Joseph Searles

Joseph Searles
Excellus BCBS, Corporate Director of Diversity & Workforce Inclusion

Excellus BCBS
Headquarters: Rochester, NY
Business: Health Insurance
CEO: Christopher C. Booth, Esq.
Employees: 3,400


At Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, its leaders recognize diversity and inclusion are imperative to staying relevant in today’s business world. The health insurance provider is looking beyond the obvious for successfully leveraging and managing diverse efforts across its workforce.

“Diversity and inclusion helps us attract and retain the best talent, have the best ideas, and better relate to our customers,” said Joseph Searles, Excellus BCBS Corporate Director of Diversity & Workforce Inclusion. “In years past, our work was about building a business case to continually evolve diversity and inclusion efforts. Now, there’s no shortage of data and research illuminating inequities among cultures,” he added.

Under Searles’ leadership, the company is modeling real inclusive behaviors through education, self-awareness and accountability for personal action. “It’s important for all employees to understand the company’s inclusive strategy and rely on it as a behavioral compass,” he said.


One particular code of conduct the company emphasizes involves getting to know others beyond their exteriors. “We encourage looking beyond the obvious. We all agree that there are visual cultural differences that set us apart. But, there are many other characteristics and experiences that are not so obvious that we can learn about by being more inquisitive,” according to Searles.

As a result, what the employees are learning about each other oftentimes identifies more similarities than differences and is opening the path to deeper relationships and increased employee engagement. “Being inquisitive can also help uncover hidden genius in others,” Searles said.


Another area the company is making a difference is training programs that go beyond race, gender or sexual orientation. “It’s about everyone and diversity of background,” he said.

In 2016, the company plans to offer half-day training sessions for its 3,400 employees about:

  1. Authenticity – What it means to be authentic at work;
  2. Diversity – Clarity around diversity, bias and reducing impact;
  3. Inclusion – Clarity around inclusion and ways to model it; and
  4. Decision Making – Understanding the dangers of group thinking.

From its core employee education model, Excellus BCBS is introducing more specialized modules assisting in working across cultures. It is planning new modules that focus specifically on LGBT, veterans, people with disabilities and unconscious bias.

Enhancing its educational initiatives, the company has plans for examining the unconscious mind and how it impacts decision making or causes potential inequities in areas such as hiring, promotions and relationships. Searles emphasizes there is an overall commitment to diversity and inclusion that is exemplified in its corporate behaviors and policies.


The Diversity and Inclusion’s mission, he says, is to have a culture where there is a deliberate practice to seek diverse perspectives as well as a practice to leverage commonalities to unite employees and strengthen the company. The company’s Office of Inclusion sponsors its Employee Resource Groups, which act as business resources for the company. “Our ERGs are empowered to align themselves in support of our company’s strategy while using participation in groups to network, enhance career opportunities and professional development,” Searles said. The company has 15 ERG leaders in addition to a Diversity and Inclusion team.


  • Profiles in Diversity Journal – Diversity Leader Award
  • Human Right’s Campaign Corporate Equality Index perfect score, Best Place to Work for LGBT Employees
  • Recognition for the co-development and launch of the PRIDE In Leadership Program.