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Gregory E. Deavens, EVP, CFO & Treasurer at Independence Blue Cross. Photo Courtesy of Independence Blue Cross.
Gregory E. Deavens, EVP, CFO & Treasurer at Independence Blue Cross. Photo Courtesy of Independence Blue Cross.

Independence Blue Cross: A strong commitment to supplier diversity

Independence's commitment to diversity was reflected in a landmark one-year spend of more than $100 million with diverse businesses.

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As the world we’re living in continues to grow more and more diverse, businesses that want to achieve long-term success have to tap into that diversity.

For more than 25 years, Independence Blue Cross has remained diligent and proactive in doing just that.

“For Independence, our commitment to diversity and inclusion embodies our overarching goal to have the diversity of our suppliers and employees reflect the community that we serve,” said Gregory E. Deavens, Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer at Independence Blue Cross. “The relationships that Independence has cultivated with diverse businesses are based on that commitment.”

The Importance of Supplier Diversity
Supplier diversity can be defined as a business strategy that ensures an equal opportunity for underrepresented businesses to become suppliers of goods and services.

Simply put, Deavens said, “supplier diversity is good for business.”

“We certainly believe that there is power in diversity that helps us to build a strong workforce and attract and serve a base of customers that is broad,” he added. “We also believe that it enables us to better fulfill our role as an economic engine for the region.”

Deavens addresses attendees at a sourcing and procurement conference hosted by Independence in April. Photo Courtesy of Independence. 

Independence has cultivated relationships with business from across the region owned by people of color, veterans, women and the LGBTQ community to help further represent the totality of their supplier diversity effort.

There is a strong value in sharing diverse ideas, experiences and perspectives for all businesses.

“Supplier diversity promotes innovation through the entrance of new products, new ideas, new services and new solutions,” Deavens said.

That often leads to organizations having multiple channels to procure goods and services, while also driving competition on both price and service levels for existing and potential new suppliers.

In 2014, Independence sponsored an economic impact study that looked at the overall impact of their supplier diversity program for the community.

“It showed we had an impact of approximately $240 million on the community that we serve based upon the work that we did with diverse organizations,” Chuck Stefanosky, Director of Strategic Sourcing and Procurement at Independence, said.

Independence will repeat the same study again based on 2018 data.

“Our spend has significantly increased since 2014, and we expect to have a very impactful economic impact study to report on at the end of the year,” Stefanosky added.

What makes supplier diversity efforts successful?
Deavens highlighted five key elements for a successful supplier diversity program.

The first element is the tone at the top of the organization.

“We certainly have had, for many, many years in this organization, a board and CEO who are committed to diversity in the broadest sense,” said Deavens. He added that having this dynamic - combined with a well-defined supplier diversity policy - goes a long way.

Program governance is the second element.

Independence does a fair amount of reporting on its progress in a number of different areas, and then creates dialogues around how to continue to improve.

The next focus is measurement, which reflects the progress against predefined targets.

“We also participate in a number of benchmark studies to understand how we’re doing relative to other organizations and we will sometimes adjust our strategy based on what those results are showing us or what that benchmark in comparison is showing us,” Deavens said.

The fourth aspect is outreach to diverse suppliers.

This outreach is done through trade fairs, partnering with diverse certifying agencies, obtaining references, and networking with other businesses and organizations.

The final element is communications strategies, celebrating successes through various means.

“Supplier diversity is really part of our DNA,” Stefanosky said.

2018 milestone
In 2018, Independence Health Group reached a landmark level of money spent with diverse suppliers with an excess of $100 million.

“It was definitely a first for the company in terms of achieving that level of spend with diverse suppliers. It was the result really of a multi-year plan to build alliances with businesses owned by people of color, veterans and women,” said Deavens.

Data Services and Supplies, wellness, and clinical services were key drivers of diverse spending in 2018.

“The hundred-million-dollar spend that we had in 2018 shows that our spend is up, or as our business flourishes, so does the diverse supplier base,” Stefanosky noted.

In 2018, 19 percent of every dollar spent went to a diverse supplier.

“That is significantly higher than most companies,” he added. “They’re usually in the two to five percent range, so it’s something we’re very proud of.”

The numbers show that both the suppliers and Independence benefited from the work that was performed together in 2018.

Diversity and inclusion in health care
As a health insurance provider, the bottom line for Independence remains making health care better for every American and every American business.

That extends out to the diverse supplier market, as well.

“We certainly believe that our supplier diversity program plays an important role in the health care ecosystem,” said Deavens. “It’s important that we have diverse providers who are meeting the needs of consumers in the health care ecosystem.”

Diversity provides a way for Independence to welcome new partnerships and create innovative ways of thinking about how to deliver care to members at the times in which they are most vulnerable and have the greatest need.

“We think about our diversity and inclusion program as it relates to our workforce and as it relates to our supplier base. Those elements together really help us to achieve these goals and really help move us in a direction towards getting health care right for all Americans,” said Deavens.

Diversity and inclusion play an important role at every level at Independence — membership, supplier diversity chain, and the workforce.

Chuck Stefanosky, director of strategic sourcing and procurement. Photo: Emily Neil/AL DÍA News

“In our diversity and inclusion efforts, we include both workforce diversity and supplier diversity in the same board committee with the same goal of making our work force and our suppliers match the community that we serve,” Stefanosky said.

“Our diverse workforce of more than 10,000 associates makes Independence a better and more productive place for associates to work, and I think drives better outcomes in terms of our performance,” Deavens added.

For Independence to carry out its mission of serving its nearly 8 million members nationwide, the evolving diversity of these communities must be reflected within the workforce.

That generates an opportunity for a variety of perspectives to be discussed and potentially turn into unique solutions to connect Independence to the community, to diverse suppliers, as well as other large organizations.

All in all, diversity is a business imperative — and a foundation for all the other business objectives at Independence.

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