` Ian Shannon of Vertex Pharmaceuticals on ensuring the inclusivity of financial wellbeing benefits | Reward and Employee Benefits Association (REBA)
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19 Nov 2021
by Dawn Lewis

Ian Shannon of Vertex Pharmaceuticals on ensuring the inclusivity of financial wellbeing benefits

Financial wellbeing and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are topics that you don’t often see mentioned in the same sentence. However, the two are inextricably linked, with financial inequalities coming into sharp focus in recent times thanks to the pandemic.

 

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Last month we tackled this emerging workplace topic in our webinar Could your financial wellbeing programme be undermining diversity and inclusivity?  One of the key issues raised by Ian Shannon, total reward manager at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, was both the broader need to ensure that all employee wellbeing initiatives are inclusive, but also that any benefits do not inadvertently cause discrimination.

Bringing DEI together

Shannon explained that Vertex Pharmaceuticals has been focusing on tying together employee wellbeing and DEI by utilising its employee networks to better understand the needs of different demographics in its workforce. It has also brought in a senior leader to specifically manage DEI across the organisation.  

“Now, when we begin looking at projects…we ask, do we want to do any anything particular here for any DEI issues to make sure these are captured and addressed properly when going through the process?” he explains. 

The organisation has also spent time undertaking detailed staff surveys to understand what people value from their reward package – a clear priority was financial wellbeing. However, this is not without its challenges.

“It's a very broad and differing amount of financial wellbeing that people are looking for,” says Shannon. “As an organisation, we wouldn't realistically be able to address employees’ individual concerns. But we need to find a way to provide the information for them that they need at the time they need it.”

And this is why bringing together the whole wellbeing strategy, with DEI in mind, is so important.

Linking DEI data with financial wellbeing

Of course, this is easier said than done, and requires employers to understand the diversity of their workforce, whether that be ethnicity, sexuality, gender, religious beliefs, caring responsibilities etc.

“We find that people often haven't shared that information, unless it's a requirement to do so. In some countries, say, for example, America, disclosing ethnicity is standard practice, however in the UK it’s not,” says Shannon. “So we have been going through a process of trying to build trust with our workforce.”

As part of this, Vertex has been explaining to employees how it is using their data, especially in relation to financial wellbeing. That might include using data to understand benefits take-up and promote a specific product to groups of employees who would find it useful, but are not engaging with it.

“For example, we might notice that younger workers aren't using the pension plan appropriately. But there is a close link between saving early and a good outcome in defined contribution pensions. Achieving the maximum return on investment over time is also important.

“Or, if we were to look through data and see that women weren't utilising salary sacrifice or joining our employee share purchase plan, we would then look into that. Is there something we can change in our communications, or are there other barriers?”

Shannon adds that listening to employees and understanding their requirements through data and focus groups is key to ensuring the strategy is effective and inclusive.

The ‘right’ financial wellbeing

The idea of providing the right wellbeing support is really important to Vertex, to ensure employees are given access to the right products and that any policies and practices are also aligned with employees’ needs.

“For example, do you allow flexible working? If you look at something like the gender pay gap…is your workplace practice operating in a way that will actually attract diverse people, and make it easier for those who have caring responsibilities to come in. Or, if someone has a physical disability they might want to arrive at 7:30 and leave at 3:30 to commute outside rush hour,” Shannon says.

Employee benefits is another area that needs careful consideration when it comes to cause and effect. During our webinar, panellists raised issues around the accessibility of financial benefits, and the impact that they are having. Do they require specialist knowledge to understand? Could they inadvertently cause discrimination by excluding certain employee groups?

“In terms of specific products, usually the ones that are heavily jargoned cause the most problems, in my experience. It’s very difficult to get proper engagement with that and then you tend to have people who can afford advisors and get expert advice,” says Shannon.

REBA’s Debi O’Donovan, who was chairing the webinar, added that it’s important for employers to spot when particular benefits are perhaps only being used by a particular cohort, to the exclusion of others.

First, do no harm

DEI has to play an integral role in analysing the appropriateness of any benefit, not just financial ones. Without this critical due diligence and ongoing analysis, employers could be at risk of inadvertently excluding certain groups of employees, which not only puts them at a disadvantage but also discriminates against them, and could exacerbate existing inequalities.

Watch the full recording from the Could your financial wellbeing programme be undermining diversity and inclusivity? webinar.

The author is Dawn Lewis, content editor at REBA.

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