Author: Wolfgang Seidl, Workplace Health Consulting Leader, Mercer
Most employers are now keenly aware of the business benefits associated with employing a diverse workforce that is properly representative of the customers it wishes to serve. However, the extent to which outdated healthcare policies are inadvertently undermining diversity and inclusion (D&I) agendas has yet to be addressed.
By continuing to promote homogeneous healthcare policies that are primarily designed to meet the needs of white males of a certain age, most health and wellbeing strategies are at risk of alienating other groups and making the organisation seem less inclusive.
For example, even though prostate cancer is twice as likely to kill black men as white men, with one in four black men at risk of developing the disease during their lives,(1) most organisations are still distributing generic warnings about prostate cancer, populated by images of older white males.
By not including advice and images specifically tailored to all the groups at risk, this sort of literature fails to engage with an audience it really needs to educate and misses an opportunity to make everyone feel their health is equally valued. There is now an epidemic of prostate cancer among middle-aged black men that we need to heed, not by sending more generic information but by creating additional wellbeing communications particularly tailored to young black men, highlighting the risks they personally face with advice on how to mitigate them.
Similarly, education around heart attacks typically describes the symptoms as including a dramatic tightness of the chest, with pain radiating down the arm and shortness of breath, even though when a woman experiences a heart attack, her symptoms may be subtler. As a result, many women (and some men) fail to recognise the symptoms when they first suffer a heart attack, with the undiagnosed heart attack being dubbed a “silent” heart attack later on. In reality, it wasn’t silent or any less detrimental. It was just experienced in a very different way that would have been much less likely to be missed if more inclusive educational materials had been written to be both relevant and appealing to both genders.
These are not one-off examples: People of Southeast Asian origin have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes,(2) people of Irish descent are at increased risk of developing dangerously high iron levels (haemochromatosis),(3) black women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer(4) and being white is a risk factor for developing an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation).(5)
Add to that different ways in which people from different age groups and genders want to access wellbeing materials, and the new health needs being presented by the LBGTQ+ community, such as the extent to which employers should help to pay for transgender operations or fertility treatment, and there are numerous practical reasons employers should think about how best to manage the health of an increasingly diverse workforce.
As well as preventing costly and debilitating health issues, inclusive wellbeing strategies have a significant role to play in boosting diversity by making individuals feel more included, understood and accepted.
Employers that are serious about their D&I credentials must therefore take a step back from offering broad wellbeing strategies and start considering how they can use diversity and inclusion in wellbeing to create a culture that engages everyone to thrive. Mercer can help you start that conversation.
1. “Working Out the Risk of Prostate Cancer in Black Men,” available at https://www.prostatecanceruk.org/for-health-professionals/our-projects/men-at-risk-programme/1-in-4-stat-explained.
2. “Diabetes in South Asians,” available at https://www.diabetes.co.uk/south-asian/.
3. Connolly M. “Haemochromatosis: ‘Celtic Curse’ Gene Can Cause Major Organ Damage,” available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-43245267.
4. Geddes D. “Black Women More Likely to Have Advanced Breast Cancer,” available at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/black-women-more-likely-to-have-advanced-cancer-diagnosed-wt7mhkfvt.