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#IWD2022: How employee benefits can break the bias and boost D&I

International Women’s Day presents an opportunity to consider how some employee benefits can help to #BreakTheBias says Katharine Moxham, Spokesperson, Group Risk Development (GRiD)

International Women’s Day (IWD) is “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.” *

The theme for this year’s IWD day is #BreakTheBias, but, given that the first IWD was held in 1911, one might argue that the fact the event is still running might indicate there’s still much work to be done around equality, diversity and inclusion. Likewise the Equal Pay Act came into being in 1970 but businesses are still reporting gender pay gaps some 50 plus years later. This begs the question: if we can’t treat around 50% of our population equally, what hope is there for equal treatment for smaller minorities?

So how can advisers and employers break the bias, not just for women but for everyone?

Some people can be underserved within the consumer insured protection market – not necessarily deliberately or through bias but by virtue of the fact that they may see their protection needs as being subservient to or met by those of their partner. Or they might not have access to advice. Or they might see themselves as not at risk (the “it won’t happen to me” mindset). Conversely, they might consider themselves uninsurable because they are living with a disability or long-term health condition.

Advisers can find it challenging to raise protection conversations with consumers especially after a long process for (say) advising on a mortgage. But what if just adding one question could facilitate this? For example, what sort of conversation could follow the question “What’s your benefits package at work like?”.

It could take an employee in all manner of conversational directions from “I don’t know” through to “OK, I think” to “really good” or “rubbish” but what really needs to come out of that chat is whether or not someone has access to group risk benefits via their employer. Those who do will have some level of protection in place and it might be that the conversation stops there but for those who don’t, the conversation can turn to “so how would you or your family manage without your income?”

For employers, group risk benefits (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness benefits) give their workforce access to financial protection without them having to do any of the hard work, at no or low cost and, generally, a generous basic level of cover is given to all members of a group policy without the need to provide medical evidence, and irrespective of their state of health.

This is both inclusive and equitable – not only for those who might not otherwise think to make their own provision but also for those who can’t afford it or who have health conditions or are living with disabilities that might mean they would be either declined or charged extra premiums for cover under an individual policy. Additionally, cover under a group risk policy can continue during maternity, paternity, shared parental or adoption leave.

The employer takes advice on the benefit design and cover levels, either aligned to their goals and contractual obligations or merely based on good/competitive practice. The employer will also take advice on the suitability of providers by way of a market review. This process is undertaken regularly and thus keeps design appropriate and employers’ costs down.

It’s a really easy way for employers to be inclusive – as generally, the benefits can be offered to everyone regardless of their position, salary, race, ethnicity, gender, age or state of health.

Group risk providers do seek to capture medical details for the top few earners within a business but, even then, they will still generally get a generous level of benefit which is free from medical underwriting. Where high earners are medically assessed for a higher level of benefit, this is generally only required once.

Everyone needs a way of protecting their household’s financial position and group risk benefits have really come into their own during the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only in terms of paying out £261.3 million in Covid-related death claims up to the end of December 2021**, but also in terms of other practical help.

Group risk policies come with a number of embedded help and support services for employees, business owners, HR and line managers to use. Interactions with embedded services such as an Employee Assistance Programme, HR and line manager advice, online GP services, second medical opinion services and physical and mental health apps increased exponentially during 2020 to a record number of 138,222 interactions (compared with 74,707 interactions during 2019)***.

The provision of remotely accessible support services has been especially valuable in helping people during the pandemic. Employers who have group risk benefits and their embedded support services in place are able to position themselves as caring towards their workforce in its entirety and are able to deliver on that in the most practical of ways.

As more and more employers seek to embed true diversity and inclusion within their corporate culture, encouraging them to provide these truly equitable benefits is an excellent way to #BreakTheBias.

*https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Theme  (see footer)

** GRiD interim COVID-19 Claims Surveys for 1 January to 31 December 2020 & 2021

 ***GRiD 2021 Claims Survey

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