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From Left to Right: John Clayton, (members of the Latinos Con Proposito resource group) Evelyn Vasquez-Gerczyk, Veronica Serrano-Herbin & Yasseline Diaz, and Juan Lopez. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick / AL DIA News
From Left to Right: John Clayton, (members of the Latinos Con Proposito resource group) Evelyn Vasquez-Gerczyk, Veronica Serrano-Herbin & Yasseline Diaz, and Juan Lopez. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick / AL DIA News

Giving a voice

Through the establishment of associate resource groups within the organization, Independence Blue Cross has been able to engage others and advance the…

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As the city of Philadelphia continues to grow more and more diverse, large organizations like Independence Blue Cross aim to reflect that diversity by placing a bigger emphasis on the precise promotion and advancement of diversity and inclusion.

In 2012, Independence launched a diversity and inclusion strategy in their efforts to further embrace the idea of diversity and inclusion as a core value within the organization.

Associate Resource Groups

John Clayton, the director of diversity, inclusion, and workforce initiatives at Independence Blue Cross, is responsible for the strategy, communication, events, and reporting of the different components of the organization’s diversity & inclusion initiative.

In 2012, Independence launched the first of its Associate Resource Groups and today they are a key part of the company’s diversity & inclusion initiatives. These resource groups allow for like-minded individuals to come together in a show of support and empowerment.

“They have really helped us embed diversity and inclusion within the organization, especially from a people strategy,” said Clayton.

John Clayton, the director of diversity, inclusion, and workforce initiatives at Independence Blue Cross. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick / AL DIA News

Currently, there are eight associate resource groups within the company. They are Latinos con Propósito (Latinos with Purpose), Women of Independence, Multicultural Men’s Group, Future Blue Leaders, imPACT (Pan Asians & Allies Collaborating Together), ABLE (Associates Beyond Limited Expectations), Veterans (iVets), and PRIDE (People Recognizing Inclusion, Diversity & Equity).

Each resource group has at least one vice president or senior vice president who guides, coaches, and assists the groups in reaching  their goals. Clayton oversees aspects of the funding of these groups and makes sure their events and programs remain aligned and sustainable, bringing added value to the organization as a whole.

“That’s one of the great things about our resource groups, they do align to our corporate strategy within the organization,” he noted.

Work of the Resource Groups

Much of the work of the resource groups is built around professional development, event planning, networking, and open dialogues.

For example, the Latino resource group, Latinos con Propósito, celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month every year — this past year, working alongside many other large organizations in the region. The Women of Independence group holds an annual leadership conference as a way to expand their commitment to educating and empowering women. And the iVets veterans group helps attract and retain veteran associates while providing them with opportunities to network and get involved with community engagement.

There is also ample opportunity for engagement between the associates, executives, and other leaders, often through panel discussions and forums, to discuss the topics of diversity and inclusion and how to better lead a diverse environment.

Juan Lopez, SVP Finance Shared Services at Independence, said that the commitment to working together and having open dialogue is essential for advancement anywhere.

“I think that’s important, because, from my perspective, to develop a career successfully, you need to have the opportunity to network and mentor with leaders, and these groups enable that,” he said.

Juan Lopez, SVP of Finance Shared Services at Independence Blue Cross. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick / AL DIA News

Lopez has previously worked for several different organizations. While he has an extensive history of doing diversity-related work in those companies, he praised the way Independence maintains their approach with support at the highest levels, from the CEO to the Board of Directors.

“The thing that’s always impressed me here is that those same board members who are both a part of that diversity and inclusion committee, but also in other committees for the board, actually came and did a panel presentation ... to talk about diversity and inclusion and what it means,” Lopez said. “To have that kind of board-level commitment to what we’re doing, I think is really important to the success of what we’ve been able to achieve.”

He added that the company’s discussions and forums enable a more freeform, casual atmosphere that is unique.

Independence also works extensively to create partnerships that can help attract more individuals to the company. For example, Independence has a college internship program, as well as a partnership with Cristo Rey High School to help cultivate talent and expose them to the organization.

“We built a diverse talent pipeline,” Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Workforce Initiatives John Clayton said. Independence also often brings outside groups into the organization to learn more about it, particularly from several youth-based non-profit organizations. “Those are the kinds of things that we do all year round to make sure that people know about opportunities in our organization and can apply for those opportunities,” Clayton added.

The Importance of Diversity… and Inclusion

In context with the increasing diversity within the city of Philadelphia, Independence is committed to making sure the company also promotes the inclusion side of the equation.

“It’s not just about celebrating difference,” Lopez said. “It’s about how do you optimize the company based on those differences through inclusion … giving everybody a voice.”

The diversity among the associates and the other employees is paramount to reaching and engaging all the communities in the city, both established and emerging ones. That staff diversity has helped the organization learn more about the needs of the communities, and has created an avenue to garner the resources necessary to provide support.

“We[‘ve been] part of the fabric of the city of Philadelphia for 80 years,” said Clayton. “The demographics are changing, and so we want to be able to communicate, we want to be able to serve all of our members in the best way.”

“And the best way to do that is to have a diverse workforce, and also an inclusive workforce,” he added.

The Latinos con Propósito associate resource group works alongside many other large organizations in the region. Photo Courtesy of Independence.

There is a heightened desire to provide a space for all differences to be heard, celebrated and brought into the organization. Clayton emphasized that it adds to the innovation, vibrance, and work environment Independence aspires to maintain.

To this end, Lopez said that “the unfiltered ability to just have a conversation and talk through things just shows the spirit of what inclusion means at this company.”

“We really want to be in the forefront as a large employer, seen as the best employer, and a large health insurer,” Clayton included. “That’s why this diversity work is not just a feel good thing to do, but it’s also part of the business environment of our organization.”

“Here for us, it’s not just a nice thing to do, it’s a business thing and it’s something that’s helping our culture and helping us be an employer of choice. It’s also one of the reasons why we were named one of America’s Best Large Employers by Forbes.”

Continuing to Build Culture

Through the work that Lopez and Clayton have done over the years, they’ve learned a lot along the way.

One of the most important lessons was that everyone grows up in their own environment, and it shapes their way of thinking and approaching different situations. That way of thinking often impacts them in their work environment, as well.

However, Lopez said, “inside a company, you should be able to establish culture through norms and behavior that are rewarded and emphasized.”

Independence continues to put in the work required to do just that. The mission remains striving to serve the community and helping people, from a healthcare perspective, live healthier lives.

That can be achieved through steady commitment and providing communities with access to care.

However, in the vein of doing so while also committing to diversity and inclusion, Independence commits itself to building camaraderie and collaborating with groups and organizations with similar goals.

“There are some other really big companies here and together, we could do a lot in the community that we serve,” Lopez said. “The impact could be really substantial.”

“When people work together, the amount that we can accomplish is so much greater. I just think to be able to take our work that much further would be an enormous impact for the city,” he added.

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