Mombian: A Mutual Benefit: Letting Employees Define their Families

People and families come in many forms, as any LGBTQ person can attest. Now, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company or MassMutual, as it's more commonly known, is using that concept to improve upon its already LGBTQ-inclusive employee benefits. The Fortune 100 company, which has approximately 7,500 employees around the country — and nearly 70,000 life insurance policyowners in Michigan — is rolling out new benefits around leave, gender affirmation, family creation and more that empower all employees and demonstrate a deep understanding of LGBTQ people's lives.
Dr. Claudia Coplein, MassMutual's head of health and wellness, who brings to bear her multiple experiences as a physician, attorney, mother and former U.S. Air Force officer and flight surgeon, explained in an interview.
"We heard from our employees that we needed to modernize our benefits. They were pretty paternalistic in the past," she said.
This led the company "to undertake a holistic review" in order to better support its "multi-generational and increasingly diverse workforce." In particular, she said, their 450-member Pride Business Resource Group, a network for LGBTQ employees and allies, was "very positive and influential" in the process.
Under the new benefits, employees will get up to two weeks paid leave to care for a seriously ill loved one and up to 15 days leave after the death of a loved one. More strikingly, Coplein said, "We've left it up to the employee to define who is a loved one."
"A loved one could be your next-door neighbor who raised you because your parents had to work two jobs each to support the family," she said. "Or it could have been a grandmother who raised you. Who are we to decide who an employee's loved one is?"
Lisa St. Germain, portfolio and organizational effectiveness lead and chairperson of MassMutual's Pride BRG, said via e-mail, "I really think we're onto something special by breaking the norm of how you define a loved one. Everyone's situation and circle of loved ones is different. By empowering our employees to define family on their own terms and to take the time they need for caregiving and when they lose someone close to them feels like a real game changer."
This attitude is part of a longer commitment. In 2015, MassMutual announced a new two-word dress code: "Dress appropriately."
"That was a step towards encouraging employees to use good judgment, placing trust, empowerment and accountability in their own hands," Coplein explained. "That's what we're seeking to do with all of the benefits that we offer."
MassMutual's new parental benefits are also flexible and structured to include LGBTQ families — something that isn't always a given. A 2018 survey by the HRC Foundation found that even employers offering paid parental leave may exclude LGBTQ families: Less than half of respondents said their employer's policies cover new parents of all genders equally. Similarly, less than half said these policies include all paths to parenthood; some exclude older children placed through foster care or adoption.
At MassMutual, however, birth parents now get 18 weeks of fully paid leave. Non-birth parents, including adoptive parents, get eight weeks of fully paid leave that can be used all at once or incrementally for up to a year.
MassMutual is also one of a growing number of employers that cover employees' fertility treatments without a medical diagnosis of infertility. Coplein asserted, "That's a huge step. Before I came to MassMutual, I was medical director for a health plan. The definition of infertility was always critical for making those determinations. Here, we've just included anyone who wants to have a child, because again, why should we limit that ability for our employees? This ensures that members of the LGBTQ community and single parents by choice receive equitable access to fertility benefits."
Offered through fertility benefit company Progyny, these benefits are "designed to provide all-inclusive and comprehensive coverage for fertility treatments," she explained. Instead of a fixed dollar amount, which might not cover all that someone needs, they cover two full "Smart Cycles," customized to the individual, that include all office visits, tests and treatments, except for purchase of donor cells, if needed. They are in the process of adding a benefit for surrogacy as well.
The company's new benefits for transgender employees are similarly thoughtful. While they previously covered gender affirmation services such as hormone therapy and testing, mental health counseling, genital surgery and mastectomies, they now include cosmetic procedures often not covered by other employers, such as facial feminization surgery, thyrochondroplasty or tracheal shaving, electrolysis and more. Those procedures "help to improve social function," Coplein said.
"Appearance is important, but the social function helps people to maximize their success and feel good about themselves," she said. "That's why we felt it was important for us to cover all of those services."
Additionally, she said, "We've created a workplace gender transition support team that includes managers, allies, our Pride BRG, a transition partner and an HR partner to help an employee who is transitioning, as well as help their manager, their allies and colleagues go through this entire process of gender affirmation. Having this support system available makes people feel that they are welcome and can be themselves in the workplace. I think this product that has largely been influenced by the Pride BRG is something that really sets us apart as a company. It's been so well received."
"I'm really proud of our new offerings as they touch so many employees," St. Germain said. "For those of us who have struggled with 'traditional' employee benefits, they give a message that the company is listening and cares."
The expansion of gender affirmation benefits, she said, "demonstrates a much deeper level of respect and understanding."
Additional new benefits for all employees include paid volunteer time, easier-to-access behavioral health counseling services, and a concierge service to help employees or their dependents diagnosed with cancer.
MassMutual has made a public commitment to LGBTQ equality, too. Coplein noted that the company has signed the Business Statement for Transgender Equality and joined the business coalition for the federal Equality Act. It also signed on to amicus briefs in support of LGBTQ equality in cases involving the Defense of Marriage Act, North Carolina's anti-transgender public accommodations law, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' ban on providing gender affirmation surgery to transgender veterans, among others. They also supported the Yes on 3 campaign in Massachusetts last year that successfully stopped a repeal of protections for transgender people.
"It's just doing the right thing for our employees and the communities where they live," Coplein said. "It's putting a stake in the sand as a company, saying, 'This is what we believe in.' We've been very consistent about that over a number of years."
In addition, there are business advantages. She noted that aligning their benefits with diversity and inclusion objectives "is key for attracting and retaining and engaging talent from a very broad pool of society."
"For us," she added, "the business benefit is that we're holistically supporting the well-being of our employees by providing them with a robust suite of benefits that address their physical, emotional, financial and social wellness, so we're helping them and their loved ones, however they may define them, live their best lives. In return, we're going to have employees who we hope will stay with MassMutual. They come to work every day knowing that they work for a company that supports them and in turn, we think they'll be productive," she said. "It's a win-win situation in our minds."


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