Interest in diversity, equity and inclusion is arguably a universal in business these days. But there is no universal one-size-fits-all DEI program.
Businesses may be tempted to apply to their own operations programs they’ve seen be effective in other organizations. But, as Joel (JP) Martin, Ph.D., emphasizes, “Each program is organic.” Speaking from her two decades’ experience as a coach, consultant, speaker and trainer, the founder and president of Positively Powerful™ Triad West explains, “If you take all the people out of one organization and bring all new people in, it wouldn’t be the same organization. So why would you give them the same DEI program?”
This is why Dr. Martin places such importance on “going deep” – going in and getting to know the organization. Her approach is to get to know the business context and the challenges and opportunities of the people involved in it in order to present a transformational DEI program. And, following an initial needs assessment, she has found it effective to invite the team to design the program with her. Passionate, committed employees comprising a DEI committee then take ownership of the program.
“DEI is all about people,” says Dr. Martin.
Recognizing that it’s all about people, In Business Magazine is spotlighting a cross-section of our business community and offering a look at some of the individual journeys toward a shared objective.
Lovitt & Touché, Insurance Brokerage
Leila Gimino is the legal and compliance lead and DE&I co-chair at Lovitt & Touché, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC company.
“The ultimate goal with our DEI efforts is to provide a workplace where everybody feels they belong and where they do not have to hide a part of who they are to be included, ” says Leila Gimino, who heads the Legal & Compliance department and co-chairs DEI at Lovitt & Touché, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC company.
Lovitt & Touché has been committed to cultivating a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment since the company’s founding more than 100 years ago. Despite the French surname, the Touché family is of Hispanic descent, with a historical journey from France to Argentina and Mexico to America. Founder Carlos Touché dedicated his career to building a business that respects and embraces a diversity of backgrounds, cultures and experiences. It is a legacy his two sons — CEO Charles and President Steven — not only helped him build, but one they continue to enhance to this day.
“We recognize the importance of ‘walking the talk’ and making our DEI focus more than performative or lip service,” Gimino says. “It truly is a critical part of the company culture from the top down. Our entire leadership team participates in DEI activities and trainings, modeling for their teams and fellow colleagues that these efforts truly are an important piece to the company culture.”
To achieve its DEI goals, the company established a DEI Council of 15 to 20 colleagues tasked with engaging and educating their fellow colleagues by spotlighting different cultures, backgrounds, countries and more. “We have hosted many speakers and events to bring awareness and greater understanding of a diverse set of backgrounds and cultures,” says Gimino. For instance, for Native American Heritage Month, the DEI Council hosted a Zoom event with a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation in Southern Arizona, who discussed the Nation’s history and culture. This year the council is focused on the theme of Listening Generously, gearing our activities around the idea of open, compassionate listening and seeking to understand. And Gimino notes Lovitt & Touché’s leadership team is making internal business decisions geared toward recruiting a more diverse workforce.
In terms of assessment, Gimino reports that the company evaluates its efforts based on how many people attend and engage with events, emails and activities, as well as the feedback received from colleagues — who, she notes are encouraged to share suggestions on cultures and communities to highlight as well as share their own stories and experiences.
“One day, a colleague came into my office and asked me why I included my pronouns in my email signature,” Gimino relates. “I explained how people choose to use different pronouns and that it was an act of solidarity and allyship with the LGBTQIA community. As she left my office, I heard her tell others, ‘I found out what it means.’ The fact that she felt comfortable enough to ask me is a direct result of the power of emphasizing DEI and creating a workplace that is inclusive, compassionate and understanding.”
More and more of the company’s clients and prospects have begun asking about its DEI efforts. “Clients and prospects want to ensure their vendors, partners and providers share their same values,” Gimino observes, noting that “What is your company doing about this?” is becoming an important part of the business conversation.
“Through our DEI efforts, we act out our belief that inclusion means more than acceptance — it means true belonging. It’s a promise of full participation in the life and work of our company and a voice in its future,” Gimino says, emphasizing, “Everyone at Lovitt & Touché has unique knowledge and experience that, taken together, make us extraordinary.”
Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona, Community-Focused Nonprofit
Tim O’Neal is president and CEO at Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona.
DEI is nothing new at Goodwill. Says President and CEO Tim O’Neal, “Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona has always been a pioneer of diversity efforts.”
O’Neal explains that Goodwill’s early goals with DEI efforts were to first listen to employees and community and engage its team members in these efforts. “Rolling out our focus groups was the first success we achieved as we had interest throughout the organization and a very engaged workforce.” Goodwill hosted several lunch-and-learns and workshops on a variety of topics, such as “Mentorship” and “Implicit Bias and Microaggression Training,” and brought in outside subject-matter experts to walk the leaders through the history of systemic racism.
However, the organization recognized the need to enhance its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion journey. Says, O’Neal, “After the powerful events of 2020, we took a hard look at our organization’s efforts in DEI, had difficult conversations and listened to our employees and the communities we serve.” And they decided to partner with external DEI experts to gain an insight to best practices, as well as things other organizations might have found to not be successful when establishing solid DEI programs. Among next steps were forming a DEI steering committee, followed soon after with the launch of several DEI action groups, including Black and African American, Women’s Action Group, Native American and Indigenous People, LGTBQ+, Hispanic/Latino, and Disabilities Action Group. “These groups helped bring awareness to their unique focus and allowed us to start the process of providing learning opportunities throughout the organization,” says O’Neal. “We are mindful of the different demographics of the various regions we serve, and strive to enable our team members to participate in all types of events.
“Currently,” O’Neal continues, “we are in the process of working with outside consultants to conduct a full Diversity, Equity and Bias (DIBs) survey and action plans that will help guide the direction for where we go with our DEI efforts next.”
Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona is now working with an outside DEI consultant to help set its next company-wide goals in DEI. Using the results of the above-mentioned DIBs survey will help its leadership focus the organization’s DEI efforts by establishing that baseline of where things stand now and then enable goal-setting — with measurable goals — for moving forward. “We will build and share that plan with our employees and our community to ensure we all can hold each other accountable to meeting those metrics,” O’Neal says. “Our long-term vision is to be able to show a return on our DEI efforts through more diverse employee retention — from recruiting, hiring and promoting people from all backgrounds and abilities.”
O’Neal describes the team as “incredibly passionate” and eager to move quickly, noting, “Our team members throughout the organization have been excited to participate.” An example of the high level of engagement among the workforce around DEI efforts, whether in joining action groups, attending learnings or organizing community events, comes from Goodwill’s recent sponsorship of the Phoenix PRIDE event. “We had several team members, including their family members, volunteer to support this event,” O’Neal relates. “The outpouring of support from both the community and our internal team was tremendously gratifying. We heard from numerous people that, as a first-time attendee at this event, they were extremely impressed with our initiatives and are excited to see our company continue to embrace all cultures and walks of life.”
And O’Neal shares what one team member shared with him, as expressive of his own experience: “More than anything, it’s uplifting to know that we are talking about the DEI Journey at GCNA. To be at the table, and having conversations is the first step to seeing any change or progress that’s needed within an organization. When the CEO, Tim O’Neal, made it apparent that we had to do something when it comes to DEI, I was more than ecstatic to know that something was going to be done within GCNA. When the opportunity came for me to help with this initiative, I raised my hand immediately. I understand the importance of bringing awareness and education to our team members within the organization. As the leader of the Black/African American action group, I have been able to bring up many important issues that impact the black/AAs, and also organize and coordinate events.”
Acknowledging that there have been many challenges, and a lot of pivoting, Ron Mack, senior community awareness partner with Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona, says, “I know that we are headed in the right direction to see the change that will help GCNA grow when it comes to DEI. By brainstorming, being more intentional, and also strategic with our approach, I believe we have the right pieces in place to do what we need to see more change. I know this won’t happen overnight, but knowing the leaders within GCNA are onboard, makes me want to continue working hard to see this necessary initiative succeed to the highest degree.”
