Diverse Workplaces Create Value For Everyone

by David Holmberg, Highmark Health

September 12, 2017

If your organization isn’t doing all it can to hire and develop people with disabilities, you’re missing an opportunity. I don’t mean just the opportunity to do the right thing — though it is certainly that. Like others, Highmark Health has also found that a diverse workforce strengthens our culture and makes us a more competitive business.

In health care especially, we serve customers with a range of differing abilities — and we can do that better when our employees mirror the diversity of our customer base. That extra layer of experience and understanding within our workforce has made us more responsive and effective in developing solutions that meet the needs of all the individuals we serve, including the diverse workforces of our group plan customers.

You can get more details in our annual diversity and inclusion report. But in terms of our commitment to employing people with disabilities, one sign of our progress is how normal it is, in any area of our enterprise, to see people with disabilities working and seizing opportunities for development. I won’t try to fit 20 years of effort in this area into a short article, but there are some principles from our journey that I hope others will find useful.

Take the talent seriously. Our approach to people with disabilities is the same as our approach to all talent. We’re not just filling seats — we strive to provide competitive employment and development that gives all of our people opportunities to succeed, feel a sense of purpose, and advance. When individuals have needs that impact performance, we address them, whether that’s equipment, training, or the work environment. We also adhere to a version of the Rooney Rule, interviewing at least one diverse candidate for any open position at the director level and above.

It’s not a “program” — it’s part of our culture. Employing people with disabilities can’t be a program you launch and then check off. There must be a commitment to continuous improvement in creating a great workplace for people with disabilities. You see how integral that is to our culture in our ability to attract and retain people with disabilities in all areas and levels, our strong Abilities Business Resource Group, and the employees who step up as allies for people with disabilities in the workplace, with our customers, and with community programs like Variety’s adaptive bikes for kids with disabilities.

Partner for success. Partnering with experts who share our values is a key element of Highmark Health’s business philosophy, and that includes many organizations committed to competitive employment. One I want to highlight is Bender Consulting, which helps corporations increase representation of people with disabilities in competitive careers. We have partnered with Bender for more than 20 years, including most recently as part of its innovative Careers2B program. Founder Joyce Bender has worked with Fortune 500 companies and policy-makers at every level. I’ll be a guest on her podcast, Disability Matters, Sept. 19 — tune in to learn more about our work together.

Engagement from the top down. Our tradition of executive leadership in employing people with disabilities goes back to William Lowry, Highmark’s CEO in the mid-90s. Deb Rice-Johnson, president of Highmark Health Plan, has been a tireless advocate for people with disabilities in our workplace and our communities. She has served on the board of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and is currently President of Variety — The Children’s Charity. Another part of leadership in this area is defining what can be measured, such as holding ourselves accountable to Bender’s High Test certification for online accessibility.

As health care business leaders, it is so clear that people with disabilities are part of the customer base and communities we serve. To me, it simply makes sense to create good employment opportunities where people with disabilities can seek their own level of accomplishment and contribute to our deeper mission of getting health care right for our customers.

David Holmberg is president and CEO of Highmark Health.