Increasing Employee Engagement by Embracing Diversity

By: Neil de Crescenzo, CEO


Learn more about how business resource groups can help increase understanding, innovation, and engagement when they embrace diversity.

What do we mean when we talk about employee engagement? We know that an engaged workforce leads to greater growth, higher margins, and better retention. Creating the conditions that encourage engagement is more complicated, however, and is often ephemeral and hard to measure. Beyond the platitudes, how do we deliver on engagement? Coming out of a discussion with members of Hispanic Comunidad de Change as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, I’m more convinced than ever that business resource groups (BRGs) are an important part of any employee engagement strategy.

Hispanic Comunidad de Change is the Latinx BRG here at Change Healthcare. I had the opportunity to speak with four members recently, who work in four different parts of our company. Rhonda M. Sterner works on our federal team, helping provide secure clinical communications systems to members of the military; Gabe Villarreal works in DevOps, working to provide an integrated software delivery platform to internal teams; María Fernández is a registered nurse who works on a team that writes patient-focused, evidence-based content in over eight languages including English and Spanish;  and José Carbia is the executive sponsor of Hispanic Comunidad de Change and is Change Healthcare’s VP of Global Talent Acquisition. The discussion, held over Microsoft Teams, allowed us all to discuss these Latinx employees’ experience at Change Healthcare. I learned that their BRG is a key way to achieve two of Change Healthcare’s core valuesInclude All and Earn Trust.

Replacing one narrative with many

Corporate leaders are working hard to create an environment in which everyone feels not only welcome, but able to be their whole self at work. It was once true that the dominant corporate cultural touchstones were those of white males. Those who weren’t white and male might be accepted, but the expectation was (and sometimes still is) that everyone, regardless of background, should coalesce around a common narrative, a common way of doing things, common frames of reference. This has the benefit of simplicity but at the expense of what is right for each individual and the company. Companies that don’t understand and support the different life experiences, perspectives, and objectives of their employees will not attract or retain the most dynamic employees from the broadest talent pool possible.

Indeed, in our discussion, José told me that for years, he “suppressed” his Hispanic heritage in the interest of fitting in to a white corporate culture. “I love my heritage, but I didn't broadly tell everybody,” he said. “I tried to just kind of you know … I'm an American and I'm in the corporate environment and I behaved and acted the way that everybody did around me. I adapted to the environment.” But he says he gradually learned the value of being open and sharing his heritage. He says BRGs in general, and Hispanic Comunidad de Change in particular, “encourage our employees to open their minds and explore. A constant encouragement of exploration will help us break down those barriers that we all have as humans. We have one concept that we talk about, which is unconscious bias. We have biases based on how we are brought up. We have certain understandings of professional etiquette—how I grew up and how I was raised and taught may be different than other cultures—which come into the workplace. And so, if we want to inspire more innovation, more creativity, we have to understand one another and how people interact and respond - maybe in different ways, not because of their personalities, but because of their upbringings.”

And because they are open to all individuals at Change Healthcare, BRGs help with this process of better understanding. There are many non-Latinx employees who are members of Hispanic Comunidad de Change. “You don't have to be of Hispanic descent, you don't have to speak Spanish, people can just want to be part of the group,” María  told me. José added, “I think that by welcoming other opinions and ideas, BRGs are spreading that sense of curiosity; and our value of include all makes Change Healthcare stronger in the long run.”

BRGs, and the events they put on, also promote understanding between employees of varied backgrounds in a safe and nonthreatening way. Rather than focusing on differences and the historic failures of American business and society in the treatment of minority groups, the BRG groups are able to share their particular heritage in positive ways. For example, María says, “For Hispanic Heritage month in particular, we featured artists, writers, musicians from all across the Hispanic tapestry. We didn't just choose one aspect of the Hispanic heritage and, hopefully, that helps broaden people’s understanding in a very safe and fun way. It's not like in-your-face aggressive. It’s gentle, beautiful, and fun.” There are, of course, times when prejudice and racism need to be met head-on; but that only reinforces the need for such “gentle” methods the rest of the time.

Rhonda also emphasized that Hispanic Comunidad de Change helps engender a more nuanced understanding of the broad swath of cultures represented by the term “Latinx.” “I'm in California, so many think Hispanic or Latinx is referring to Mexican heritage,” she says. “But you know, there's Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, South Americans—there's a lot more to Hispanic heritage—and that's really what it is celebrating and educating.”

The business imperative

In addition to supporting our values, diversity at Change Healthcare is a business imperative. In María’s  role creating clinical content that incorporates how varied populations live their lives—the challenges they face economically, culturally, linguistically—her experience as an immigrant informs not only her work, but the work of her colleagues. “In the past people said things like, oh, you were hired to meet a quota.… It wasn't just being Latina, it was being female. So, I was getting the double whammy. But many of the states here in our country have people of many different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. My team developing clinical content really values those varied perspectives because the people we serve are part of that tapestry of our country. Hispanic or Latino isn't one monolith.” I have no doubt that María’s unique perspectives and passion enrich our work. The Hispanic Comunidad de Change BRG is one way that she can share that perspective more widely, beyond her own team.

BRGs are also a natural way to break down barriers between different parts of the company. The four members of the Hispanic Comunidad de Change BRG I spoke to didn’t work together or know each other before the BRG brought them together. They now have the opportunity to learn about each other’s area of specialty in the company and possibly collaborate. But even if they don’t collaborate on the job, they are able to view themselves as part of a greater whole.

The BRGs also create mentorship opportunities. “This is just personal for me as I did not have any mentors of my cultural background in nursing. Nationally, there really are not that many senior nurses who identify as Latinas, Hispanic,” María says. She’s promised herself that “if any other clinicians come through, I want to be there for them and help them navigate the transition into our corporate setting. I feel like I need to pay it forward.”

Real support engenders real impact

Supporting employee or business resource groups are table stakes at most big companies now. Their success and impact, however, are dependent on buy-in from managers and other people leaders. Gabe said that one of the key reasons he’s remained engaged with the Hispanic Comunidad de Change BRG is the encouragement of his manager. It's my view that people really don't work for companies, they work for their direct manager or team leader. Our executive leadership team can promote these initiatives constantly, but it can take just one comment from a manager—"Why are you wasting time on that? You've got a lot of higher priorities.”—to eliminate all the benefits from these resources and activities. So, as we attempt to instill these values of inclusiveness and trust throughout our organization, we need to be sure that we are reaching the front-line managers who will be the most influential in creating the environment we seek.

I always find discussions with the BRG leaders and managers, including this conversation with my colleagues from the Hispanic Comunidad de Change BRG, informative and inspiring. It also caused me to become even more passionate about my support for our employee engagement initiatives. Enthusiastic endorsement from the C-suite helps create momentum and sets expectations. If our organization can continue to follow through to create a truly inclusive, trusting environment, I have every confidence that the results will also be evident in our bottom line.

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