Empowered by Goodwill
“Being part of the LGBTQ community, it was second nature for me to guard my work life. Although I had no reason to believe Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona didn’t support LGBTQ team members, I also didn’t have anything showing they did. Doing this made me feel like I was always looking in from the outside. I never fully felt like I was part of the GCNA family. I kept everyone an arm’s length away — my comfort zone.
When GCNA created the DEI Action Groups, it was my ‘ah-ha’ moment, my opportunity to help make change both for myself and my fellow team members. I applied for and was accepted to lead the LGBTQ Action Group. Knowing that we had the full support of GCNA, I worked to educate all our team members about the LGBTQ community and ensure our LGBTQ community team members felt confident being part of the GCNA family.
In 2021, GNCA took a lead role in participating in the Phoenix Pride Parade and Festival, our first ever. Not only did we see a massive outpouring of Valley support, we saw a large number of LGBTQ team members come forward, participating and attending the event.
Often, we hear words yet do not see actions supporting those words. When complications spring forth, we can fall into a pattern of reluctance to progress and evolve. With its participation in the Phoenix Pride event, GCNA sent a message of support to all team members. I now see why we call our team members ‘GCNA family.’ I can finally exhale.” —Larry Cruse, assets protection regional manager of operations
Upward Projects, Restaurateurs
Sam Foos is vice president of people and culture at Upward Projects.
“We don’t take the traditional path when it comes to Diversity education; instead, everything we do is driven by our founding motto to ‘Make People Feel Good,’” says Sam Foos, vice president of people and culture at restaurant group Upward Projects. He notes the company is not reacting to social shifts, but that it all starts with Upward Projects’ mission statement to create a welcome space for everyone. And the company has a dedicated Diversity Council that is open to all staff members at any level.
The company also eschews a top-down approach with leadership dictating how people are supposed to feel about any particular issues. When the Black Lives Matter protests exploded into the public consciousness, Foos says, “We worked with our Diversity Council to suggest books and documentary movies that would provide new perspectives and open people’s eyes to different points of view around the movement and the historic roots of discrimination, and then organized voluntary staff viewing parties so people could get together to become better educated about this issue, and make their own decisions and talk to each other about how what they learned impacted them.”
And all employees are given a flyer as part of their onboarding process that explains the company’s current diversity initiatives through the end of the year, and how they can get involved.
“Most important,” Foos says, “our efforts can’t stop at company policy. It’s about creating an environment and culture where every single individual — team members, guests and even the vendors we work with — can show up as their authentic selves and feel welcome, accepted and celebrated.”
To evaluate its efforts, the company looks to its own team members. As Foos explains, “We want them to hold us accountable to our mission statement.” Enabling that since its very founding, Upward Projects has offered an email reporting system to give all employees the power to speak directly and anonymously with the leadership team, to tell them if they are ever not doing the right steps and what they need to correct.
Foos relates, “A recent representation of that ‘come as you are’ culture was when an LGBTQ+ Upward Projects team member stood up in front of his whole team during a staff meeting to accept an award and spoke to the team, crying, telling them that it’s the first place of work where he wore lipstick and felt like he could be himself.”
In terms of establishing what DE& I looks like for the company, Foos says it simply comes down to being a part of the communities we serve, “especially since many of our locations are adaptive reuse; that is, revitalizing existing buildings in underserved communities.” This includes the company’s second Postino’s, located on Central Avenue — which, as hard as it may be to imagine now, was considered an underserved communities at the time. “As with our locations in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, or Deep Ellum in Dallas, these are places with deep histories that mean a lot to their communities, even if they seem a little rough around the edges to outsiders.” The Montrose location, along with the Broadway location in Denver, were also both historically gay bars, which speaks to the underserved communities they catered to. Foos notes that, rather than making a clean slate, Upward Projects embraced that diversity, creating an art wall in Houston that features colorful old ads from the previous bar, plus a rainbow chandelier and a mosaic mural in the entryway celebrating love in all forms.
