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Employee Benefits to Build an Inclusive Workplace

By: Benefits by Design | Tuesday June 7, 2022

Updated : Wednesday February 14, 2024

Having an employee benefits plan that realizes the diversity of its workforce is important to creating and supporting an inclusive workplace. Different employees have varying needs when it comes to their benefits. The diversity of our modern workforce is seen through differences in age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and family composition.  

For pride month, we’re focusing on employee benefits that show a commitment to an inclusive workplace. For all employees, including those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community

Inclusive Employee Benefits  

Employee benefits aim to reduce the burden of employee medical expenses, but there are some that show a dedication to diversity and inclusion more than others.

multi-ethnic same-sex couple with adopted daughter

Parental Leave

Parental leave is a government mandated benefit in Canada.  The parental leave benefit can be split between parents. No matter the composition of a couple, and no matter how they may have come to have a child, employees have the option to take time off to care for them. And employers cannot suspend, dismiss, lay off, demote or discipline their employees if they take this time off. However, despite this law, some employees may not always feel comfortable asking for parental leave. Employers can make this benefit more inclusive by encouraging both partners to utilize the time off.

At Benefit by Design (BBD) Inc., employees taking parental leave for 35 weeks or longer are offered a return-to-work program that supports an easier transition to work. This is provided regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or partnership composition.

Family Building Benefits 

Fertility issues can extend to any parent, not just a person with ovaries. There are many ways one can start a family, and infertility treatments could play a key role in their success. Consider including the following options: 

Family building benefits – growing families and employee loyalty

Gender Affirmation Coverage 

Employees facing gender dysphoria often face it alone or with a select group of friends or family. The American Psychiatric Association, defines gender dysphoria as: “Clinically significant distress or impairment related to a strong desire to be of another gender, which may include desire to change primary and/or secondary sex characteristics. Not all transgender or gender diverse people experience dysphoria.”  

One thing employers can do to support and protect their transgender employees is to provide gender affirmation coverage. This includes coverage for foundational and focused surgeries that help with the physical transformation. 

Mental Health Support 

Providing mental health support services for all employees is vital to creating a positive and inclusive workplace. LGBTQ+ individuals are more than twice as likely to have a mental illness as their heterosexual counterparts. Mental Health support is extra important for those in the LGBTQ+ community, particularly those who are apart of another minority like the Black and Indigenous communities.  

Mental health support can be accessed under the Extended Health Care (EHC) benefit, as well as through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). There are also gender-specific benefits like Green Shield Canada’s Room For Her (aimed at all those who identify as a woman) that help employees find a counsellor who best reflects their social status and lived experience.  

Inclusive Language and Dependent Coverage 

No matter the composition of a partnership, if a couple have been living together as partners for at least a year (depending on the insurance company), then they are eligible for spousal coverage.  

Many companies (including yours truly) have also replaced the word “sex” with “gender” on their forms and applications. We also include an “undisclosed” option for those that do not identify as male or female.  

Bringing Diversity & Inclusivity Into Employee Benefits

Inclusive Workplace Practices 

There are other ways besides employee benefits that employers can cultivate an inclusive workplace.  

Use Gender Neutral Language 

The world is comprised of a wonderful mixture of unique people, and how we identify is also our own. Consider all employees and encourage everyone to use gender neutral language. Gendered language can include things like gendered phrases: “man up!”, or gendered words like husband and wife (partner is a great gender-neutral alternative!) 

Also, it is ok to introduce yourself and provide your pronouns to set the tone. It is also ok to ask others what their preferred pronouns are. This is not offensive, whereas calling a person by the wrong pronoun (also known as misgendering) could be. The best rule of thumb is to use “they” prior to knowing someone’s pronouns.  

Diversity Training 

No one is purposefully prejudiced, but old habits from old regimes can take practice and awareness to change. Diversity training educates and reduces stigma, reinforces positive traits, and reminds people of negative ones they may or may not be aware of. Discussing diversity and bias helps to remind people and ensure an open and inclusive workplace for everyone.

Include extra training for people managers (those who manage other employees) as they will be the ones nurturing this inclusive workplace culture. 

Follow through with your Respect and/or Harassment in the Workplace policy to enforce those who are not respecting their coworkers.  

Listen to Feedback 

It’s important to listen to your employees’ feedback.  

Sometimes what looks great on paper might not work in reality. Don’t be afraid to recognize when something is not working, or is not enough. If your employees tell you they need change, they probably do.

Incorporating Employee Feedback in Your Benefits Plan

Celebrate and Encourage People to Be Their True Selves 

Ideas and innovations wouldn’t flourish if you had a company full of carbon copies of yourself. Sure, you might never disagree, but how would you know if an idea is actually good?  

An inclusive workplace celebrates diversity and encourages people to be themselves. Highlighting our differences can bring people together. Encourage your staff to embrace their individuality and uniqueness.

Need more reasons to start building on inclusivity, equity, and diversity (DEI)?

Why Workplace Diversity Is So Important, And Why It's So Hard to Achieve