them. To increase intake and utilization:

  • Provide multichannel benefits, communication, and education tailored to your workforce’s diverse needs.
  • Conduct on-site seminars, ERG collaborations, and language accessibility to drive understanding.
  • Offer one-on-one guidance from benefits educators who mirror your employee demographics.
building benefits literacy

2. Offering a Diverse Array of Activities

Most workplaces thoroughly address the physical aspect of well-being. However, a holistic wellness program should also address the social, emotional, and financial aspects. So, how can you make the program more inclusive?

  • Adaptive fitness for different abilities: Low-impact options like walking clubs, yoga, and tai chi, along with high-intensity choices.
  • Nutrition: Dietary/cooking workshops reflecting various cultural cuisines and dietary needs (vegan, halal, kosher, etc.)
  • Mental Health: Counseling, therapy groups, meditation sessions, stress management training
  • Disease Management: Education and support for conditions that disproportionately impact specific populations
  • Incentives and Rewards aligned with the unique motivations and values of diverse audiences

3. Ensuring Accessibility & Accommodation

Is your wellness program friendly to employees with disabilities and other specific needs? Suppose your organization has visually impaired employees; how easy is it for them to participate in the company’s wellness activities? While the options may be limited for smaller organizations, there are still options that can make the wellness program more accessible.

For example, ensure the on-site gym has a ramp, an elevator, or an accessible entrance to accommodate wheelchair users.

Additionally, consider investing in adaptive exercise equipment like weight machines with swivel seats, resistance bands, and balance balls. For promotional materials, offer large print, braille, and multiple language versions of all handouts/signage to make them easier for everyone to understand. Where possible, provide sign language interpreters, real-time captioning, and adjustable workout stations as needed.

4. Curate a Network of Diverse Wellness Providers

Trust is a major pillar of a successful wellness program. When people feel comfortable with their provider, they’re more likely to seek care and disclose their areas of struggle. Be it doctors, nurses, and insurance providers to gym instructors and aromatherapists, employees are more likely to report positive experiences when there’s diversity in their care team. Here’s how to get started:

  • Conduct demographic audits of all wellness vendors and suppliers across intersectional identities.
  • Implement targets and accountability measures for provider diversity.
  • Partnership programs elevating local, community-based providers from underrepresented backgrounds.
  • Feedback loops allowing employees to evaluate providers through an inclusivity lens.
  • Continual education to build trust and comfort levels with diverse providers.

5. Celebrating and Sharing DEI Wins

Do you want to persuade reluctant team members to participate in the company’s wellness program? Share diverse success stories. Go beyond the medals attained in your last 5k to outstanding achievements by underrepresented groups. For instance, you can create multimedia content series highlighting inspirational wellness journeys across different communities.

celebrate diversity

Final Thoughts

Authentically integrating diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging into your wellness strategy is not a one-time checklist to complete. Ultimately, DEI is about holistic cultural transformation that impacts everything from your hiring to retention practices.

With continual improvement and enhancement, you’ll not only better support the holistic well-being of your entire workforce, but also unleash the potential of the diverse, top talent your organization’s future success depends on.

Curious to see how diversity, equity, and inclusion fits in your wellness program? Feel free to schedule a call with one of our Benefits Experts today. We’re here to help!

Corporate Wellness Benefit Managers having a discussion while looking at an electronic tablet.

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