“When we talk adaptive reuse, we are not just talking about preserving the architecture and bones of the building,” Foos emphasizes, “but also that history of diversity and relevance to the neighborhood; celebrating that this building has long been a safe spot for underrepresented people, and not only elevating that history, but celebrating it and making it visible, literally.”
SRP, Public Utility
Essen Otu is the manager of diversity and inclusion at SRP.
SRP has a mature Supplier Diversity Program, with a longstanding commitment to supporting a broad coalition of diverse business partners, as well as long-established Employee Resource Groups. “However,” says Essen Otu, manager of diversity and inclusion, “we really began to assess, establish and formalize our DEI strategy in 2018.” The effort led to establishing a diversity and inclusion strategic roadmap, heavily focused on building a strong foundation and commitment from leadership. “While we began with a focus on diversity and inclusion, we decided equity was an important component of our work and now integrate DEI to ensure there is an emphasis on equity.” SRP’s vision now is to fully apply the power in diversity, inclusion and belonging to create a company that is more equitable and sustainable for its customers, employees and community. Says Otu, “We know that diversity makes our communities and businesses stronger.”
SRP employs a collective, growth mindset to achieving it DEI vision. “We know that, as the nation’s third-largest not-for-profit utility, our DEI journey is unique to SRP in many ways, but,” Otu notes significantly, “we share many of the same challenges.” SRP may benchmark to understand how it compares to other utilities or similarly sized organizations. However, its leadership is aware that the strategy they’ve established and actions they’re taking relative to SRP’s workforce, workplace, customers and investments have and will continue to pay off. “We’ve focused on workforce by identifying opportunities to ensure inclusion and equity from hiring to development and advancement to promotion and succession planning,” Otu says. He notes that creating a culture of continuous DEI learning has been an element of helping create an inclusive workplace. And SRP also has continued to find opportunities to apply a DEI lens to its customers and community through partnerships, investments and support for diverse communities.
“One of the ways we have evaluated our efforts is by elevating voices,” Otu shares. “In late 2020, we implemented our first DEI all-employee survey at SRP. Among other things, our DEI survey results helped inform our metrics and refresh our DEI roadmap.”
SRP operates on the belief that the advancement of DEI is often the result of many small, often subtle, changes to polices, practices and systems. One of the efforts Otu describes is SRP’s heavy investment in DEI learning and development, particularly for those in leadership positions. “The large-scale learning initiatives we’ve rolled out have focused on growth mindset, inclusion and voice,” he says, noting, “To see and hear the learning manifest in more effective teams, empowering new ideas and perspectives and positive mindsets and approaches has been reassuring.” Additionally, he says, “We’ve also created space for learning through our ongoing Brave Space Dialogues. These dialogues have been instrumental in creating opportunities for SRP employees to grow in their understanding, compassion and empathy on various DEI topics in a safe environment.” SRP started these dialogues in 2020 to acknowledge all that was happening around us and continued these discussions on a quarterly basis, and Otu has found it to be an important realization of the need to welcome critical discussion that spurs learning about DEI topics that are sometimes viewed as taboo in the workplace.
“We believe our leaders are the stewards of our culture and want to ensure they have the tools and model what it looks like to create an inclusive environment,” Otu says. To further this, SRP has also began to implement and scale bias-mitigation efforts in its hiring, development and succession-planning efforts, helping identify and normalize the reality of where and how unconscious bias impacts company decision-making.
Says Otu, “These collective efforts shift our culture over time and impact our ability to best anticipate the needs of our customers, attract and retain a diverse workforce and ensure we continue to have meaningful connections to our diverse communities.”
One-n-Ten, Social Action Nonprofit
Nate Rhoton is the executive director at One-n-Ten.
All the discussion and action around DEI start with awareness, and awareness is what One-n-Ten and its mission were born on. So, how does that manifest in the organization’s operations? It began with studying where things really stood, so as to start on a foundation of facts rather than impressions.
