Menu Close

Leading with Passion: Diversity Equity and Inclusion

New Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona logo

By Deanna Salazar, Chief Administration Officer & General Counsel, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona

We all know about the business case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially, have better problem-solving abilities, and are more creative. But how do you genuinely integrate DEI into your business, so it is not like “The Elf on a Shelf” – something you take out of a box and display only when the time is right?

Many recent events have ignited or reignited enthusiasm for DEI. The challenge is to find a way to translate that passion into real action and results. The root of this passion is different for all of us. For many, it is a personal journey. For others, it was the horrific incidents we watched unfold across the country in 2020.

Like many companies, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona took this opportunity to reexamine its DEI efforts. Here’s what we discovered: we were doing well with our DEI efforts, but it was time to do better. We needed a clear message and measured results. Without hesitation, our CEO, Pam Kehaly, agreed we needed to do more. So we did.

Two years after establishing our company’s first DEI Leadership Council, Modern Healthcare recognized me as one of 2022’s Top Diversity Leaders. Although it is a wonderful honor, awards are not the driver behind our DEI efforts, and there is always more work to be done. But it certainly means we are on the right track. Following are some of the lessons we have learned about weaving DEI into the fabric of our business culture and how to not only promote it – but live it.

Lesson #1: Get support from the top 

Like any strategic initiative, leadership support is necessary. And I am not just talking about run of the mill buy-in. It is imperative to get concrete, meaningful commitments from leadership. The DEI Leadership Council got exactly that from our CEO, board of directors, and executive leadership team. Here are examples of what we created and set in motion to honor our DEI commitments:

  1. A DEI credo with employee input as guidance
  2. An executive leadership pledge to the organization with tracked progress in meeting those commitments
  3. The board of directors amended its governing documents to express the need to recruit board members with diverse backgrounds and perspectives and measure its progress in meeting this goal.
  4. We added ‘Inclusive’ to our five core values.

Lesson #2: Involve your team 

No one person can do this alone. Recruit a group of people within your company to help. At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, people from different departments who had diverse roles and backgrounds started the DEI Leadership Council. Their job was to build a permanent council with a succession process and develop a framework that would enable us to create our DEI strategy.

We took two big steps. First, we developed a DEI Leadership Council charter and bylaws to guide our processes. Next, we developed a recruitment and application process to put Council members in place. We made service on the DEI Council a part of their job descriptions to ensure they are formally afforded the time needed to devote to the Council.

Lesson #3: Find resources 

You can’t do this work without resources, so creating a budget is crucial. It is also another hallmark of the organization’s commitment.  We developed a budget to fund the Council’s work. More importantly, we hired a professional with real DEI chops to take over the day-to-day work of guiding the Council.

Lesson #4: Build a foundation  

All your best-laid plans will fall through without a solid foundation. For the first two years, we focused on building the Council brick by brick. As a part of this process, we had to answer this simple, yet complex question: What do we want to accomplish? When you have an answer, the bricks start to fall into place.

We wanted to educate our colleagues, so we rolled out different training sessions about workplace diversity, inclusion, sensitivity, unconscious bias, microaggressions, and more. We have had overwhelming employee support for our DEI efforts. In a recent survey, more than 90% of our employees said Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona values diversity of thought and creates an environment where people with diverse backgrounds can succeed.  But there will always be some naysayers and detractors. We do not let it deter us. Our message is loud and clear: This is what Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona is about; this is who we are.

More than anything, we want to practice what we preach. An example of how we are following through on that: We collaborated with our Human Resources department to update our company’s job descriptions to attract a diverse talent pool. Simple things make a huge difference in attracting talent, like removing college degree requirements from job descriptions.

Lesson #5: Measure growth and success 

Once the foundation is built, you can shift toward measurable progress. As a Council, we will bring in new members as others plan to pass the baton and step down. We want to have fresh eyes and new perspectives as we constantly evolve.

Success must be measured by metrics. We tally how many employees attend our events, like book clubs and presentations. We capture our workforce demographics and look at recruitment and retainment figures to ensure we have a diverse pool of employees. Our goal over the next few years is to hold leaders accountable for attracting and retaining a diverse workforce.

We are celebrating DEI successes and growth even outside of the Council’s direct work – a sign of true impact. Health equity is one of the four focus areas for The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona Foundation for Community & Health Advancement. The Foundation works with and provides grants to partners throughout Arizona to close disparity gaps that impact health. These partnerships help underscore that your income, ZIP code, access to transportation, and other factors should not determine your opportunity to live a long and healthy life.

The bottom line 

This is just an example of one company’s dedicated journey. While we decided to create a Council, there are a million different ways for businesses to tackle diversity, equity, and inclusion. Whatever path you decide to take, it must be an authentic effort.

Deanna Salazar is Chief Administration Officer & General Counsel of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.