Diversity award winners foster inclusive cultures

As the vice president and practice leader for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Marsh & McLennan Agency, Gary Abernathy is well aware of the benefits of having a strong diversity and inclusion program.

As the leader of the diversity and inclusion efforts at MMA, he has helped oversee the growth of the company’s D&I strategy, including the creation of Advantz, a joint collaborative designed to help clients with their diversity goals.

He’s also a member of the first D&I committee at MMA, insurance consultants that assist its clients with their risk, culture, and people objectives.

For his efforts, Abernathy was named the overall winner in the Diversity Business Leader category at Corp! magazine’s annual diversity awards.

Paul Jones, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, with Gary Abernathy (right), the vice president and practice leader for diversity and inclusion at Marsh & McLennan, the overall winner in the Diversity Business Leader category.

He said he was honored just to be mentioned, much less actually win.

“I actually had no idea I would be named one of the winners originally,” Abernathy said. “Becoming the overall winner was a huge surprise and honor. Just to be mentioned in the group with so many D&I leaders was definitely a proud moment personally and for MMA.”

Abernathy was one of three overall winners recognized. The others included Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health, as the overall Diversity Focused Company, and Disability Network Oakland & Macomb, named overall Diversity Champion.

In addition to their internal efforts, MMA has become corporate partners with the National Diversity Council. Staffers who sit on MMA’s national D&I committee are enrolled in training to achieve their diversity professional certification.

“We have become more intentional in our diversity recruiting efforts, while striving to create a more inclusive environment for all colleagues,” Abernathy said. “It is one of the most important, if not our most important, objectives.”

In addition to providing diversity- and inclusion-specific workshops and consulting for internal and external clients, Abernathy also volunteers with several organizations and boards, including those of Gleaners Community Food Bank and the Michigan Diversity Council.

All of MMA’s leadership team is required to attend unconscious bias training. It’s also strongly encouraged for all staffers.

Abernathy knows diversity and inclusiveness is not only the right thing to do, but “the smart thing, as well.”

“Studies show that diverse organizations drastically outperform their competition,” Abernathy said. “Organizations that focus on diversity in the workplace attract top talent and have higher engagement among team members.”

That’s why MMA places such importance on the culture.

“We’re known for having a dynamic culture, but we know we can’t have it unless it’s one where all our colleagues feel included,” Abernathy said. “We’re making great strides.”

Diversity Champion
Kelly Winn knows there’s one sure way to make for a diverse workplace and that involves keeping diversity and inclusion at the forefront of the decision making process.

And promoting an inclusive workplace, Winn said, is “the heart of our mission” at the Troy-based Disability Network Oakland & Macomb, where more than 51% of the staff is comprised of people with a disability, or as she calls it, “different abilities.”

“If you always keep diversity and inclusion at the forefront of your decision making process, a diverse workplace will naturally occur with the best and brightest individuals for the job,” said Winn, the organization’s executive director. “I work to continuously create an inclusive culture that is staffed with diverse abilities.”

DNOM, a Center for Independent Living, is a nonprofit organization Winn said is committed to promoting inclusion for all “by breaking down barriers and opening paths” towards independence and personal choice through resources, advocacy, information, support and education. Independent living provides people with disabilities the opportunity to pursue a course of action and the freedom to exercise choices.

“Independent living is about having choices and about having the right to make those choices, to make one’s own mistakes, and to learn from them in the same way that people without disabilities can,” Winn said. “People with disabilities must be empowered to take control over their own lives.”

DNOM provides Disability Awareness Presentations to various communities. Staff members are available to educate on disability etiquette and how to work and interact with people with disabilities. The result is increased customer satisfaction, service delivery, and employee relations.

Winn said diversity in the workplace “goes far beyond the written policies put in place.” In DNOM’s case, she said, having a diverse workforce also helps to know more aspects about the people being served, in order to be able to provide the resources needed.

“It is a culture that is created, implemented and is at the heart of an organization,” Winn said. “Diversity in the workforce brings different talents together, working toward common goals. It brings perspectives to the table that someone else may not have thought of, thus enabling more creativity for ideas.”

Representatives of Disability Network Oakland & Macomb accept the overall Diversity Champion award from Fox 2 meteorologist Lori Pinson (left).

Diversity Focused Company
With nearly 15% of its employees being minorities, Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health knows the value of a strong diversity and inclusion program.

In establishing — and then living up to — a strong D&I culture, Spectrum has taken several steps, including the use of social media and a variety of trainings and events to push the program forward.

Its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion can also be found in its January 2019 appointment of Spectrum’s first chief diversity officer.

Among diversity initiatives, Spectrum has undergone culture diversity and sensitivity training for its employees, targeted recruitment via minority organizations, established a minority mentoring program, created an on-site diversity learning center and formulated a formal affirmative action plan.

In addition, according to Tina Freese Decker, Spectrum’s president/CEO, the company made public commitments through the Talent 2025 CEO Diversity & Inclusion Pledge, the American Hospital Association’s Institute for Diversity and Health Equity pledge, and joined the Healthcare Anchor Network.

“These commitments align with our five areas of focus, including cultural competence, equity of care, community engagement, supplier diversity and workforce diversity,” Decker said.

Using social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the company encourages its 26,000 employees to engage with diverse audiences. The company also participates in a variety of workshops that help suppliers better understand Spectrum’s system.

For instance, Spectrum Health co-sponsors the West Michigan Project One Chapter, focusing on engaging minority-owned suppliers with corporate businesses to support their growth and development.

A reverse “meet the buyers” event last spring engaged community partners with local minority-owned businesses and introduced them to Spectrum contracting staffers.

Decker told Corp! that the company’s diversity efforts have “improved health care for the diverse population of the communities Spectrum serves, increased innovation, connected it more with communities it serves and improved the economic health of its community.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Center of Expertise has trained more than 20,000 employees in various aspects of cultural intelligence, established eight inclusion resource groups to increase employee engagement and coordinated more than 350 staff throughout 13 cities and 76 projects in volunteering on Martin Luther King Day of Service.

“We’ve enhanced visibility of our system’s Resident Diversity Council to work toward eliminating health care disparities,” she said. “Increasing and sustaining racial and ethnic diversity of our workforce at all levels of the organization will help to improve access to health care for communities of color, increase innovation and improve the economic health of our community.”

Spectrum Health’s Ovell Barbee (right) accepts the overall Diversity Focused Company award from Fox 2 meteorologist Lori Pinson.