Building a Thriving Retail Workforce: The Power of Family Benefits
Retailers are facing a challenging hiring landscape, putting an added emphasis on benefit offerings as a compelling talent driver.
HR leaders in the retail space have come to these conversations with a unique perspective, informed by the specific needs of their workforce. Consider the demographics of retail employees: Women make up the majority of the workforce — 72 percent of cashiers and 64 percent of retail salespeople are women. Black and Hispanic people are overrepresented in retail work, representing 31 percent of the retail workforce combined. Fifteen percent of the workforce is enrolled in Medicaid. And with the shift to smaller cities and suburbs accelerated by the pandemic, the retail workforce is becoming increasingly distributed.
Given the demographics of the retail workforce, it’s no wonder that women’s and family health benefits have emerged as a top area for investment among modern employers. In fact, at Maven Clinic, the women’s and family health company where I serve as director of health equity, we’ve seen a 76 percent increase in opportunities in the retail sector in the past 12 months. This is further supported by data: Maven’s State of Fertility and Family Benefits report found that 90 percent of retail and hospitality employers say that family benefits are extremely important to prospective and current employees, and 61 percent plan to increase their family health benefits in the next two years to three years.
The questions we get now from benefits leaders are less about why invest and more about how do we make this accessible to everyone in our workforce. The diversity of the retail workforce combined with the geographically distributed nature of the industry has meant that for many, taking a "health equity" approach to benefit choices has emerged as a core concern.
What does this approach look like in practice? In my conversations with HR leaders about family benefits, I recommend prioritizing support that addresses these four areas:
Ease of Access
Employers with distributed workforces now have to contend with the fact that having good insurance isn’t enough. When access to care is restricted, whether by geography, a pandemic, or institutional inequities, employees suffer. To see a doctor in-person, an employee has to take time off of work, travel to the location, and in some cases, because of healthcare provider shortages, wait several months to do so. In the U.S., one in three counties are considered “maternity care deserts,” meaning people have no access to a hospital or birth center offering obstetrics care or any other obstetrics providers.
The pandemic revealed that there's a real place for digital health in the prenatal care model — whether it’s helping an expecting mom manage her gestational diabetes by connecting her with a nutritionist or having a mental health provider support someone with perinatal depression. Being able to access quality care from the phone in their pocket not only reduces the need for travel and time spent away from work, but can also improve health outcomes, which in turn, can save employers' costs.
Social Determinants of Health
These are the factors that include where we live, where we work, access to education, financial stability, among other things. These factors, while outside of what might be traditionally considered as “healthcare,” have been found to contribute to 40 percent or more of health outcomes. This is why it’s important for HR leaders to seek out benefits that incorporate support for these needs while addressing employees' emotional and physical health needs.
Inclusive benefits are ones that support all paths to parenthood and recognize the different needs of every person, no matter what stage of life they're in. However, some groups — e.g., members of the LGBTQIA+ community — are often excluded from family-building support that can require a clinical diagnosis of infertility prior to accessing care. Beyond clinical infertility, there's the issue known as "social infertility," caused by the prohibitive costs of fertility treatments, biased medical care, and lack of adoption or surrogacy support. Inclusive benefits in practice could look like providing paid leave for a new parent, regardless of how they became a parent — pregnancy, surrogacy or adoption.
Culturally Humble Care
Culturally humble care care, defined as meeting each member where they are and continuously working to understand their needs, has become a core competency for healthcare providers across specialty areas. In women’s and family health, it’s become paramount to address the realities of the Black and Indigenous maternal health crisis the U.S. is facing. Black women are two to three times more likely to die from childbirth-related causes than white women, regardless of income or level of education. The data also tells us that Black women are less likely to be believed by their healthcare providers when reporting pain and more likely to be coerced into unnecessary and potentially harmful treatment.
Research has shown that matching patients to providers who share their lived experience — their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or language, for example — can improve health outcomes, but can be challenging in a strictly brick-and-mortar healthcare setting. A telehealth-based solution can make providers more accessible to employees regardless of where they live or work.
Retail is the bedrock of the U.S. economy. Supporting 52 million jobs, retail employers have the potential to shape the fabric of our lives by embracing quality women’s and family healthcare. It’s encouraging to see the sector taking a leadership role in doing just this — and it should continue to pave the way so other industries can follow in its path.
Dawn Godbolt, Ph.D is the director of health equity at Maven Clinic, the world’s largest virtual clinic for women’s and family health.
Dawn Godbolt, Ph.D is the Director of Health Equity at Maven Clinic, the world’s largest virtual clinic for women’s and family health. Prior to joining Maven, Dr. Godbolt worked in the Reproductive Justice space and at the National National Partnership for Women & Families where she integrated a reproductive justice framework into the maternal health portfolio. Her previous work examined race differences in mothers’ fear of allowing children outside, disparities in neighborhood factors, and the connection between stereotypes, religion and obesity. Dr. Godbolt holds a doctorate in Sociology from Florida State University, is a McNair Scholar, and a fellow of the OpEd Project.