Changes and challenges to LGBTQ and employee benefits

Workplace diversity is increasing, covering wide ranging aspects of difference in people, gender, race, religion, physical and mental ability and disability, age, sexual preference and identity. Employers have responded to this, driven by twin forces of anti-discrimination law and the need to attract, motivate and retain the talent needed for organisations to function.

Policies and HR practice have undergone radical change over the 49 years since the first UK Equal Pay Act in 1970. The area that has undergone the most recent transformation is that of policy and practice around the LGBTI demographic group. LGBTI equality has raised a series of questions for employers some of which are cultural issues and some of which are more detailed issues of benefit and workplace design.

Benefit design has undergone significant change in order to fairly treat the LGBTI group. However this has raised a number of issues: Cost implications – will the addition of benefits for a minority population have a large cost impact for the majority? Is there a danger of being exclusive by being diverse and inclusive? I.e. allowing certain benefits for gender dysphoria transitioning that are not available for employees not part of the non-LGBTI population (breast augmentation, laser hair removal etc.). Employers need to consider any issues created by potential benefit changes they implement but should also not be deterred from making those changes. The key is understanding the full picture.
Is the business culturally fit for change? If an employer supports employees through benefit changes that assist gender transition, they should also ensure that the inclusive culture and infrastructure supports employees in the workplace during and after transition.  The main adjustment in Private Medical Insurance (PMI) schemes around LGBTI inclusion is the ability for same sex partners/civil partners to be eligible for cover and this adjustment is almost universal in healthcare plans today.

One of the main concerns for healthcare providers around gender dysphoria cover is the level of private healthcare capability available. Facilities and specialists are limited and PMI providers have to ensure high clinical protocols are maintained. This can be a challenge in a healthcare market only now beginning to develop, and demand far outweighs supply.

A number of employers’ plans will now cover the cost of part of what is usually a four-five year process should an individual commit to transition their gender. The process is 5 stage: 1- GP referral to a Gender Identity Clinic and counselling, 2- treatment at the clinic including hormone treatment, speech and language, counselling etc., 3- treatment review and process of “social gender role transition”, 4- surgery, 5- post surgery counselling. The parts of the process that PMI plans may cover are stages 1 and in some cases 2. This may not appear to be much since it avoids funding the surgical element but when you consider that 7,500 adults in Britain are currently waiting for appointments on the NHS and that the demand for gender related treatment has increased 240 per cent over the past 5 years, this could be significant to talented employees experiencing mental and social issues in respect of their gender.

An employer offering some support in this area has the potential to not just be seen to be inclusive but also to significantly engage certain employees. PMI providers cover parts of the process, including BUPA and AXA, but there is a strong argument that the NHS has the greatest range and breadth of facilities and track record in supporting the full process. Several employers have been quoted in the media as offering gender dysphoria support via their PMI plans, including Lloyds, Apple, Morgan Stanley and Aon.

The three issues in respect of more inclusive benefits raised above remain: The cost of inclusive benefits; Being exclusive by being inclusive; Cultural inclusiveness.

Cost can be a challenge but it is increasingly being considered by Best Practice employers as being a cost of doing business today and not being thought of as something “additional”.

Being exclusive by being inclusive remains a challenge and different businesses will handle this in different ways. An example of inclusive practice at Sheffield University highlights this dilemma; they have identified a block of flats for LGBTI students only, as “a safe space for students to be themselves”. This is in response to reports that according to Stonewall, 42 per cent of LGBTI students choose to hide their sexuality at university for fear of bullying, harassment or negative comments. So does this segregation of students living accommodation protect or divide students? Does it support the LGBTI community or does it create a ghetto? In the context of the workplace, employers are grappling with these issues such as providing separate toilet access for transgender employees. Some employers do provide separate toilets others do not.

Cultural issues centre on the outdated mindset, which at best can be described as traditional and, at worst, prejudiced. This mindset has at varying times impacted recruitment, pay, benefits, training, promotion, motivation and employees feeling included and valued in the workplace.

In the most part, this dominant demographic and mindset has disappeared now but vestiges remain. Best practice employers confront this legacy through encouraging dialogue and conversations. At eBay there is the Courageous Conversations programme, allowing for safe, if not necessarily comfortable, dialogue between employees with different beliefs, backgrounds or lifestyles. At Aon, seven different support networks have been developed, for example “Pride Alliance” (LGBTI), parents and carers, mental health etc. Allies are positively encouraged; people who have an interest, perhaps the parent of a child wishing to transition or a gay sibling. Most medium-sized and large employers carry out diversity awareness training and focus attention on fairness in recruitment, promotion and reward.

Overt homophobic prejudice has declined in the workplace but it sadly cannot be fully dismissed. More common today is that some workers suffer from “unconscious bias” and training, the dialogue and support networks programmes cited above coupled with strong policies, reward and benefit designs are moving employers forward to be ever more inclusive for all.

Interested in Diversity in the workplace? We recommend the Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2019





Martha is a thought leadership “guru” on UK and global flexible benefits plans and non-pension benefits strategy work. She has over 30 years consulting experience relating to broad HR and reward, pay and flexible benefits projects.
Martha has delivered numerous UK and global benefits strategy and design projects for businesses especially in the Financial Services, Engineering and Pharma sectors. She also has a strong legal and tax background with broader reward and compensation experience especially on pay structure and Equal Pay.