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Does your organization have an equitable employee handbook? Is the language in your policies equitable? How do you know? Here at Exeter, we recently rolled out the 2019 version of our employee handbook. This may not sound like exciting news, but we took a unique approach to the design of this handbook. We focused on Equity.

First, we surveyed our team members and asked them, “What does Equity mean to you at Exeter?” We received a variety of insightful responses, such as those listed below:

  • “Equity means providing individuals with opportunities and tools to succeed that meet them where they are. It means not assuming that everyone has the same background or skill set, and being willing to develop individuals to create a more even playing field.”
  • “Equity means adaptability. Making space for those who aren’t usually heard and taking the steps necessary to invite them in, in order to help them surmount the obstacles in their path. Not just expecting them to find their own way.”
  • “Equity means that we have directional policies and practices, and have the flexibility to bend them as needed to meet people’s unique needs and interests (when possible).”
  • “Helping our clients, and therefore our world, achieve equity. Focusing on equitable practices, identifying inequities, and working hard to improve equity for patients, communities, and employees.”

We used the definitions our team members provided and created an Equity Statement which we included in our handbook. It defines what Equity looks like at Exeter and the commitment that we as a company and that each of our employees make to promoting equity internally and externally. Defining Equity was a crucial first step in building our equitable employee handbook.

Next, we looked at each handbook policy through an equitable lens and asked ourselves, “Is this policy or language equitable? Who does it affect? Does it affect various groups differently? What assumptions does it make?” From there, we designed policies that ensure equity to everyone in our organization. Here are a few samples:

  • Implemented a gender-neutral paid family leave policy that provides equal leave time for parents of any gender and employees of any gender who are caretakers of family members such as spouses, parents, and significant others. This policy recognizes that family-norms are evolving and that no organization can assume who the primary caregiver is for children or immediate family members. It also recognizes that not everyone needs parental leave, but might need leave for other family members. Finally, it recognizes that allowing more leave for mothers than to fathers contributes to the gender pay gap. This article by Forbes discusses how paternity leave affects the gender pay gap.
  • Instituted Floating holidays that provide time off for employees who celebrate holidays other than federal holidays. This year, Exeter implemented a new holiday policy that offers employees 3 floating holidays of their choice. This allows all team members to celebrate holidays that are important to them besides the traditional federal holidays that Exeter has always offered. This policy recognizes the religious and cultural diversity of our team members and ensures they have access to the celebrations and traditions that are important to them without needing to use vacation or PTO.
  • Used Gender-inclusive language to ensure that all employees feel included in the handbook. When Exeter conducts cultural competence or implicit bias training for our clients, we include content about preferred language because we believe that language is a very powerful tool for inclusion. Using gender-inclusive language ensures that men, women, individuals who are non-binary, and everyone who falls anywhere else on the gender spectrum all feel included. This Harvard extension article discusses four ways to use inclusive language. We ensured that our equitable employee handbook uses gender-inclusive pronouns exclusively.
  • Added Equity to our core values to ensure that we keep equity at the forefront of work – both inside and outside the organization. Adding Equity to our core values shows clients and team members that we are serious about equity, that we are passionate about it, and that we believe in working towards an equitable workplace, healthcare system, and world.

Updating and rolling out an equitable employee handbook with major changes to existing policies can be a lot of work and require a lot of buy-in. However, in the end, it’s worth it. To celebrate this hard work, Exeter hosted a Handbook Rollout Party to share our new version of the handbook that emphasized the equitable focus of the language and policies within. The updates were overwhelmingly received as positive. Our team members expressed feeling supported and valued by the changes and included in the process of developing them.

In the end, a focus on an equitable employee handbook was an important step for Exeter to practice what we preach, to engage our team members, and to increase our competitiveness as an employer. We’re grateful to our team and our leaders for embracing the initiative and we encourage other organizations to review their own handbooks and policies through an equity lens. What does equity mean to your organization?

To learn more about Exeter’s Equity work, click here.


Lauren Jones, MA is a Project Manager specializing in organizational development solutions for healthcare organizations. She is passionate about helping healthcare organizations develop their teams and leaders to better serve their communities and reduce health disparities.