Business leaders chart course toward health equity in the workplace

Geber86/E+, Getty Images
(Geber86/E+, Getty Images)

A new report from the American Heart Association's CEO Roundtable provides a roadmap to help employers across the country strive for health equity — which would exist if everybody had a just opportunity to be healthy.

According to the evidence-based report, called Driving Health Equity in the Workplace, an employer's commitment to equity can improve the health and well-being of employees, their families, businesses and communities.

The report details several approaches organizations can take to remove institutional roadblocks that have resulted in inequities based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability and other factors.

Driving Health Equity in the Workplace offers a set of guiding principles and organizational strategies that can promote equity through policies, practices and workplace culture. The strategies cover a wide variety of workplace issues, including communication, expanded representation and accountability.

"The workplace is a significant platform to meet people where they are to influence positive, lasting change for all people," said Nancy Brown, CEO of the AHA, which included the CEO Roundtable project in its 10 Commitments to building health equity.

The report includes survey results that show notable gaps in perceptions about the workplace between white respondents and Black, Asian, Hispanic, and American Indian and Alaska Native respondents. Those split-screen viewpoints show there's room to improve workplace environments.

The survey found that chronic stress ranked high among all employees, but the source of that stress stems from very different lived experiences. People of color reported more social discomfort, including incidents of discrimination or microaggressions (subtle slights, snubs or insults), marginalization and isolation.

Creating a more equitable workplace is the right thing to do. It's also good business. Healthy and engaged employees are more productive, driving profits and moderating health care costs. Those benefits ripple out to communities.

The report's 15 internal strategies are designed to provide guidance to organizations whether they are just starting to work toward health equity or are already taking substantial actions.

The guiding principles — reframe employer policies, practices and workplace cultures and improve health and well-being — include identifying and eliminating structural inequities and establishing a shared language guide to promote dignity and reduce miscommunications.

The organizational strategies involve hiring practices, compensation, promotions, health care, anti-racism policies, paid family and medical leave, diversity and inclusion, and other actionable solutions. The report also includes external strategies that organizations can use to advocate for more equitable health in their communities.