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Supporting women leaders during Women’s History Month – and beyond

When employees have a voice and opportunities to grow their careers, they bring a passion to their jobs that extends to customer service.

At BlueCross, we ensure employees’ voices are heard by providing a platform for expression. We believe this results in better support for the members we serve.

“Employee Resource Groups [ERGs] help our people listen to, learn from and support one another,” says Ron Harris, vice president of diversity and inclusion at BlueCross.

“Our Women’s Leadership Network is our largest ERG, with more than 600 members.” 

History lesson

 The Women’s Leadership Network at BlueCross formed in January 2012.

“At that time, the group was primarily event-driven,” says Margaret Edwards, the group’s chair and an organizational learning consultant on the human resources team. “We just wanted to offer networking opportunities and a resource for women who were interested in professional growth and support.”

Early members built traction by walking up to other women in the cafeteria, in break rooms, and on the walk in from the parking lot, then encouraging them to attend quarterly meetings.

“Back then we would get lots of questions,” Margaret says. “‘What is this group?’ ‘How often do you meet?’ ‘Do I have to pay dues?’ Word of mouth was instrumental to our growth.”

By 2015, the group’s membership had snowballed.

With growth came a need to create an official charter, business plan and advisory board. Its goals had evolved, as well. While networking, camaraderie and a support system were vital elements that remained, the group recognized the need to create mentoring opportunities and further develop leadership potential among its members.

As of 2018, the Women’s Leadership Network’s mission is to:

  • Provide a forum for women at BlueCross who aspire to further their careers
  • Offer educational presentations
  • Provide community involvement opportunities
  • Encourage mentoring and coaching
  • Convene strategic workgroups to explore and address opportunities to strengthen voices worth hearing

The group gave voice to influential local leaders through a March 15 event celebrating Women’s History Month – “Nevertheless She Persisted: Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” – open to all employees. The event theme stemmed from a nationwide discussion that was the brainchild of the Washington, D.C.-based National Women’s History Project.

The panel discussion at BlueCross featured:

  • Jelena Butler, director/broker at Signature Brokers Commercial Services and chair of the Mayor’s Leadership Committee
  • Stefanie Crowe, director of wealth, knowledge and happiness at Stone Bridge Asset Management
  • Tangela Johnson, president of North Georgia Corporate Consulting
  • Chris Vass, public editor and reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press

All four recounted stories of discrimination they’d overcome in their careers, women who had served as role models, pitfalls for aspiring professionals to avoid and how women can support each other in the workplace.

Setting early examples

The group connects with new hires at BlueCross to ease their transition and help establish a fruitful path forward.

“I became involved in the Woman’s Leadership Network as an intern at BlueCross,” says Carissa Zabor, proposal manager. “As a recent college graduate, I especially valued the opportunities the group provided relating to networking and public speaking. These skills expedited my transition from intern to full-time employee, and I’ve enjoyed the relationships I’ve built with the exceptional women here.”

BlueCross Stephani Ryan
Stephani Ryan, one of the group’s executive sponsors, was named “Employee of the Year” by the Nashville Business Journal in 2017. Here’s her story.
The success and engagement of our Women’s Leadership Network caught the attention of other major Chattanooga employers. 

“They were curious about our model, our goals, our accomplishments, the response we’ve received, and the lessons we’ve learned along the way,” Margaret says.

Today, the group has expanded beyond Chattanooga to our regional offices.

“Chairing the Women’s Leadership Network has provided me the opportunity to connect with BlueCross employees across the state,” Margaret says. “I have cultivated supportive working relationships that motivate me to advocate for myself and for other women. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but as the movements we’re seeing nationwide tell us, there’s more work to be done.”

BlueCross will remain actively involved in this progression by continuing to value the contributions women have made within the company and on behalf of our members.

About Jesse Thompson, Principal 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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