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How we help our LGBTQ employees feel welcome and included

Of the myriad ways BlueCross supports our employees, two simple words say a lot: “Be you.”

These words hold particular significance for people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) community. And we’ve backed them up with action. For the second consecutive year, BlueCross has earned a 100% score from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index.  The national benchmarking survey and report measures corporate policies and practices relating to LGBTQ workplace equality.

“This perfect score reflects a commitment to an inclusive workplace for our LGBTQ employees, with respect to tangible policies, benefits and practices,” says Ron Harris, vice president of diversity and inclusion at BlueCross.

“What’s most meaningful is the respect BlueCross employees show for one another every day. That’s where the real difference is made.”

A platform for our employees’ voices

One of the ways we’re making a difference is through our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These ERGs, regardless of focus, have one unified goal: to help our people listen to, learn from and support one another.

In 2019, employees formed Be You @ Blue, an ERG for LGBTQ issues, awareness and growth.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are just pieces of who our employees are, not the whole person,” says Barry Condra,  manager of operations for BlueCare Plus and Be You @ Blue chair. “This group celebrates the whole person.”

BlueCross Barry Condra
Barry Condra, manager of operations for BlueCare Plus

That philosophy is being embraced through the group’s promotion of our diversity and inclusion goals, its discussions on how to better attract and retain top talent, and its shared ideas about how to foster better health outcomes for people in the LGBTQ community.

What ‘Be You’ means to our people

Our 2020 perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign shows how our cultural competency efforts have resonated with employees. Barry remembers a time when there was a lot of workplace uncertainty for members of the LGBTQ community.

“When I was hired in 1999 as a BlueCare supervisor, I was worried,” he admits. “I was in the process of divorcing and coming out to my family at the same time, but I wanted to keep my sexuality a secret around the office.”

“I didn’t want to be labeled ‘the gay supervisor.’ I wanted to be known for my merits and my skill set.”

It didn’t take Barry long to realize he didn’t have to conceal parts of his identity. In his 21 years with BlueCross, Barry’s seen a shift in the cultural landscape across the state, particularly at his workplace.

“BlueCross was one of the first to have domestic partner benefits, and that’s huge,” he says. “The company hasn’t made a huge deal about broadcasting that for everyone to hear, because it’s simply the right thing to do.”

With six years until his retirement, Barry hopes part of his legacy will be identifying resources for the LGBTQ community at BlueCross and beyond. 

“There’s still a lack of awareness for many issues — think about the very specific health needs for transgender individuals, for example — and the only way we’ll raise awareness is to have ongoing conversations,” he says. “I hope to help facilitate those conversations and open the door for those who wish to join the ally community. We still need their support, as well.”

Mary Alexander, a Medicare Advantage clinical review manager, first experienced this level of support during her orientation at BlueCross.

BlueCross Mary Alexander
Mary Alexander, Medicare Advantage clinical review manager — and proud Alabama fan

“I felt included from day one,” she recalls. “Human Resources made a point to include me in cultural competency discussions before they even knew me! BlueCross does this for everyone. When I learned about the equal health benefits for an employee’s family, regardless of their identity, I knew I was wanted here.”

“To be yourself where you work without fear of having your employment jeopardized is a huge weight off your shoulders. That let me put 100% of my energy into my job.”

That feeling of safety and acceptance is a refrain we often hear — and hope to hear more of.

“I have never felt out of place at BlueCross,” adds Dylan Knight, a quality analyst who works on process improvement. “Today I am very open about my sexual orientation, and I’ve never felt the need to hide in a shell like I did with past employers. BlueCross has supported me personally  by giving me that freedom. I’ve been able to spread my wings and be my true self.”

BlueCross Dylan Knight
Dylan Knight, quality analyst

Barry, Mary and Dylan’s words demonstrate why BlueCross makes such intentional efforts to ensure all of our employees know the value they bring.

“At BlueCross, we meet our members where they are,” Barry says. “If we don’t embrace the LGBTQ population, we’re doing a disservice not only to our employees, but to our members whom we serve every day here in Tennessee.”

About Jesse Thompson, Senior Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorJesse joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2017. A Chattanooga native, he has more than 15 years’ experience in content creation, management, and strategy for consumer audiences, including a six-year stint in health care marketing.

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