Cultural Humility: What is it and How to Practice it in Employee Benefits

Employers and benefit plan sponsors can play a bigger role in addressing the disparities in access to adequate health care among minority populations—an issue that has received increasing attention in the last year as the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted African Americans and Latinos.

In their article “Infusing Cultural Humility Into Employee Benefit Decisions” in the January issue of Benefits Magazine, authors Rikki Gilmore-Byrd, Dr.P.H., and Reyna Gilmore, M.D. describe the concept of cultural humility and how it can be used to improve employee benefits.

Cultural Humility: What is it and How to Practice it in Employee Benefits

Defining Cultural Humility

Gilmore-Byrd is the dean of all social services programs at Rasmussen College, and Gilmore is a psychiatrist in Cincinnati, Ohio. They also presented “Optimizing Health and Well-Being Through Health Equity” during the on-demand virtual conference Health Disparities and Social Inequality: The Role of Wellness.

“Cultural misunderstandings around health and health care can have life-or-death consequences, which is why it is essential to offer many options to employees to support their cultural viewpoint on health and wellness,” the authors write. “Decisions on what benefits to offer employees can be best supported by using cultural humility.”

A person who is using cultural humility is open to learning about another person’s cultural identity and understands that there is never an end point to that learning process. In an organization that practices cultural humility, individuals are allowed to be the expert on themselves and teach or inform others of who they are, the article explains.

Cultural Humility in Employee Benefits

Diversity 101—Foundations Virtual Workshop

How can employers and plan sponsors use the concept to improve benefits decision making? It is essential to get feedback from employees on what benefits would best help them, Gilmore-Byrd and Gilmore contend.

Some issues to consider include whether benefit plans offer support or services for the following types of differences that may exist among plan participants.

  • Disabilities, including cognitive differences
  • Fertility-related issues
  • Gender identities or expressions, including people who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming
  • Participants who have children, including both birth parents and adoptive parents
  • Behavioral diversity or ethnodiversity, including personality variances that impact work style
  • Educational levels
  • Military affiliation
  • Religious beliefs.

Additional questions to consider include:

  • Do preventive health options support different cultures?
  • What types of concerns are supported by employee assistance programs (EAPs)? Do they address substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence, etc.?
  • Do the approved benefits providers include a diverse group of professionals, representing different sexual identities, races and ethnicities, genders, generations, religions, etc.?

How to Incorporate More Cultural Humility for Plan Participants

To help with the decision-making process, plan sponsors should consider conducting a culturally sensitive needs assessment to determine the best benefits selection and design based on the diverse employees’ needs and wants. These types of needs assessments can be conducted by consultants that support diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for organizations.

Employers also can access several tools to determine their current culture and what culture may best support their organization. One of the most well-known tools is the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument, (OCAI), which was developed by Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn at The University of Michigan and can be accessed here

Once the initial needs assessment and gap analysis are complete, the employer will need to formulate the new benefits plan design based on the needs of the employees. But the design can’t be static, the authors note. Benefits should be reassessed regularly to determine whether they continue to meet the organization’s objectives and employee needs.

Diversity 101—Foundations Virtual Workshop

Diversity is a Strength Every Business Can Use

“Embracing diversity in all aspects of a business, including the benefits packages that are offered, strengthens the company’s internal relationships with employees and improves employee morale and external relationships,” Gilmore-Byrd and Gilmore write.

“The repercussions of not putting in the time can lead to minority employees not feeling valued and therefore taking their expertise and knowledge to organizations that can prove that they value diversity.”

Related Reading: Three Important Steps on Your Diversity and Inclusion Journey

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Senior Editor, Publications at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

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