For companies looking for an edge in the tight talent market, a solid DEI strategy and employee engagement often go hand in hand, creating a balance that fosters an inclusive work environment. When employees feel they can bring their authentic selves to work, it can result in higher levels of employee productivity and satisfaction, improved retention rates, and more effective recruiting efforts.
Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina (BCBSNC) is one organization reaping the benefits of a robust DEI strategy, which the company began overhauling in 2020, starting with the establishment of an official diversity council. The idea was sparked by CEO Tunde Sotunde, MD, MBA, FAAP, to establish a “strategy, measurable goals, and a roadmap” around DEI, says Pam Diggs, MPH, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at BCBSNC.
And those efforts have paid off, with BCBSNC coming in at No. 1 on Computerworld’s 2023 Best Places to Work in IT list for large companies. BCBSNC also ranked No. 1 for diversity and No. 2 for employee engagement.
As part of its DEI strategy, BCBSNC focused on three areas — people and culture, healthcare equity, and strategic partnerships for economic mobility and community. Establishing this as the “Northstar” has helped realize DEI efforts throughout the organization, getting everyone on the same page and working toward shared goals, says Diggs.
“We deepened our commitment to ‘better health care for all.’ It is embedded in our purpose. When we say ‘for all,’ we are looking at the way we treat our employees internally as well, making sure that all our employees feel like this is an inclusive space to work in and to grow in. That way, they’re able to show up in an inclusive way for our customers and our communities,” she says.
Providing a ladder to the top
As part of its DEI efforts, BCBSNC runs an IT Leadership and Diversity Development Experience Rotation program, called Ladder, that connects BIPOC IT leaders with BIPOC IT professionals early in their careers. These relationships help entry-level and early-career professionals to develop their careers and navigate the workplace.
Representation is crucial, especially for improving diversity up the ranks. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” Diggs says, adding that BIPOC and women IT workers often don’t see themselves in leadership positions, simply because of the lack of representation further up the ladder toward the executive level.
BCBSNC’s Ladder program addresses this issue by fostering leadership relationships for BIPOC IT workers. By connecting seasoned IT pros who understand the nuances of being underrepresented in the industry, early-career IT workers gain access to a wealth of knowledge, mentorship, and a roadmap toward leadership. Participants also have access to tailored training opportunities, as well as opportunities for sponsorship, which can be vital for progressing your career.
“To have a mentor is so important. We see in our data that the participants in our mentorship programs have higher retention rates and higher internal mobility rates, but then the sponsorship takes it a step further.” Diggs says. “We’re encouraging our mentors to think about ways that they can be sponsors. Taking a step further to advocate for individuals when they’re not in the room.”
Rotational program as onramp to IT
The rotational component of Ladder recruits companywide through posted opportunities and direct outreach to employees who qualify. Employees who qualify include anyone in a “pre-professional role” who has an interest in learning what it takes to be an IT professional.
Hiring internally gives the added benefit of bringing on workers familiar with other sides of the business. That knowledge can serve IT well, as they’ll bring outside perspectives from other departments to their roles. For example, someone who has worked in customer service may have a unique take on process improvements, roadblocks, and technology that can help improve the experience for employees and customers alike.
The rotational program takes place over two years, with participants cycling through three rotations to get a feel for various opportunities in IT. Participants are also given the chance to connect with leaders in various areas of the company. Once they’ve completed the program and identify where they want to go next, participants are typically matched with a career at Blue Cross.
Tynia Burrows found out about the Rotational Development Program (RDP) through an internal posting. Prior to joining the program, Burrows worked as a lead project coordinator specialist in Portfolio Management and was “always curious about other opportunities I could take at Blue Cross NC,” she says. Her first rotation was with File Transfer Services, and she’s currently in her second rotation with Enterprise Security.
Tynia Burrows, Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina
The program has completely changed Burrows’ perception of IT, noting that RDP “brings new perspectives and personalities together,” giving everyone a “different outlook when solving programs or improving processes,” she says.
“The structure and support I’ve received through the Rotational Development Program is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my career. This program is a great stepping stone, especially for those who have the drive, but are unsure how to seek out opportunities on their own. I’m thankful Blue Cross NC has this program available to employees — it’s allowed me to explore new opportunities, build connections throughout the company, and has helped me understand my value and strengths,” says Burrows.
Opening talent pipelines through internships
BCBSNC IT also works closely with the talent acquisition team and employee networks to recruit at women-focused IT conferences and events. The department has also reshaped its talent pipeline to support diversity through recruitment and internship programs centered around HBCUs.
This year, BCBSNC partnered with the North Carolina’s Governor’s HBCU internship program and recently restructured requirements for the company’s rotational program to give interns the opportunity to apply for RDP after their internship ends. BCBSNC also collaborates with local colleges, such as Durham Tech, to recruit diverse tech talent for apprenticeships and internships.
Ultimately, BCBSNC’s commitment to DEI has helped diversify the workforce, while bolstering employee engagement and retention. Diversity is more than a benchmark for BCBSNC; it’s a vital part of the overall business strategy that helps to drive growth and innovation, as well as employee and customer satisfaction.
“That’s what diversity is all about — it helps companies, teams, and programs be more innovative, more creative, and more productive because we’re bringing in [fresh] perspectives,” says Diggs.
And those perspectives help position BCBSNC to better impact the constituencies it serves, Diggs says, adding that BCBSNC has bolstered its focus not only on equity in the workplace but on healthcare equality as well, given that several “social drivers of health, [including] transportation, affordable housing, food security, and social isolation” can impact up to 80% of a person’s overall health and wellbeing.
The organization now has an entire team dedicated to identifying ways they can change and restructure benefits for members to improve their experience, with a focus on DEI. This group also works to find opportunities for the organization to invest in local communities, with a priority on addressing issues surround systemic bias in the healthcare industry.
“It can be anything from making sure that we’re addressing systemic bias, that we are connecting equity to the way that we do business, or the way that our providers interact with our patients,” says Diggs, adding that if employees are engaged and satisfied at work, they will be better equipped to help customers and patients navigating the healthcare system.
Diversity and Inclusion