Together with a Race, Equity and Inclusion consultant, Dr. Kellie Warren, One-n-Ten has conducted surveys of youth, staff, board members and community stakeholders to better understand where the organization stands, where they want it to go, and what the best path is to get there — all while recognizing the work of REI is not a “one and done” effort but, as Executive Director Nate Rhoton emphasizes, requires constant rededication to the efforts by all.
“At one-n-ten, I believe, our goal should be to set a new standard of what it means to be an antiracist organization,” Rhoton shares. “If all we do is base our work on reflecting parity with the demographics of the youth we serve, we are only meeting the minimum.” Rhoton reports the organization has inventoried all its processes and remains open to changing anything needed to prioritize this work. In hiring, for instance, One-n-Ten has changed its procedures for advertising and interviewing for new roles, now keeping REI in mind. Rhoton reports that, over the past two years, the organization has increased the representation of the BIPOC community on both staff and its board of directors. “But this metric is only the start,” he says.
A new position at the director level has been created, Director of HR and Operations, with a specific responsibility of leading the REI efforts. However, Rhoton believes the responsibility falls on everyone to continue to prioritize and recognize the importance of the work, as he notes that roughly half the youth One-n-Ten serves identify within the BIPOC community. “We must continue to include our youth, especially those of color, in the discussions, planning and execution of the work.” One-n-Ten is also working to develop a scorecard so that it can measure results overtime and report back to all constituents.
“In doing the work, I have personally seen how it makes all staff and board members feel more engaged and included,” Rhoton shares. “When a company or organization strives for deeper, more meaningful inclusion, all of us feel better about being a member of the team and contributing to the work at hand, fueling us for the difficult conversations and steps ahead. No one says the work is easy, but the reward is far greater than the efforts.”
Intel, Technology Manufacturer
Liz Shipley is Arizona public affairs director at Intel Corporation.
“At Intel, we are committed to advancing diversity and inclusion at every level in our company and the broader industry,” says Liz Shipley, Arizona public affairs director at Intel Corporation, expressly connecting the business side with the company’s human resources philosophy. “It is foundational to our business and purpose – to create world-changing technology that improves the lives of every person on the planet.”
Shipley points out that, for more than 40 years, Intel has developed and manufactured some of the world’s most advanced semiconductor technology, right here in Arizona. Intel technology is driving digital transformations across industries. From processing to moving and storing data, Intel’s end-to-end product portfolio offers innovative solutions that scale from edge computing to the network, the cloud, artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, and more.
“In 2020, we launched our new 2030 ‘RISE’ strategy and goals to create a more responsible, inclusive, and sustainable world, enabled through our technology and the expertise and passion of our employees,” Shipley says, reporting that the company took actions in 2020-21 to advance progress against these goals as well as steps to further integrate inclusion expectations into company policies, performance management systems, leadership expectations annual bonus metrics and employee surveys.
One example she shares is the set of best practices and training Intel developed to mitigate the potential influence of unconscious bias in the hiring process. These practices include posting of formal requisitions for internal positions, using impartial descriptions of qualifications for all open jobs, and having diverse slates of qualified candidates and diverse hiring panels. “In 2020 and 2021, we linked a portion of our Annual Performance Bonus to metrics aimed at accelerating global inclusive hiring behaviors in support of our 2030 workforce inclusion goals,” she says. “We met these goals, providing inclusivity training to 99% of hiring managers globally, and completing 84% of internal hiring through posted requisitions.”
Last year, Intel partnered with Dell, Nasdaq, NTT DATA, and Snap Inc. to create the Alliance for Global Inclusion. The Alliance for Global Inclusion is a global coalition of companies that have publicly pledged their commitment to developing and aligning on shared metrics that track progress in diversity and inclusion. “Coalition partners acknowledge that the best way to accelerate the adoption of inclusive business practices is through data transparency and collaboration on a unified set of measurable goals,” Shipley says. The Alliance for Global Inclusion will also release a bi-annual inclusion index, which will serve as a benchmark for companies to track “D+I” improvements and provides information on current best practices and opportunities to improve those outcomes across industries. The goal of the Alliance and index, Shipley explains, is to focus on shared responsibility, align on a consistent system of measurement to better track progress, and address persistent gaps while identifying areas for improvement.
