Is unconscious bias hurting your Employee Value Proposition?

It’s a well-known fact that diversity drives innovation. Yet, companies in Asia have been slow to diversify their workforce. A recent study found that representation of women on the boards of Hong Kong’s top companies has only increased marginally to 12.4 percent in 2017.

It appears that despite it being widely understood that diversity brings stronger business performance, companies are still falling victim to unconscious bias.

Teams are working diligently to remove this bias through gender-neutral language in job descriptions, extensive training and clear diversity and inclusion policies. However, is it working?

According to Harvard Kennedy School professor of public policy, Iris Bohnet, diversity training, awareness and policy development don’t always lead to more diversity.  

The strides we’ve made in policy development should be commended. But, what companies are saying and doing doesn’t always match the small print. This can lead to larger missteps and challenges that run the risk of undoing the great environment you are trying to create. 

This particularly comes to a head when looking at employee benefit related insurance policies. Many companies are using policies that were designed and underwritten 30-40 years ago when business was dominated by a relatively homogeneous workforce.

The future of work will be increasingly human and companies will continue its advocacy around bringing our whole selves to work, resulting in an even more diversified workforce. But, will be undermined if we don't demand change when it comes to insurance providers.

A great example is the growing support for LGBTQ rights across Asia. This year, we've seen landmark court decisions in Hong Kong, widespread global corporate sponsorship of Pride month and continued support for same-sex marriage laws.

This shows an increase in organisations backing words with action when it comes to diversity and companies should be proud of their hand in this. But, for as much as companies encourage employees to be themselves and stand behind them, how equitable are their employee benefits when it really comes down to it? Are they working against D&I policies by excluding things like same-sex partner benefits and family planning support? Or are they imposing restrictions on insurance for newborns and medical coverage for mental health, to name a few? 

Many employee benefit related insurance policies are still using outdated notions of what defines a family, meaning that while you may grant time off for adoption or offer a flex schedule for new parents, regardless of orientation, your employees are being penalized due to restraints of your outdated insurance policy.

All of the work and investment that have gone into creating a more inclusive work environment, including training on unconscious bias, are essential. However, it’s time to examine everything from a 30,000-foot view to ensure policies match practice. This starts with looking at policies in place alongside your benefits package to see where they match and where they differ. From there, it can be determined if you need to do a complete re-design or look at quick solutions to ensure all members of your staff are supported.

By doing so, you can create a genuinely inclusive and safe work environment for your employees for years to come.

Liana Attard
by Liana Attard

Partner, Asia Consulting Leader, Mercer Marsh Benefits

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