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Support Black Health and Wellness in Your Workplace

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Quick Look: February is Black History Month, an opportunity to acknowledge the accomplishments, culture, history, and experiences of people of African descent in America. The official theme for this year focuses on the importance of Black health and wellness, which includes the physical body, as well as emotional and mental health. While much progress has been accomplished over the years to shine a light on the multiple facets of Black health and wellness in the workplace, we acknowledge there is still much to uncover, amplify, question, and correct.  

Established by Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week in 1926, Black History Month became widely acknowledged in the 1970s and has gained national importance as an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments, culture, history, and experiences of people of African descent in America.

This year’s theme focuses on the importance of Black health and wellness. Beyond physical health, this theme asks us to consider the emotional health, mental health, activities, and practices that promote wellbeing in the Black community.

Strengthening employee health and wellness is important for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB), but takes on added significance for individuals whose needs have been historically overlooked or marginalized. As Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts receive much-needed attention, employers of all sizes are waking up to the ways company systems and policies inhibit people of color from doing their best work.

Here’s how you can increase support for Black health and wellness in your workplace starting now.

Expose compensation disparities

One of the first steps an employer can take to promote health and wellness for people of color is to closely evaluate compensation equity.

A recent study by Payscale showed Black men had the largest “uncontrolled pay gap” compared to white men, earning 87 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. Even when considering a controlled pay gap (comparing pay between individuals with the same experience, education level, job description, and geographic location), Black men made 98 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. Though the disparity may seem slim, those two percentage points compound to create a significant loss in earnings throughout a career.

Black women fared even worse. Black women currently earn an average of 63 cents per every dollar paid to a non-Hispanic white man. This adds up to roughly $1 million in lost earnings over the course of a lifetime.

This disparity in pay reflects a system where Black workers face an uphill battle. SMB employers may strive to outline and implement inclusive workplace policies, but if bias is built into the system itself, Black and other people of color will remain at a disadvantage.

The onus is on employers to scrutinize pay policies and implementation, going as far back as company records will allow. Gut feelings or general assessments are not sufficient. The only way to obtain a true measurement is to compare as many factors as possible, including job descriptions, education levels, geographic location, years of experience, promotions, and soft skills.

For many SMB employers, the answers can be found in the company’s HRIS software. ExtensisHR’s DEI Dashboard workforce management software compares data on turnover, promotions, pay equity, and more. These “apples-to-apples” comparisons enable SMB leaders to see if the company’s pay scale is weighted disproportionately toward (or away from) a particular group.

Re-evaluate benefit offerings

One-size-fits-all benefits packages not only fail to address the needs of today’s workforce but may also inadvertently exclude certain groups. Here are some ways SMB employers can adjust benefits to align with DEI initiatives and support Black workers and other employees of color.

Choose inclusive healthcare providers

Racial discrimination abounds in healthcare, creating alarming consequences for people of color. Per a recent report by the Urban Institute, between September 2019 and September 2020, 10.6% of Black people surveyed faced discrimination by a doctor, other healthcare provider or their staff based on race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or health condition compared to 3.6%of whites and 4.5% of Hispanics.

While healthcare has a long way to go to create an equitable environment for people of color, representation matters. According to Stanford University, increased racial diversity among medical professionals has the potential to lower cardiovascular mortality among Black men by 19%. When health plans are approaching renewal, work with your broker or professional employer organization (PEO) to select coverage with diverse in-plan physicians. Failure to act could result in serious consequences.

Consider coverage for at-risk individuals

Consult your insurance broker or PEO company to identify healthcare providers who promote coverage for specific conditions for at-risk individuals. Per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “at-risk individuals” refer to children, pregnant women, and older adults, plus individuals from diverse cultures, those who have transportation disadvantages, and individuals experiencing chronic health conditions.

Some examples of benefits supporting at-risk individuals may include fertility and adoption services, chronic disease and care management, and disability-inclusive medical coverage (ex. speech therapy, physical therapy, hearing aids, and other accessibility resources.)

Re-think PTO

Paid time off (PTO) has evolved over recent years from basic “vacation days” to cover an entire spectrum of clearly defined (and in some cases, legally protected) paid time off. However, careless PTO policy development may underserve Black workers. A recent study from ULCA found that people of color have less access to sick leave and many PTO policies widen racial disparities.

Under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible workers are entitled to time off for specific health matters and many definitions were expanded as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation. As part of FMLA, paid time off is available to assist a sick family member, care for children at home during school closures, or COVID testing. However not all employees realize these benefits are available.

Make sure all employees have access to clear information about company PTO policies and encourage employees to take time off when needed.

Promote mental health offerings

According to the National Association of Mental Illness, rates of mental illness are about the same between Black and white Americans. However, Black adults in the U.S. are more likely to report persistent symptoms of “emotional distress, such as sadness, hopelessness, and feeling like everything is an effort.” Black Americans are also less likely to seek mental health care due to stigma, provider bias, and inequality of care. 

SMB employers can reinforce the mental and emotional wellbeing of staff members by selecting healthcare providers with robust mental health support services. Inform employees about available mental health benefits and encourage participation. Emphasizing stress reduction and promoting mental wellbeing creates an environment where employees are more likely to take advantage of these valuable benefits.

DEI is an ongoing effort

DEI is not simply a box to check before moving on to other HR matters. Creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment requires an ongoing commitment to continuously assess where your company is making gains and where there is work yet to do.

Black History Month is a great reminder to evaluate how your company bolsters the health, wellness, and careers of people of color—but lasting change requires a year-round commitment.

Many SMBs lack the internal resources to implement a robust DEI program, so they partner with a PEO company or other diversity experts. Working with experienced HR specialists ensures your efforts are meaningful, compliant, and strong enough to create lasting change.

Make sure your workplace is fair and equitable for Black employees and other people of color. Contact our HR experts to get started.

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