Become a “Culturally Competent Benefit Champion”

Be a superhero for your clients to inspire DEI awareness and practice in 2023 

By Wayne Guzman

As the world has become so much more aware and knowledgeable about areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), its importance in the workplace has expanded. Benefit professionals and consultants are challenged to evolve and incorporate methodologies to help guide employers with benefit designs that address DEI, as well as social determinants of health. The purpose of this article is to be a primer and provide guidance to those who desire to learn and become “Culturally Competent Benefit Champions.” This is an important aspiration for 2023 for us all. 

For many years, benefit professionals espoused the value of wellness programs. They recognize the impact wellness could have on the bottom line of organizations by improving population health. Studies show these valuable and popular programs can ultimately bend the trend or slope of organizational healthcare spend. For many, this encompassed more than simply adding health and wellness programs to an employer’s benefit portfolio. It also included adding effective services that helped foster employee adoption and engagement. When helping people improve their health becomes a reality, it fulfills the vision of the organization and delivers promised outcomes touted by brokers and consultants. 

In more recent years, benefit professionals have introduced the idea of Corporate Socially Responsible (CSR) benefit programs and design. Studies and anecdotes show that doing good (socially) and doing good (organizationally) are not mutually exclusive, but in fact are positively correlated and help increase overall organizational value. 

Today with the rapid evolution of DEI awareness, education, and workplace training, it is imperative to offer services, benefit design and programs that can improve an organization’s DEI bottom line. And ultimately, this means a better world for the humans that work in these organizations. 

So, how do you begin? How do you acquire the skills to help your clients understand the importance of DEI and support them to put their values into action? 

To start with, I recommend educating yourself. Make sure you feel relatively competent in your understanding of DEI, social determinants of health, and health inequities. Begin with an assessment of the current concept of DEI in the U.S. Please note that this is a growing and ever evolving arena, so you may find yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed. One place to start is to get involved in your industry professional organizations: National Asso. of Health Underwriters (NAHU) and CAHIP (California Association of Health and Insurance Professionals), as well as your local chapter DEI committees. Here you can dialogue with experienced professionals committed to achieving DEI. You will often find webinars, resources, and recommended materials to assist with your personal and professional development. Also, your local Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter offers many excellent training tools for members and non-members alike.  

I also recommend finding a mentor or working with a general agency and/or carrier partner who is well versed in this arena. They often offer programs and support to help in your quest to expand your awareness and become a “culturally competent benefits champion.” This work can be very far reaching. It can touch many areas of an organization with different areas of expertise. It is important that you develop a tool kit and benefit solutions that help you stay on task and help keep all involved focused on the major priorities and outcomes.

What should be in your tool kit? A Benefits Assessment that incorporates a Social Determinants of Health lens.

As you look at the following chart, think about all the programs that you offer that can directly help in one of these areas.  Additionally, it will be important to understand which of these areas may be having the greatest impact on the organization you are working with.

When should I have these conversations?

Initially this assessment should be done at a time apart from an annual renewal, so that an appropriate amount of time can be given to not only the evaluation but the beginning of the education necessary to demonstrate the value that a good DEI benefit program can offer an organization.

So just like other health professionals, it is imperative that health insurance professionals conduct an annual DEI check up to determine the current state of health and improvements achieved by the adoption of new benefit programs and services.

As mentioned before, the challenge is that DEI has many tentacles and is very diverse being intertwined in many parts of the organization, whether the organization is aware of it or not. So, it is important that benefit professionals utilize tools and programs to help not only identify gaps and areas of opportunities, but also prioritize recommendations design to improve and deliver measurable outcomes.

In our follow-up article, we will be taking a deeper dive into some of these tools and educational materials that can help you advance your practice and help you to become the “Culturally Competent Benefit Champion” you strive to be. Until then, wishing you much success on your journey!

Wayne Guzman, Senior Manager

SHRM-SCP, serves as Statewide Outreach for Blue Shield of California. He is chairman of the LAAHU DEI committee and member of the NAHU DEI committee.