Kaiser Permanente Focuses on Developing Diverse Leadership
Kaiser Permanente Northwest has implemented an innovative approach to enhancing corporate diversity in its leadership ranks, and the effort is achieving unprecedented results.
Employees from diverse backgrounds are underrepresented in leadership positions within Kaiser Permanente’s Northwest Region. The Diversity Leadership Program was piloted in 2006 to address this gap, says Vicki Guinn, program manager. The program matches high-potential employees of color, people with disabilities and those from the LGBTI community to work with mentors, most of whom are vice presidents or directors at Kaiser Permanente Northwest.
Diversity Leadership Program Manager
“This 18-month pilot created a remarkable opportunity to identify, assess and develop a cadre of highly-talented employees to meet the organization’s current and future needs and to help create a more diverse workforce in the upper ranks of the organization,” says Guinn.
Now in its second year, the program has garnered rave reviews from participants and mentors alike. A survey administered to the pilot participants showed that more than 85% rated the Diversity Leadership Program as valuable to their professional development. Fifty percent have received promotions or role expansions. Almost 75% believe Kaiser Permanente is committed to seeing more diversity in the upper-ranks of the organization.
“Our goal is to make our working environment supportive of everyone from every perspective. The leadership at Kaiser Permanente understands the value and business case for diversity in the workplace,” says Guinn. “The rational is to develop better-qualified employees or to ‘grow our own.’ Also, it shows our organizational commitment to enhance diverse employees’ marketability for competitive managerial positions.”
A number of participants in the Diversity Leadership Program came together to share the best takeaways from the program. Some highlights from the talk:
H. Shawn Daniels, Membership Services
In the past, I’ve had mentors who looked like me. Through this program, I’m working with a mentor who is a white male, and loves numbers and finance. We’re complete opposites. He’s teaching me a lot of leadership skills, like how to manage certain business and personal situations.
I work in a very diverse department, and it’s important to learn how to communicate effectively with people from various ethnic backgrounds. The Diversity Leadership Program has taught the importance of having crucial conversations with people from different backgrounds.
Harry Jarvis, Claims Performance
Being a gay male, if I chose to “hide” my diversity category, it was a little bit easier because it’s not visually obvious. Working for other companies in the past, I wouldn’t have pictures of my partner on my desk, nor take them to company functions. In a good old boys’ environment, it wasn’t cool to come out.
I became interested in the program because I wanted to learn how to set an example for the person who is having issues coming out of the closet, and figure out if it was OK to come out. It’s important for me to make sure that people are comfortable being themselves. Being part of this program was a way to show that being a gay male hasn’t affected my career at Kaiser. It’s cool to be who you are, no matter what diversity category you are in.
Sara Lee, Community Relations
I’m a twofer: a Chinese-American female who started at Kaiser when I was 20 years old. Most of the people I work with are the same age as my parents. When I was starting out, I didn’t feel that I was getting the respect from my peers as a colleague. Because of my age, I’ve had to work twice as hard to prove that I’m qualified and credible to become a supervisor.
The Diversity Leadership Program has helped me understand those dynamics better. My mentor shared his insights about how important it is to know where my function lies in the organization. Having a deeper understanding of my role at Kaiser has instilled a greater sense of ownership of my role and purpose in the organization.
Lola Simeon, Information Technology
No matter where you are, you have to know the inner politics of the organization in order to get promoted. No matter how good you are, and how fantastic your reviews are, you will get nowhere unless you have exposure to the leaders within the organization.
The Diversity Leadership Program gave me exposure to work with, and get to know some of the leaders in the organization. The mentors are truly committed and actively participate in the program. Commitment comes from the top, and mentors in the program are genuinely interested in seeing every participant succeed.
The mentors will openly admit that they have also learned much from the process. When people from different cultures come together, similarities are not always apparent. You only get to see how much you have in common with people from other backgrounds until you develop a meaningful personal relationship.
Colors of Influence Fall 2008