BY ANN COSIMANO
June’s Pride Month is a great time to celebrate our diversity and the accomplishments of the LGBTQ+ community and its advocates — but also to take stock in how well we’re doing in creating a more equitable workplace. Inclusive benefits play a major role in that effort. And as brokers, your work with employers can help provide the community with the support they need.
Of the 11 million people who identify as LGBTQ+ in the U.S., 88% are currently employed. (lgbtmap.org/file/LGBT-Workers-3-Pager-FINAL.pdf ). Now, in its 20th year, the Human Rights Campaign’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) (reports.hrc. org/corporate-equality-index-2022) shows how corporations across the U.S. are adopting equitable workplace policies, practices and benefits for this 8+ million-strong community within the labor force. In its most current report, CEI noted that 44 new pro-equality laws were passed in the 2021 legislative season. They highlight the considerable progress made by the 800+ companies they’ve evaluated in their commitment to tangible, LGBTQ+ focused diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
While great progress has been made in supporting LGBTQ+ employees in recent years, there’s still room for improvement. On the benefits side, brokers and employers should look for potential gaps in areas like access to equitable healthcare, family-starting benefits and financial well-being.
In addition, there can be legal issues associated with many of those areas. This makes a voluntary benefit like legal insurance or legal plans — that provide employees cost effective access to legal counsel, education, and aligned resources — an attractive complementary offering.
Consider some of the issues that members of the LGBTQ+ community may need to navigate over time.
Accessing health care
According to CEI, 86% of participating businesses now offer transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage. But keep in mind — many members of the LGBTQ+ community are still afraid to seek medical care; sadly, 35% do not engage with the health care system at all. The Healthcare Equality Index (reports.hrc.org/healthcare-equality-index-2020) reports that it’s largely because they don’t feel comfortable speaking candidly with their health care providers. Seventy-three percent of transgender respondents and 29% of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents said they feel like they would be treated differently by medical personnel due to their status.
For those reasons, Walmart introduced the Included Health platform (includedhealth.com/), designed to provide comprehensive care tailored to LGBTQ+ employees. With this digital platform, associates can take advantage of concierge services that specialize in connecting LGBTQ+ people and their loved ones with quality, affirming care.
Financing the future
This community can face some distinct financial challenges:
- LGBTQ+ borrowers feel weighed down by student loan debt, especially those with little or no support from family or outside financial advisors. That debt burden keeps the vast majority (87%) from reaching other key milestones, like owning a home, starting a family or saving for retirement.
- Same-sex borrowers are 73% more likely to be denied a mortgage, despite being deemed “less risky” as borrowers. And according to a 2019 study completed by Iowa State University, 26 different states do not have statewide housing protections for the LGBTQ+ community, making recourse challenging.
- A 2021 U.S. Census Household Pulse survey shows more LGBT adults living in households with economic insecurity (37%) than non-LGBT adults (26%).
As we’ve seen in healthcare, digital institutions are being created to fill the void and serve the needs of the LGBTQ+ community — this time in banking and finance.
Like many of their colleagues, LGTBQ+ employees welcome benefits that help them get back on the road to financial well-being — such as financial education, student loan repayment help, or emergency savings accounts. But should financial issues become legal issues, employees and their partners can tap into their legal plan to navigate a range of challenges from loan refinancing or consolidation to consumer protection matters or personal bankruptcy.
Starting a family
Increasingly important to companies’ DEI initiatives are a range of benefits offered to help build a family — regardless of an employee’s gender, sexual orientation, medical condition, whether single or partnered. These offerings might cover fertility treatments like IUI or IVF, elective egg freezing, surrogacy, adoption support and reimbursement allowances. Everyone’s family planning journey is different. And more companies recognize this and are stepping up with benefits to support those journeys.
That’s great progress — but challenges remain. Establishing parental rights, whether through adoption or surrogacy, can be complicated. Marital status can make a difference in what benefits, rights and privileges LGBTQ+ employees can receive. In certain states, the law won’t recognize a queer couple as coparents unless official adoption documentation (known as second-parent adoption) is signed.
One of my peers, Matt Duke, Esq., who works for the Offices of Fears Law in Dallas, Texas, spoke to these real-life challenges during our conversation.
“Whenever I talk to an LGBTQ+ client, it tends to be about family,” says Duke. “I had a client whose partner had given birth through in vitro. [My client] wasn’t on the birth certificate, and the birth mother didn’t want to put her on — and then they broke up. My client was having a really hard time trying to get some sort of custody. Custody is a major thing. When a non-birth parent is seeking custody, that can be really tricky.”
All of these proceedings and required processes can create added stress that weighs on your clients’ employees. Having an attorney can simplify matters by providing guidance and drafting the agreements needed to protect the employee’s interests, family and future. Legal insurance providers, including ARAG, offer members diverse coverages so they can complete critical documentation, from prenuptial or domestic partnership agreements to parentage orders, surrogacy agreements, adoption contracts and more.
Creating a supportive corporate culture
A good place to start could be to review company content for engendered language. Look especially closely at language used in company and benefits policies, job descriptions, and your intranet and HR systems for how well it reflects your firm’s work environment. Updated language can communicate volumes to current and prospective employees.
Inclusive language can also help nonbinary/trans employees feel more at ease and valued. Adding their pronouns to an email signature can be an opportunity to be true to themselves at work. But going through the system to legally change their assigned gender on important documents, such as a driver’s license, can be daunting. Since how states handle this change varies, it’s prudent to consult an attorney for the most up-to-date information and steps they can take to address their particular situation.
My company’s values include an essential titled “Be You.” To me, this is the most important of the essentials we have identified as critical to the success of our business. An employee who feels accepted, supported and understood will be more likely to bring all their gifts to our workplace.
When an employee is able to show up as themselves, I believe they provide better service, are more productive, less stressed and we have lower employee turnover. This is why I think the work of our employee-run LGBTQ+ subcommittee is so important. It provides an avenue and a resource for our LGBTQ+ employees to not only feel involved but also provides a mechanism for the entire organization to learn what it means to be an ally and how to be
there for each other.
Good for all
A benefits infrastructure that is inclusive of LGBTQ+ workers and their families can lead to proven increases in recruitment and retention of talented and diverse workforces. As companies continue to level the playing field for LGBTQ+ workers – it’ll not only benefit the community, but it’ll also be good for business.
ANN COSIMANO is ARAG’s General Counsel and directs the company’s legal, regulatory, compliance, risk management and attorney relations departments. Having started her career as an attorney for nonprofit organizations, Cosimano brings a full understanding of — and
deep respect for — members experiencing legal issues. She
genuinely cares about improving the lives of others and
aligns those values with her role as an executive leader.