Although HR has always been responsible for the health and wellbeing of their employees, the nature of the role has changed. Delivering fair, inclusive, and equitable benefits to employees is now a crucial part of the job. To get there, you first need to understand health equity: what it is, why it matters, and the role families play in achieving it. Let’s dive into everything you need to know:

What is health equity?

Workplace accessibility to culturally humble healthcare plans is no longer a preference—health equity has become a necessity. Health equity is when every person can achieve their full health potential without being marginalized because of socially determined factors. But historically reinforced inequities have a disproportionate impact on the health outcomes of marginalized groups, illustrated in the direct link between socioeconomic status and race to lower quality of care. So when we talk about health equity, we’re really talking about health inequities: according to the CDC, health inequities are reflected in access to treatment, quality of life, disability, death, longevity, and severity of disease.

Addressing Social Determinants of Health

To successfully advance health and wellness for employees and their families, HR leaders need to be cognizant of the social determinants of health (SDOH). SDOH are the circumstances into which people are born and live, including gender, race, educational opportunities, sexuality, and access to healthcare. Structural inequities lead to drastic contrasts in outcomes among different groups—for instance, Black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth and report increased discrimination during pregnancy. The multifaceted factors of SDOH affect every aspect of life at home and work. 

Putting families at the center of the equity conversation

HR professionals shoulder the essential responsibility of pursuing health equity for their employees from a holistic lens—including their lives outside of work and the families they have at home. Consistent support for families needs to be at the intersection of health and workplace diversity: according to data from Parents at the Best Workplaces Report, 60% of Black employees and 56% of Latinx employees are parents, compared to 50% of white employees. Companies that want to demonstrate their commitment to comprehensive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives must look beyond the workplace to a view of health equity that supports employees’ families and personal lives. Benefits that support employees’ family journeys are empowering and impactful, making them an essential aspect of DEI.

The Difference Between Health Equity, Equality, and Disparity

To make an impact in employees’ life, it’s important to understand the differences between health equity, equality, and disparity in order to communicate effectively about these topics. Health equity and health equality both aim to advance health outcomes and improve access to quality healthcare—but the approaches are very different. While health equity focuses on addressing the social determinants of health and considering structural bias, health equality gives everyone the exact same treatment, care, and services without regard for health disparities. According to the CDC, health disparities are “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.” Health disparities are inequitable and can be improved by addressing unequal health risks and the social determinants of health. 

How does health equity impact your team?

A workplace that achieves health equity creates fair circumstances for every employee to be as healthy as possible. Unfortunately, data shows that many populations of Americans continue to face healthcare disparities: a recent survey from McKinsey & Company indicates that Black, Hispanic and Latino, Asian, and LGBTQ+ individuals were less likely to report receiving the care they needed and were more likely to think about switching employers for reasons related to benefits.

Unhealthy workplaces hurt productivity

In addition to decreasing retention, health inequities hurt productivity — people of color were more likely to miss six or more days of work for health reasons than White respondents. But the current inequities in healthcare affect everyone, not just employees. Poor health in the United States costs employers $575 billion and 1.5 million days of lost productivity in 2019, according to data from the Integrated Benefits Institute. Employers bear the brunt of these costs, along with the high expenses of turnover and absenteeism. 

Not only is bolstering health equity socially responsible, but it is also critical for business success. Healthy and engaged employees can productively focus on work, creating a thriving environment that is attractive to diverse talent. Employee priorities have shifted dramatically during the pandemic and to recruit the best talent, you need to match the new standards for support now expected from employers. Organizations that foster the health and safety of employees outperform the S&P 500, according to research from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Trustworthy programs and holistic benefits that support today’s employees’ needs are ultimately investments in companies’ long-term success.

Improving health equity in your organization

Health equity allows people to live their healthiest lives possible, regardless of race, income, location, and other factors. As we continue to examine the effect of structural inequities on the health of our employees, we must also consider their communities and families. A commitment to health equity improves employee health and productivity, reduces healthcare costs, and drives social change during a critical time. 

To help make health equity a more accessible goal for women and families everywhere, Maven has built a provider network to look like the range of patients we serve, with 40% of our providers identifying as BIPOC and 8% as LGBTQ. Do you want to ensure your employees have access to comprehensive, culturally humble healthcare? Maven puts families at the center of health equity, offering benefits that deliver better, equitable outcomes for our members at lower costs. To find out how Maven can help your employees, members, or patients receive the care they need, request a demo today.

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