CEO Brad Wilson is Driving Diversity at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina

Diversity and inclusion are much more than stand-alone efforts at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. They are key elements in company-wide cultural change.

“We’re living in a revolutionary time in health care. Our challenge is to take a 78-year-old organization and refocus our culture to be more nimble and more innovative so that we can respond to the changes brought on by health care reform and to the changing demographics of North Carolina,” said CEO Brad Wilson. “Diversity has always been an important part of my moral fabric, and I also believe that diversity is an important business principle,” he said.

By focusing on employee networks, new models of diversity, and clarifying the definition of “diversity” BCBSNC has improved their diversity program tremendously. In the future, they hope to strengthen their supplier diversity program and continue to expand the message of diversity and inclusion.

Tapping the strength of a diverse workforce

One way BCBSNC is creating cultural change is through its employee networks. The company has seven employee networks with more than 1,000 members. The networks help sharpen the company’s competitive advantage by increasing employee cultural awareness to better serve its customers, both internal and external.

While these networks do focus on shared interests, backgrounds or perspectives, membership is open to all employees. Wilson has challenged his senior leaders to join the networks, especially those with whom they least identify.

Employee networks support the corporate culture at BCBSNC by providing an environment that is caring, collaborative, creative and committed. These qualities are the hallmarks of the company’s change initiative called “The Way Forward,” which describes the desired culture and strategic direction of the company. Wilson tapped the employee networks to help identify the company’s desired culture.

“What were looking to do is build teams that include a diverse set of skills, diverse thought processes and diverse backgrounds.”
Kim Drumgo, Chief Diversity Officer

Wilson asked the networks questions like ‘How would you like our company to be viewed? What kind of culture would you like to have?’ The employee networks, in turn, spoke with employees across the company and responded with a 26-page report. Among the themes of that report were: caring, collaborative, creative and committed.

“These themes were identified by our employee networks, and they serve as a common ground for our increasingly diverse employee population,” said Wilson. “When you have a diverse population, you’re going to have opportunities for healthy differences of opinion. It’s good for business to have those discussions, and it’s also good to have a common set of values to help guide those discussions to resolution.”

The definition of diversity

BCBSNC’s definition of diversity includes much more than visible attributes. “What we’re looking to do is build teams that include a diverse set of skills, diverse thought processes and diverse backgrounds,” said Kim Drumgo, Chief Diversity Official for BCBSNC. “Because we believe that with all three of those differentiators, we can build teams of strength, innovation and creativity.

“If you look at the diversity wheel [developed by Marilyn Loden], you get a sense of the full scope of diversity. And while those primary dimensions are important, the secondary dimensions help us build teams with varied experiences. It’s the accumulation of these experiences that make us who we are. And bringing that unique person to work every day is important to the business. It’s only by creating an environment where it’s safe for every employee to bring their full range of experiences to the table that the company can fully benefit.

For example, our senior vice president of marketing recently visited our GLBT employee network, called Spectrum, and asked them how the company could reach more members of this community. They came up with the idea to identify GLBT-friendly insurance brokers. It’s a great idea that we’re starting to implement.”

An enlightened model of diversity

When BCBSNC launched its diversity efforts, it not only defined a business case for diversity, it also implemented a model to measure its progress. The diversity maturity model was developed by Drumgo. She says the company is currently in the “Enlightened” phase and beginning to move into the “Integrated” phases.

“We’re beginning to see that diversity and inclusion are being integrated into our current work processes and not viewed as a standalone program. For example, as we begin to think about new brand campaigns, we’re looking at creating brand campaigns that speak to all of our members and are bilingual rather than creating separate campaigns for our Hispanic population,” said Drumgo.

While the company understands that different populations are moved by different marketing, company leaders also know that a strong brand should transcend many different cultures.

“This year we began implementing ’Divisional Inclusion Teams’ within each division in our organization,” she adds. “The purpose of the divisional inclusion teams is to ensure each division establishes and strives to attain diversity and inclusion goals specific to their business function and their business needs. Enterprise-wide goals have been and continue to be effective. However, when divisions develop their own business case for diversity, they begin to see their own growth opportunities and then begin to develop their own goals for improvement.

“For example, our Healthcare division is taking a serious look at developing programs specific to the changing demographics of our state.

Our Federal Programs group is taking a closer look at how we ensure we are meeting the needs of varying generations of customers we service. And across the organization, we’re finding ways to maximize the energy of Generation Y and the wisdom of the Baby Boomers, which are the two largest generations among our employee population.”

Another key measure of cultural change comes from the company’s Employee Engagement and Culture Survey. BCBSNC began working with Denison Consulting in 2010 to conduct this survey, and the progress in one year’s time is significant.

Survey participation rose from 80 percent in 2010 to 93 percent in 2011—one of the highest response rates that Denison has seen among the firm’s thousands of clients worldwide. Using Denison’s scoring method for employee engagement, (a measurement of how positively employees view their organization) BCBSNC jumped from the thirty-second percentile to the fortieth.

Scores on almost every cultural measure improved in the 2011 survey. In the areas most related to diversity and inclusion, measures of empowerment and team orientation both increased by more than ten points, as did a measure of creating cultural change.

Following the 2010 survey, BCBSNC leaders decided to focus on improving three aspects of the company’s culture: decision-making, creating and embracing change, and collaboration across the company. Scores in each of these areas improved in this year’s survey.

Diversity next steps

In 2012, BCBSNC plans to continue strengthening its supplier diversity program by looking at engaging diverse suppliers and utilizing their services in many different areas throughout the company. “We are one of the largest North Carolina-based employers, and we think it’s extremely important that we give back to the economic sustainability of our state in a multitude of ways,” Drumgo said.

Keeping the conversation going is critical to achieving maturity in the topic of diversity and inclusion, she says. Every new employee is required to go through diversity and inclusion training within 30 days of joining the company. Throughout the year, the Diversity Office offers trainings to the entire organization on a variety of topics.

“However, to continue to increase our diversity and inclusion maturity, we ask our managers to have at least two diversity-related conversations a year with their teams. We use a tool called Diversity Xpress, by Prism International, which provides discussion prompts for our leaders to have 20- to 30-minute discussions with their teams on multiple topics. For example, one discussion prompt is titled ‘Working Across Language Barriers.’ We’ve seen that when conversations happen, both in person and on the blogs and discussion boards we have across our company, understanding happens.”

“And we’ll continue to leverage the voice of our employees through our employee networks. Next year, each of our employee networks will be challenged with solving a business problem. The benefits of this goal are significant. Not only will our leaders have the opportunity to deepen their relationships with the employees in the networks, but our employees will also be able to provide a voice and different perspective on solving important business challenges outside of their normal jobs.”

This article has been sponsored by:
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina

Brad Wilson

Brad Wilson

President & CEO
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina

Education: J.D., Wake Forest University School of Law M.A., Duke University B.A., Appalachian State University

Interests: History, sports

Family: Married with two adult children

Career: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina: CEO, 2010-Present; President and Chief Operating Officer, 2009-2010; leadership roles including executive vice president, general counsel and chief administrative officer, 1995-2009, North Carolina Office of the Governor, 1993-1995: General counsel and chief legislative strategist to Gov. Jim Hunt; acting secretary, N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety Private law practice in Lenoir, N.C.