When Gwen Gollmer, executive director of total rewards at Ally, wants to add a new benefit for the bank's nearly 11,700-member staff, the first thing she does is talk to her employees.
Ally's employee resource groups (ERGs) have regular meetings, called "Let's Talk About It" sessions, where employees convene in a confidential space to discuss their experiences. It's not unusual for a new benefit idea to arise from these sessions, Gollmer said.
"Some of our nuances within our benefits have come from someone on my team participating in one of those sessions," she said. "Those conversations help us think through what are some of the better ways or more inclusive ways we could think about different benefit offerings."
Some of those employee meetings—along with ongoing discussions among Ally's Pride and Women ERGs—have led the Detroit-headquartered company to add benefits supporting its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) employees, including a new sperm and egg freezing benefit. During June, Ally hosts Pride Month celebrations for employees in its offices across the U.S.
Ally isn't alone in supporting LGBTQ+ employees with benefits and other resources. Employer support for these workers, many industry experts say, is more important than ever as legislatures in states across the U.S. push for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
"My team is laser focused on the things we can control and the benefits that we can provide for our employees and making sure that those benefits are inclusive and meeting the needs of employees," Gollmer said.
Earlier this month, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization in the U.S., declared a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ individuals for the first time ever. The organization cited more than 75 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been signed into law this year alone.
"For businesses and fair-minded community leaders, practice allyship, not just perform it, by speaking out against the hate-filled legislation and attacks and supporting the community," Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. "Help make sure everyone knows someone who is trans by lifting up trans employees and leaders and standing with them when the water gets hot."
A recent SHRM survey found that 78 percent of LGBTQ+ employees feel their employer's senior leadership cares about making meaningful progress on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts to some extent or to a great extent.
Seventy-one percent of LGBTQ+ workers feel their companies have equitable representation at all levels, compared to 78 percent of employees who don't identify as LGBTQ+.
Megan Spina, principal of Florida-headquartered insurance brokerage Brown & Brown, said employers can get better at supporting LGBTQ+ workers by making sure they are included when gathering data to inform both company benefits and communication.
"It's important to support LGBTQ+ employees by evaluating your workforce culture and benefit strategy," she said. "From a management and leadership perspective, these include manager and employee awareness trainings, supporting or partnering with employee resource groups, and gathering information from the LGBTQ+ population on their needs and perceptions of the benefits programming."
Offering Equitable Health Care and Fertility Benefits
Cynthia McEwen, vice president of people and DE&I at New York City-based fertility benefits company Progyny, told SHRM Online that one of the common mistakes employers make when choosing a health plan is not selecting an insurance company that offers equitable health care coverage.
"The biggest mistake companies make when creating benefit policies is unintentionally excluding LGBTQ+ individuals from health care and family-building coverage," she said. "Employers must understand the ins and outs of the benefits that they are providing, because traditional insurance companies can be limited when it comes to benefits, and often the summary plan description does not tell the whole story."
McEwen said it's important for HR teams to engage with their insurance providers to make sure their plan covers care for transgender workers specifically. While many insurance carriers do recognize transgender-related care as medically necessary, it's important for employers to read the fine print of their policies.
"To be truly inclusive, at least one of your plans should offer hormone replacement therapies, reconstructive surgical procedure benefits, and supportive mental health coverage for those who are transitioning, without the blanket 'medically necessary' label that often prevents transgender individuals from receiving the care they need," she said.
If employees live in a state where gender-affirming care is being restricted, employers may want to consider offering a stipend to pay for travel. For example, Ally will cover certain travel for employees who don't have access to an in-network provider within 100 miles from their home.
Another area that employers need to consider when offering equitable benefits for LGBTQ+ workers is fertility and other family-building benefits. It used to be common for employer's medical plans to require an infertility diagnosis in order to receive IVF and other fertility treatments, Gollmer said.
Now, many employers have transitioned to offering fertility benefits, which cover services including egg and sperm freezing, surrogacy, IVF, and more, all of which are helpful for LGBTQ+ workers looking to start families. Ally offers $35,000 to employees looking to adopt or use a surrogate to have a child.
Mental Health Care and Beyond
Offering mental health support is also key to supporting marginalized employees. Benefits like free or discounted therapy and coaching can go a long way for employees who may be struggling, McEwen said.
"Developing initiatives that encourage employees to support each other's mental health, especially with the understanding that mental health issues will more likely affect individuals with marginalized identities, is also imperative to create a supportive and inclusive environment at work," she said.
Ally, for example, offers employees 16 free coaching or therapy sessions per year. The sessions are available for employees and their dependents.
Ultimately, it's important for HR leaders to evaluate the specific needs of their teams. Gathering data can go a long way to help better understand your workforce, Spina noted.
"HR managers should be aware of and sensitive to various cultures," she said. "Data gathering when evaluating or implementing new benefit programs and policies is critical."
Caroline Hroncich is a freelance writer based in New York City.