“One of the workforce attraction strategies we are also adopting is the concept of a ‘returnship,’ Shipley says. Describing the Relaunch Your Career program, she explains, “For people who have taken a career break and have a gap on their resume, we have a special program to provide transitional support, onboarding and mentorship through a 16-week paid program designed to ease their re-entry to the workforce.” And she adds, “This is especially important as many very talented individuals had to step away from their careers due to the pandemic.”
Intel recognizes that its success depends on the health of its local community, Shipley says, pointing out that Intel has long been committed to investing in our community to help make it more vibrant for everyone. “One of the ways we’re doing this is by working to make careers in technology fully inclusive and expand digital readiness for everyone. For example, Intel is partnering with Maricopa County Community College District on the first Intel-designed artificial intelligence associate degree program in the United States.”
And just last month, Intel announced it had partnered with Dell Technologies and the Chandler Unified School District to implement a 1:1 technology strategy to bridge the digital divide and accelerate student learning, making a joint investment with Dell of $1.6 million to support the pilot and create a new blueprint for how devices are deployed into schools and ultimately transform the way K-12 embraces education technology.
Coppersmith Brockelman, Law Firm
Sam Coppersmith is a founder and partner at Coppersmith Brockelman.
“When Andy Gordon and I started Coppersmith Brockelman in 1995, nobody used the term ‘DEI,’” recalls Sam Coppersmith, founder and partner. “But we recognized that we’d be a better law firm if we hired people who didn’t have our same blind spots. We saw that traditional law firm recruiting often meant lawyers hiring someone who looked, acted and thought exactly as they did — and we thought that made a firm both less interesting and less capable.”
Furthermore, Coppersmith explains, they also recognized that looking outside the usual, traditional boundaries would let them bring in smart and capable people often overlooked by other firms. They believed that gave them an advantage because, he explains, non-traditional lawyers that other firms wouldn’t seek out could feel comfortable in their firm, which would benefit from their skills and experiences. “So, pretty early on, we became a majority-female partnership, with a great deal of flexibility for personal and family choices being the default, not the exception. And as we’ve grown over the past 25 years, we have tried to remain both inviting to different types of people and personalities, and flexible enough to accommodate their lives and outside obligations and interests.”
And those recruitment goals — a diversity of viewpoints and experiences, and being welcoming and flexible enough to accommodate that diversity — fit well in the DEI framework.
Coppersmith notes that the firm has no specific DEI numerical goal but rather a qualitative one: “We as a firm need to keep getting better, and becoming more diverse and inclusive is part of that process.” The firm expects to continue increasing its percentages of women and diverse lawyers as its older partners move toward retirement and its more junior lawyers recruit their peers. Noting that the clients and communities the firm serves are becoming more diverse, he says, “We offer them top-flight legal services and a group of colleagues that they would be happy to have in their own organizations.”
Malvika Sinha, who joined Coppersmith Brockelman as a senior associate in September after working at two large, multinational law firms in Los Angeles, describes her experience: “I had simply been in Phoenix to clerk for a year and was planning to rejoin my former firm in L.A. as counsel. I interviewed only because of CB’s tremendous reputation in the Phoenix community, and because I knew one of the young partners who loves it there.” So, she interviewed — and came away convinced that was where she wanted to work. “The reason was simple: it seemed like a place where talented women could do their best work and reach their potential. I saw first-hand how many women are top players at the firm — women who built their practices from the ground up and are simply the best at what they do. Second — and this was important — I noticed that each of these women had built unique practices. There clearly wasn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to being successful at the firm. That resonated with me, because at several other firms there appears to be a formula to success that leaves no room for the unique experiences and capabilities of diverse attorneys.”
Sinha has found that many large firms publicly tout their diversity commitment and place their diverse associates on formal committees as soon as they arrive. She believes this practice is largely aimed at making the firm look good, and it often has the inadvertent effect of burdening female associates and associates of color with administrative tasks that aren’t borne by their male counterparts. “I knew that I didn’t want to join a firm that merely posted the right diversity buzzwords on their website or had structured diversity committees in place that they boasted about in interviews. Those outward-facing gestures are hollow when not supported by action within the firm,” she says.
