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How cultural competency helps companies compete for talent

Originally published by The Tennessean, October 2018

With today’s thriving economy, it’s a great time for employers to build their teams with creative, driven and efficient staff.

It can also be a challenging time to attract that talent.

Talented potential hires are savvy enough to know they’re sought after and that they have options. They will choose to work where they feel fully embraced and supported. Your company can stand out in a crowded field by creating a culture where the values of diversity and inclusion are practiced every day. 

BlueCross recently held the Power of We Workforce Diversity Conference at the Music City Center in Nashville. Our reason for organizing this event was simple: to share lessons learned and provide tools for our customers and business partners, who had been asking about our nationally recognized workplace culture.

The conference allowed us to not only share what we’ve learned directly with other Tennessee-based businesses, community leaders and decision makers, but to also foster a dialogue about best practices and how we can all move forward in building and maintaining more inclusive teams.

This type of dialogue is important for creating the kinds of workplaces where every person can feel valued, expand their skill set and grow their career.

Of course, dialogue is not enough.

When we gathered to celebrate how just two letters of the alphabet create a very powerful word – “we” – we also explored ways to take that word and expand it into positive action.

Our guest speakers presented on a wide range of diversity topics, tailored to the needs of businesses seeking to expand on their diversity and inclusion programs, as well as those just breaking ground. 

To give just a few examples, our luncheon keynote speaker, Mary-Frances Winters – author of You Can’t Talk about That at Work!: How to Talk about Race, Religion and Other Polarizing Topics – discussed how employers and employees can and should engage in bold, inclusive conversations and how the differences between us cause us to see the world in vastly different ways.

Beck Bailey, deputy director of the Workplace Equality Program, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, spoke candidly on how workplace divisions can result in LGBTQ employees feeling uncomfortable about coming out – resulting in a “cost of the closet” that can have a profound impact on productivity and engagement.

Jessica Stollings, President of ReGenerations, stressed during her session on generational differences that we must look at the “why,” which is important to every generation, more than the “who.”

BlueCross has implemented a strategic diversity and inclusion plan. We understand how our differences can make us stronger together, and that understanding takes work.

What makes the work I do so exciting is I get to continue learning how to improve our inclusive culture, which is fundamentally the right thing to do for our people and for our business as we seek to reflect the people we serve.

Of course, we still have work to do, and our senior leadership team is committed to seeing it through. 

My hope is that more opportunities like the Power of We Workforce Diversity Conference will emerge and allow many of the ideas we shared to move beyond the walls of a convention center.

Remember, all successful diversity and inclusion programs begin with the same simple step: a conversation.  If you truly want to attract a diverse and dynamic workforce, have meaningful conversations with your leadership and the employees already on staff.

Ask yourself, what seeds can grow with plans you put into action today?

Ron Harris is vice president of diversity and inclusion for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

About Ron Harris, Vice President, Corporate Workforce Diversity

A photo of the authorRon is responsible for cultivating a corporate culture where diversity and inclusion are aligned with the company's strategies and values. He provides strategic leadership and counsel for diversity initiatives within the organization, including diversity awareness training, recruitment, cultural competency training, employee development and community outreach.

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