Netflix VP: To boost diversity, employers must improve benefits

NEW YORK — Employers still have a long way to go when it comes to fostering diversity and inclusion at work — but implementing the right benefits could be a step in a positive direction.

That’s according to Vernā Myers, vice president of inclusion strategy at Netflix, who said companies should focus on rolling out new benefits that help employees at different life stages. While perks like free lunch are nice, they aren’t going to keep workers around long term, she said at a meeting with reporters Wednesday.

“It’s more about [having] a kind of system that acknowledges real life and what people’s needs are,” she said. “That builds a certain kind of loyalty and trust.”

Netflix.Bloomberg
A television camera focuses on the Netflix Inc. company logo in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

So what should employers focus on? Myers said employees want holistic benefits that address life changes, including starting out careers and parenthood. Mental health and financial benefits also should be a priority.

So far, tech companies, startups and other progressive employers are doing this well. “Companies have realized they’re part of a life ecosystem, and that makes a big difference,” she added.

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But employers may still have a long way to go. Myers, who is a Harvard trained lawyer, said she has heard of instances where male employees faced discrimination for taking advantage of benefits like paternity leave. Meanwhile, offerings like maternity leave have not always been industry standard, she said.

“People still don’t remember that we did not have maternity leave,” Myers said, recalling a conversation with a partner at a law firm who used three weeks of vacation time when she had her baby.

Myers said she has overwhelmingly found that while organizations are interested in bringing in more diverse workers, they often won’t make adjustments to benefits and culture in order to better accommodate these employees. Employers “were unwilling to do much of anything to adjust to the fact that they were inviting difference,” she said.

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Survey data from PwC suggests that diversity and inclusion is a high priority for employers, but many can still do more to improve their programs. A full 74% of employers said diversity and inclusion is a priority at their company. But the consulting firm found that only 5% of the programs were reaching their full maturity when assessed against PwC’s model, which reviews factors including strategy and engagement.

But employers have shown interest in adding more inclusive benefits. Some — like Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Hilton — have invested in family-friendly offerings like expanded paid parental leave and breast milk shipping. Others are adding student loan repayment programs and coaching benefits.

Susan Eandi, the head of Baker McKenzie’s global employment and labor law practice in North America, said employers need to focus on employee engagement in benefits if they want to improve diversity and inclusion. As Generation Z enters the workforce, companies may see a shift toward stability. Unlike their millennial counterparts, who spearheaded flexible schedules and gig work, Gen Z workers are more cautious and want security in their jobs and benefits.

“They’re very cautious, concerned individuals who want financial security,” she said. “It will be a big shift for employers.”

Regardless, Myers said companies should continue to create safe spaces for all perspectives and backgrounds to influence decision making. “If employers allow for more opportunity and for people be treated more fairly, then everyone is going to benefit,” she said.

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