“When we talk about a firm’s commitment to diversity, we need to focus on action within the workplace, not simply outward-facing action designed to make a firm competitive with clients,” Sinha continues. Aspects she feels should be considered: What opportunities are diverse lawyers given? When they offer their input, how is it received? Are they afforded opportunities to work directly with clients and develop their own practices? Are they given feedback on their work, and chances to improve and grow? Do they have people in the partnership genuinely invested in their careers and development? When they need support, are they able to ask for it? Does the compensation structure reward hard work and initiative?
Observing that, when diverse associates are given what they need to succeed, they will be satisfied at work, and that this will help the firm with retention, minimize turnover and attract diverse talent during the recruitment process, Sinha says, “Ultimately, these practices benefit the firm’s bottom line. And clients will see diverse lawyers who are committed to the firm and to growing their practice from within.”
Equality Health, Healthcare Provider
Anabell Castro Thompson is a nurse practitioner and senior vice president of Health Equity at Equality Health.
As an organization that’s focused on addressing healthcare disparities in underserved communities, DEI at Equality Health isn’t just a goal — it’s a business imperative. In fact, one of Equality Health’s Company Values states, “Embrace Unity and Collaboration with all. Seek to build consensus and understanding of different viewpoints. Build upon the Diversity of thought and experience and Inclusion of others.”
“We could not have realized the success that we’ve achieved as a company without the diversity of thought and perspective that our employees embrace and contribute each day,” says Anabell Castro Thompson, a nurse practitioner and senior vice president of Health Equity.
From the start, the Equality Health executive team recognized the importance of building an organizational culture that’s not only diverse but welcoming and offers a sense of belonging to all people, including employees and their family members, clients, vendors and visitors. Early on, they established “Safe and Respectful Workplace” training for all employees and managers, which helped set the cultural tone around expectation on how to create and foster a safe, respectful and inclusive environment.
“We are intentional in how we develop our policies, our practices and even our benefits. For example, our bereavement policy does not define family, nor does it limit the time an employee can take off for a loss,” Castro Thompson says. “This is because we believe that employees may view family differently than what traditionally has been defined in the past, and not all losses are the same.”
Castro Thompson believes DEI in an organization is not just about its workforce. “For DEI to become truly impactful, it has to become part of the fabric in every department of the organization, from marketing to technology to client success,” she says. “To that point, in 2021, we established an executive DEI committee, chaired by our CEO, so that we could further explore our DEI initiatives from a broader enterprise perspective.” Castro Thompson adds that, while Equality Health has a very diverse workforce, it has, as all companies do, more to explore when it comes to defining inclusiveness and belonging, and what that looks — like starting with individuals but also from an organizational lens. This will not only impact its workforce, but better serve clients and communities as well.
One of the impactful and proactive actions that Equality Health embraces as an organization is to influence the future workforce. In 2021, Equality Health established an intern program and hired 10 students across varying disciplines. This class was diverse not only in race, ethnicity and gender, but each student brought unique skills, education and perspective. Through this program, Equality Health is able to provide real-world experience to students and build a pipeline of diverse talent.
Castro Thompson also notes that Equality Health added “new parent leave” as a benefit, which means that all new parents — regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or circumstance (birth, adoption, foster) — can take ample time to help strengthen family bonds. The executive team furthered that commitment by adding adoption assistance benefits this year. Additionally, the company offers on-site financial counseling for all employees at no cost because Castro Thompson recognizes that the lack of financial wellness and security can disproportionally impact women and minorities.
“The most important aspect of Equality Health’s focus is the awareness that achieving DEI is a continuing journey, and not a destination where one day we can say ‘we’ve arrived,’” Castro Thompson says. “It’s necessary to recognize and honor that the world is constantly evolving, and what may have served employees and clients well in the past may not be the right answer or solution today.”