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Why diversity and inclusion initiatives need financial wellness

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From a pandemic and the move to remote work, to natural disasters and social justice protests, 2020 has been a rollercoaster. These events are having a meaningful impact on companies as employees look to their employers for support. Many organizations have stepped up their efforts to address some of these big challenges our society is facing today, while simultaneously investing in the future of every employee — and the company as a whole.

In the current market environment as HR and benefits leaders look ahead and plan for 2021, Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives have taken on increased importance. D&I initiatives are no longer nice-to-have, but rather vital for organizations to thrive as employees increasingly demand them. Monster.com found that 62% of job candidates would turn down a job if they didn’t feel the company valued workplace diversity. This is a notable change from recent years and a step in the right direction to address some of society’s biggest challenges where we spend the bulk of our waking life: the workplace.

Read more: UBS revamps student loan, financial wellness benefits; announces new Morningstar partnership

Although there are a lot of important threads to the D&I conversation, there's one element that often gets left out: financial wellness. That’s a critical oversight given the wealth gap in this country. The Federal Reserve reports that on average white families have accrued eight times the wealth of Black families and five times the wealth of Hispanic families. This is a systemic issue and provides an opportunity for companies to play their part in solving this problem by enabling people of color to increase their wealth.

Growing up in apartheid South Africa, I saw firsthand how the depth of systemic racism permeated society. It became clear that lack of access to economic opportunity — and education to get there — was holding back generations. When I moved to the U.S. and founded BrightPlan, I made a commitment to advancing financial wellness to fuel equality. Employers have an opportunity to lead this transformation by ensuring financial wellness programs are an integral part of their D&I initiatives.

Financial wellness is core to D&I

Employers are working hard to expand their D&I initiatives. LinkedIn data shows there has been a 71% increase in worldwide D&I roles in the past five years. Most D&I efforts focus on representation and removing workplace bias — which is important, but not sufficient to solve the larger issue of financial inequality. Creating lasting wealth for underrepresented communities, however, can lead to change by fueling generational advances.

That’s where financial wellness can be very valuable. Even something as simple as education can be a powerful step forward. Financial education and literacy in the U.S. is extremely low, in general, but even more so in underrepresented communities. For example, a study from Next Gen Personal Finance found that only 3.9% of students from low-income schools were required to take a personal finance class, compared to nearly 17% nationwide. Employers can help close this financial literacy gap by offering wellness benefits that provide comprehensive financial education to employees.

But education alone isn’t enough. A successful financial wellness program should make it easy for employees to take action across their entire financial life. That means providing a complete view of all their personal finances in context of life goals, delivering clear recommendations and making it easy to monitor progress.

Employees expect their employers to provide essential benefits like health care and 401(k)s. It’s now time to add financial wellness to that list, with companies going beyond retirement plans to offer complete financial wellness benefits. By helping underrepresented communities achieve financial wellness, employers can play an active role in bridging the wealth gap.

Gaining a competitive advantage

Including financial wellness as part of employer provided benefits and D&I initiatives doesn’t just benefit employees and society as a whole. It’s also good for business. We’ve seen compelling data from enterprises revealing that financial wellness as part of a broader well-being strategy, improves employee engagement and workplace happiness, while increasing retention and strengthening recruitment efforts. Moreover, data shows that diverse companies perform better financially too.

Data from PwC shows finances are by far the top source of stress for employees. By offering financial wellness benefits, employers can help alleviate anxiety so employees can be more productive and engaged at work.

I’ve seen firsthand that demand for financial wellness solutions is soaring as COVID-19 and D&I conversations have motivated employers to seek innovative solutions. With D&I set to be a priority for employers headed into 2021, financial wellness will be even more valuable as an actionable program that directly addresses root causes, empowering companies and employees to enact lasting change.

Diversity pays off in many ways, and we're just starting to scratch the surface of how financial wellness can support more equitable organizations. By adding financial wellness as a key component to D&I initiatives, employers can take a leadership role in advancing equality and creating generational wealth for all employees while gaining a competitive advantage.

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Financial wellness Diversity and equality Retirement education
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