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Leading by listening as we work to end racism together

I’m proud to call Memphis home. I’m proud of its diversity and vitality, and of the role our city played in America’s civil rights movement. But for all the progress we celebrate, our city is still marked by deep-seated racism. Those scars also run deep across Tennessee and around the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention back to the health disparities that exist among our Black neighbors and those of other minority groups. These disparities are directly related to the unfair ways our society has viewed and treated minorities.

Here’s an example that has stuck with me for years. Our chief medical officer Dr. Andrea Willis grew up a few hours east of me in Athens, Alabama. She wasn’t born in her hometown, though, because the only hospital in her county wouldn’t deliver non-white babies.

Dr. Willis’ story isn’t just history. And after the tragic death of George Floyd, our country turned its eyes to issues of systemic racism with a new sense of urgency. At BlueCross, so have we. We’ve worked for years to promote diversity, inclusion and cultural competency both in our workforce and in the communities we serve. We know we can and should do more.

As CEO JD Hickey shared in a public statement, racism must end. And “we must look within to see how we can better serve our communities.”

Ron Harris, our VP of diversity and inclusion, said we have to take an introspective approach, both corporately and individually. To examine our own biases and the impact of our words and actions. To focus on this question: “What are we going to do differently?”

So our senior leadership team is developing a set of concrete commitments we’ll make to help bring about real change.

We began this critical work by listening to one another, and the conversations have been illuminating. To help facilitate discussions like this across our workforce, we published a manager’s guide to talking about racism. It centers on three key steps any leader can take:

  1. Self-educate. As leaders, our responsibility is to learn, listen, empathize and support – but we shouldn’t rely on others to educate us.
  2. Reach out. By reaching out to your employees, you can let them know you support them during this difficult time and beyond.
  3. Keep going. Supporting your teams and standing against racism will take ongoing efforts from all of us.

We know these conversations are important to you, too. So we’re moving forward with our annual Power of We workforce diversity conference, which will include content to directly address racism and injustice. We’re still developing the right approach for virtually hosting the event, and we look forward to sharing more details in the weeks to come.

We hope you’ll join us as we learn and work together to bring equal respect, treatment, justice and opportunity for all.

About Henry Smith, SVP, Ops & Chief Marketing Officer

A photo of the authorHenry oversees sales and account management, product development, group and member customer service, membership administration, claims administration, and commercial financial management.

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