How BCBS of Tennessee keeps winning 'best places to work' accolades

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee might be the best health insurance company to work for. 

The Chattanooga, Tenn.-based payer has received a laundry list of accolades for employee satisfaction and diversity, equity and inclusion, including being named among the top workplace for women, among the nation's most diverse employers, and being rated the best employer in Tennessee.

Ron Harris, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, and Roy Vaughn, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, sat down with Becker's to explain how they've built the workplace culture at BCBS of Tennessee. 

A long record of diversity and inclusion efforts 

Mr. Harris has been with BCBS of Tennessee for 36 years and has led the company's DEI efforts for the past 23 years. 

BCBS Tennessee began concentrated efforts on diversity, inclusion and cultural competency in the mid-1990s, Mr. Harris said. At the time, there weren't many peers to look to for best practices and guidance. 

Mr. Harris said the company's inclusion efforts have never been about "checking a box." 

"I think we weren't smart enough 20 years ago to figure out any other way to do this than with our hearts," Mr. Harris said. 

Leadership buy-in

Compensation for senior executives at BCBS Tennessee is tied to reaching diversity and inclusion goals, Mr. Harris said. 

The organization holds an annual "Power of We" diversity conference in Nashville, and the entire executive team participates. 

In addition to the conference, the company awards "Power of We" scholarships each year to students from underrepresented groups pursuing careers in healthcare. 

"We try to make sure that our video matches our audio," Mr. Harris said. "What you see matches what we say." 

Employee engagement

Beyond leadership buy-in, BCBS employees are invested in furthering diversity and inclusion, Mr. Vaughn and Mr. Harris said. 

"Diversity and inclusion are very important to our employees, and it's cited as one of our company's biggest strengths," Mr. Vaughn said. 

Mr. Harris said BCBS of Tennessee invests in developing cultural awareness, going beyond celebrating events like Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage month. 

"It doesn't matter if that's one person, it doesn't matter if that's 100 people, [they get] an opportunity to do presentations and celebrate their particular ethnic group," Mr. Harris said. "We learn about their languages, their history, their religions and so forth, and how to be better leaders because of our engagement with the variety of ethnicities we have on our campus." 

A remote-first environment 

Like most companies, BCBS of Tennessee is contending with a competitive labor market, Mr. Vaughn said. 

Recruiting is now a national, not local effort, Mr. Vaughn said, and the company externally benchmarks compensation to be competitive on a national scale. 

 The company has committed to permanent remote work. The first question potential hires ask, Mr. Vaughn said, is if they can work remotely. 

"We are remote first, and that's part of that strategy for attracting and retaining talent," Mr. Vaughn said. "I think that's been critical for us." 

Connection to mission 

A critical piece of BCBS of Tennessee's culture, Mr. Vaughn said, is commitment to mission and making work meaningful. 

"There are plenty of jobs out there, but if you want to go somewhere you really feel like you're making a difference, this is that place," Mr. Vaughn said. "We believe that, and not only do we believe it, it's something our employees tell us is part of their experience." 

Though employees rate the company's culture high, it's not perfect in every aspect, Mr. Harris said. 

"As a football analogy, I always say we'll probably never cross the goal line, because we are humans," Mr. Harris said. "But we're going to get as close to the red zone as we can and make every ethical attempt to cross the goal line."

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