For companies looking for an edge in the tight talent market, a solid DEI strategy and employee engagement often go hand in hand, creating a balance that fosters an inclusive work environment. When employees feel they can bring their authentic selves to work, it can result in higher levels of employee productivity and satisfaction, improved retention rates, and more effective recruiting efforts.\n\nBlue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina (BCBSNC) is one organization reaping the benefits of a robust DEI strategy, which the company began overhauling in 2020, starting with the establishment of an official diversity council. The idea was sparked by CEO Tunde Sotunde, MD, MBA, FAAP, to establish a \u201cstrategy, measurable goals, and a roadmap\u201d around DEI, says Pam Diggs, MPH, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at BCBSNC.\n\nAnd those efforts have paid off, with BCBSNC coming in at No. 1 on Computerworld\u2019s 2023 Best Places to Work in IT list for large companies. BCBSNC also ranked No. 1 for diversity and No. 2 for employee engagement.\n\nAs part of its DEI strategy, BCBSNC focused on three areas \u2014 people and culture, healthcare equity, and strategic partnerships for economic mobility and community. Establishing this as the \u201cNorthstar\u201d has helped realize DEI efforts throughout the organization, getting everyone on the same page and working toward shared goals, says Diggs. \n\n\u201cWe deepened our commitment to \u2018better health care for all.\u2019 It is embedded in our purpose. When we say \u2018for all,\u2019 we are looking at the way we treat our employees internally as well, making sure that all our employees feel like this is an inclusive space to work in and to grow in. That way, they\u2019re able to show up in an inclusive way for our customers and our communities,\u201d she says.\n\nProviding a ladder to the top\n\nAs part of its DEI efforts, BCBSNC runs an IT Leadership and Diversity Development Experience Rotation program, called Ladder, that connects BIPOC IT leaders with BIPOC IT professionals early in their careers. These relationships help entry-level and early-career professionals to develop their careers and navigate the workplace.\n\nRepresentation is crucial, especially for improving diversity up the ranks. \u201cYou can\u2019t be what you can\u2019t see,\u201d Diggs says, adding that BIPOC and women IT workers often don\u2019t see themselves in leadership positions, simply because of the lack of representation further up the ladder toward the executive level.\n\nBCBSNC\u2019s Ladder program addresses this issue by fostering leadership relationships for BIPOC IT workers. By connecting seasoned IT pros who understand the nuances of being underrepresented in the industry, early-career IT workers gain access to a wealth of knowledge, mentorship, and a roadmap toward leadership. Participants also have access to tailored training opportunities, as well as opportunities for sponsorship, which can be vital for progressing your career.\n\n\u201cTo have a mentor is so important. We see in our data that the participants in our mentorship programs have higher retention rates and higher internal mobility rates, but then the sponsorship takes it a step further.\u201d Diggs says. \u201cWe\u2019re encouraging our mentors to think about ways that they can be sponsors. Taking a step further to advocate for individuals when they\u2019re not in the room.\u201d\n\nRotational program as onramp to IT\n\nThe rotational component of Ladder recruits companywide through posted opportunities and direct outreach to employees who qualify. Employees who qualify include anyone in a \u201cpre-professional role\u201d who has an interest in learning what it takes to be an IT professional.\n\nHiring internally gives the added benefit of bringing on workers familiar with other sides of the business. That knowledge can serve IT well, as they\u2019ll bring outside perspectives from other departments to their roles. For example, someone who has worked in customer service may have a unique take on process improvements, roadblocks, and technology that can help improve the experience for employees and customers alike.\n\nThe rotational program takes place over two years, with participants cycling through three rotations to get a feel for various opportunities in IT. Participants are also given the chance to connect with leaders in various areas of the company. Once they\u2019ve completed the program and identify where they want to go next, participants are typically matched with a career at Blue Cross.\n\nTynia Barrow found out about the Rotational Development Program (RDP) through an internal posting. Prior to joining the program, Barrow worked as a lead project coordinator specialist in Portfolio Management and was \u201calways curious about other opportunities I could take at Blue Cross NC,\u201d she says. Her first rotation was with File Transfer Services, and she\u2019s currently in her second rotation with Enterprise Security.\n\nThe program has completely changed Barrow\u2019s perception of IT, noting that RDP \u201cbrings new perspectives and personalities together,\u201d giving everyone a \u201cdifferent outlook when solving programs or improving processes,\u201d she says.\n\n\u201cThe structure and support I\u2019ve received through the Rotational Development Program is unlike anything I\u2019ve ever experienced in my career. This program is a great stepping stone, especially for those who have the drive, but are unsure how to seek out opportunities on their own. I\u2019m thankful Blue Cross NC has this program available to employees \u2014 it\u2019s allowed me to explore new opportunities, build connections throughout the company, and has helped me understand my value and strengths,\u201d says Barrow.\n\nOpening talent pipelines through internships\n\nBCBSNC IT also works closely with the talent acquisition team and employee networks to recruit at women-focused IT conferences and events. The department has also reshaped its talent pipeline to support diversity through recruitment and internship programs centered around HBCUs.\n\nThis year, BCBSNC partnered with the North Carolina\u2019s Governor\u2019s HBCU internship program and recently restructured requirements for the company\u2019s rotational program to give interns the opportunity to apply for RDP after their internship ends. BCBSNC also collaborates with local colleges, such as Durham Tech, to recruit diverse tech talent for apprenticeships and internships.\n\nUltimately, BCBSNC\u2019s commitment to DEI has helped diversify the workforce, while bolstering employee engagement and retention. Diversity is more than a benchmark for BCBSNC; it\u2019s a vital part of the overall business strategy that helps to drive growth and innovation, as well as employee and customer satisfaction.\n\n\u201cThat\u2019s what diversity is all about \u2014 it helps companies, teams, and programs be more innovative, more creative, and more productive because we\u2019re bringing in [fresh] perspectives,\u201d says Diggs.\n\nAnd those perspectives help position BCBSNC to better impact the constituencies it serves, Diggs says, adding that BCBSNC has bolstered its focus not only on equity in the workplace but on healthcare equality as well, given that several \u201csocial drivers of health, [including] transportation, affordable housing, food security, and social isolation\u201d can impact up to 80% of a person\u2019s overall health and wellbeing.\n\nThe organization now has an entire team dedicated to identifying ways they can change and restructure benefits for members to improve their experience, with a focus on DEI. This group also works to find opportunities for the organization to invest in local communities, with a priority on addressing issues surround systemic bias in the healthcare industry. \n\n\u201cIt can be anything from making sure that we\u2019re addressing systemic bias, that we are connecting equity to the way that we do business, or the way that our providers interact with our patients,\u201d says Diggs, adding that if employees are engaged and satisfied at work, they will be better equipped to help customers and patients navigating the healthcare system.