Many top employers in the U.S. have made great strides toward prioritizing diversity and inclusion for employees. But ensuring every single individual within an organization feels truly valued and heard goes far beyond compliance with programs such as affirmative action. It requires a constant commitment from everyone in the company and the opportunity for any employee to engage in meaningful activities and lead by example. It’s the type of commitment exemplified in the culture at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE).
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts began at BCBSNE long before the term became a credential for businesses. BCBSNE’s mission as a health care company has always been to take care of and support people, whether members or employees. The demographics of the company’s 1,100 employees include 70% women and 21% people of color, with 50% women and 25% people of color comprising its executive leadership team.
BCBSNE has a long history of encouraging employees to host events and participate in community activities that are important to them as individuals through its six employee resource groups (ERGs). These employee-led groups serve as places where employees can feel safe and know they belong, including groups to support African American, Latino, LGBTQ+, disabilities, military, and young professionals. At BCBSNE, 40% of its employees belong to an ERG.
Recognizing the importance of DEI and wanting to fortify it within BCBSNE’s culture, the company hired a full-time director of diversity and inclusion. Jay Warren-Teamer joined the organization in August 2020 and was able to hit the ground running. Because the company already had DEI initiatives in motion, Warren-Teamer said she didn’t have to start from scratch. Rather, her role was to orchestrate, align, and communicate all efforts and ideas throughout the organization. And it started with listening. “I wanted to understand the foundation that had been laid, conversations that had started and stopped, and what needed more attention,” she said.
Five key areas emerged that needed elevation and strategy: talent attraction and retention, growing and sustaining the ERGs, ensuring DEI is an authentic part of the company brand, inclusive leadership, and equity mindedness. Warren-Teamer explained that equality is making things the same for everyone, such as equal pay for equal work. Whereas being equitable means recognizing that everyone has different needs and sometimes barriers, and making sure they have the resources they need to be successful.
One of the most important aspects to successfully having a DEI culture is organization readiness, which Warren-Teamer said was apparent at BCBSNE. “What surprised me was how quickly we were able to get things done. I introduced initiatives with no pushback. We could hit the gas and go.” From employees to the Board of Directors, Warren-Teamer said BCBSNE is committed to serving their members and employees with dignity and respect.
Each ERG is run by an employee-elected board, holds monthly membership meetings, and submits budgets for event participation. The organization supports at least 30 events per year, such as the local Cinco de Mayo parade, Pride parade, and the Juneteenth Freedom Festival. This year, BCBSNE held its first Belonging at Blue summit with the goal of fostering enterprise-wide DEI conversations. Each ERG hosted a workshop or event during the weeklong summit, which was enabled for remote workers to participate as well. More than 150 employees joined the event, which also served as a way to recruit new ERG members.
Another example of the company’s commitment to DEI is that BCBSNE President and CEO Steve Grandfield participates in the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Commitment to Opportunity, Diversity and Equity, or CODE. “What we’re doing isn’t just internal to us,” Warren-Teamer said. “Our employees live in the community, so they are an extension of our commitment to DEI and helping all boats rise.”
One thing Warren-Teamer emphasized is there’s no end point to DEI—it’s a journey that often comes with some mistakes and a lot of understanding and grace. But that’s what makes the company’s approach authentic and part of the culture at BCBSNE. “We’re committed to belonging, whether it’s as a member, an employee, a prospective employee, or the community at large. It means understanding the complex identities and needs that all folks hold. We are steadfast in the way we lead and communicate, and I hope everyone feels that as a Nebraska-based health insurer, they belong.”