Early in my career, while with a large insurer in New Jersey, I was fortunate to work with a talented newcomer to the company who had a lot of potential, and of whom I was a strong advocate. But after only eight months, she resigned. Shocked, I asked why. She said the company lacked inclusivity and, as an African American woman, she felt uncomfortable and out of place. This interaction was eye opening and a turning point for me. Not only had the company overlooked the cultural challenges within the workplace, but in doing so, it lost a talented team member and peer mentor.
Fast forward to today. In my role as CEO of Tufts Health Plan, a non-profit regional health plan, I keep that lesson top of mind and have made diversity and inclusion a strategic business priority. I believe that having a diverse workforce not only supports the professional development and well-being of each of our employees, but also fosters innovative solutions for our members. But our efforts must go beyond just our internal efforts – we must focus on our customers and our community as well.
The shift in demographics across the regions we serve is a clear indication that diversity should not only be part of our mission, but is also critical to our operational growth, as businesses – large and small – are employing an increasingly diverse workforce. In order to best serve our members, regardless of ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or background, our employees and leadership need to be knowledgeable, aware and demographically reflective of the populations we serve.
Our efforts are ongoing, but as I think about my commitment to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, I am compelled to reflect on what we have learned so far.
Pay attention. Research demonstrates that health disparities exist across diverse populations. As a health plan, we have a unique opportunity to improve the delivery of care for our members who are ethnically diverse, LGBTQ, disabled, and veterans.
To this end, we employ a task force to look for health disparities across our member populations. As an example, we have successfully identified divergent rates of system utilization and disease prevalence between a large regional employer’s administrative staff (which is majority white) and workers at their factory (majority Hispanic). Our analysis showed an opportunity to bridge the gap in health literacy and, in doing so, reduce the disparity through targeted culturally and linguistically oriented programs.
In another case, after identifying a broad disparity in the use of advanced directives between white and black Medicare beneficiaries, we implemented the “Voice your Choice” program: a network-wide, multi-pronged approach to improving communication among members, caregivers, and health care providers regarding the values and choices driving their health care decisions.
Speak the language and understand the culture. With more than 30 languages spoken by our 2,600 employees, Tufts Health Plan is investing in language-appropriate consultation and community resources so that members do not face linguistic barriers to accessing care. Multilingual resources are only one component of the critical cultural education that enables our employees to better connect with the populations we serve. All Tufts Health Plan employees have undergone foundational cultural competency training, and our approximately 900 member-facing staff have completed specific training on topics such as disabilities, LGBTQ health, and unconscious bias. This initiative has enabled our employees to better understand cultural nuances that lead to certain health outcomes, simultaneously improving staff confidence, institutional efficiency, and overall member experience.
Get out of your silo and broaden your perspective. One of our members reached out to us directly to tell us we were not effectively serving the transgender community. That’s when we realized we needed a different perspective. Without experiencing the unique difficulties transgender members face in navigating the health care system, we couldn’t improve – and so, we mapped their journey. After collecting member feedback on a range of topics – from accessing care to coverage options – a dedicated group of employees worked through the transgender member’s experience to make improvements wherever we could.
Don’t just walk the walk, lead it. Most importantly, in order to serve diverse communities successfully, we need to cultivate a diverse community internally – and developing an atmosphere and company culture that respects each employee as an individual and proudly maintains people-centric values starts at the very top. Today, 45 percent of our Board of Directors and 54 percent of our Senior Leadership Team are women and/or ethnically diverse, the ethnic diversity of our staff is greater than the average ethnic diversity in Massachusetts, and 69 percent of our Tufts Health Plan team are women.
A diverse workforce is the backbone of everything we do at Tufts Health Plan. As stewards of wellness in the communities we serve, we have seen firsthand the positive impact that cultural inclusivity within our walls can have on our work with a broad range of member populations. Our enhanced connections with these diverse groups enable us to optimize the services we offer and take measurable strides in improving our members’ experience. I encourage leaders across all sectors and business sizes to explore ways in which diversification and inclusivity can help them better serve their own clients and communities.