Today, promoting employee experience through Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives is a crucial requirement for fostering an all-inclusive workplace. In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, Amit Vaish, Vice President of Human Capital and Head of HR at Optum Global Solutions (OGS), explains how DEI initiatives in the workplace can bolster any business strategy (including healthcare) and unlock a myriad of advantages such as enhanced performance and innovation, enhanced employee engagement, a stronger sense of belonging, and improved employee retention.
Here are the edited excerpts:
How do you believe a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workspace contributes to the development of all-inclusive healthcare solutions for employees? Can you share instances where diverse perspectives within your team have led to innovative healthcare solutions?
DEI is embedded in our mission to help people live healthier lives and make the health system work better for everyone and it is critical to the long-term sustainability of our company. The work starts inside our walls. We put people first – reflecting the broader society, treating people fairly and empowering them to show up as their authentic selves every day.
OGS's LiveWell programme aims to meet the whole health needs of our diverse workforce. It incorporates employee listening, to design customized and data-driven initiatives that help employees achieve their unique wellness goals. A testament to this is the ‘Tree of Resolution’ programme, where employees submit their personal resolutions around their physical, emotional, family, social and financial health. This feedback is then used to tailor programmes to meet all of their healthcare needs. Some key programmes designed to encourage a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace are - the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) helpline, CareNine and CareNine Beyond support women during pregnancy and post-maternity care, health checks and nutrition/dietician consulting, financial well-being, and wellness sessions.
A part of ensuring all-inclusive healthcare for our employees is consistently reviewing our people policies and making favourable changes. These include extending health insurance coverage for same-gender partners and covering advanced fertility treatments like IVF. We have gender-agnostic parental leave to allow 26 weeks of paid leave, also covering adoption/surrogacy.
Does Optum Global Solutions have DEI policies in place to support LGBTQIA+ employees?
To increase diversity in our workforce globally, there is a dedicated DEI recruiting function to help ensure that underrepresented groups include LGBTQ+ individuals as well. Additionally, reducing the impact of unconscious bias is a key priority of our culture, inclusion, and diversity councils at UnitedHealth Group (UHG) and OGS. We have established strategies across the employee lifecycle to reduce its impact.
To address biases in recruitment, there are training sessions, guidebooks, such as ‘Interviewer's Guide to Behavioural Interviewing,’ and practices to ensure inclusive interviewing and hiring processes. Hiring boot camp sessions are also conducted that focus on how biases affect the employee life cycle and provide tools/mechanisms to counteract it.
Our DEI learning system serves as a primary self-service resource for individual and team development. These learning experiences are designed to build inclusive leadership behaviours, develop personal awareness, examine bias, promote allyship, and grow resilience and resourcefulness.
We promote education, ongoing dialogue, connection, and awareness to mitigate the effects of unwelcome bias as well as, support an environment where every employee can bring their authentic self to work.
Internal surveys help us better measure and understand employee sentiment related to fairness, affirmation, safety, identity, and connection. We leverage these insights to improve the hiring, development, engagement, and retention of our diverse talent.
How can creating an inclusive environment for PwD employees enhance the quality and accessibility of healthcare solutions? Are there any specific training programmes or practices at Optum Global Solutions for such employees?
At UHG and OGS, disability inclusion is central to who we are as a company, as we continuously strive to improve healthcare accessibility, foster an inclusive culture for all types of disabilities, and offer sustainable careers at all levels.
In the US, the Centre of Excellence for UHG’s Engagement, Inclusion and Diversity has launched the Disability Inclusion Internship Programme. The career-development programme, formed in partnership with disability workforce development agencies and nonprofit community partners, is open to all individuals with disabilities who have a desire to gain corporate experience in a diverse workforce with an inclusive culture.
Last year in India, OGS completed hiring and onboarding 13 full-time team members with speech and hearing disabilities, and a sign language trainer and supervisor for selected roles in Hyderabad.
- To ensure that the onboarding and day-to-day experience of the new team members is at par with other employees, some key actions were taken in terms of infrastructure assessment, engagement with an external partner on education and employment of persons with disabilities, sensitisation workshop for hiring managers and other team members, as well as, creating new performance management practices.
- The new hirees underwent process training and 5-6 weeks of adaptive learning, achieved via universal design principles, workshops led by accessibility experts, and the development of learning content suited for PWD team members.
- This inclusive new hiree training curriculum includes captioned videos, infographic aids, a visual health care glossary, participant guides, and more.
- Sign language experts were onboarded to help bridge the communication gap between the trainer and the trainees and gamification was introduced to recognise performance and keep the motivation levels high.
We know diverse and inclusive teams are more innovative, creative, and successful. As we continue to map roles and hire from the PWD community, these new team members bring in new insights, experiences, and knowledge, reflecting sections of the communities that we serve, thereby enabling improved care and outcomes for consumers.
How can a higher representation of women in leadership roles influence the development of more comprehensive and patient-centric healthcare solutions? What career advancement and leadership opportunities are available for women at Optum Global Solutions?
DEI is integral to the successful implementation of any business strategy and health care is no different. A gender-balanced leadership team is more effective in reaching out and relating to an organization’s stakeholders: customers, employees, and partners, and being more transformational and empathetic role models.
At OGS, we make significant investments in building a gender-diverse leadership pipeline by up-skilling internal talent through domain, functional and leadership readiness training. These include:
- Women in Leadership programme
- United Women Leading in Technology (UWLiT)
- UHG Invention Programme and UHG Women Invent
- Women in Product (WiP)
- Career enablement programmes
We also have Employee Resource Groups that are voluntary, typically based upon a shared characteristic demographic or life experience that helps in creating allyship. Niche and tailored programmes such as the Targeted Leader Career Pathing, are helping develop women colleagues into successful leaders.
Does Optum Global have veteran hiring initiatives in place? If so, could you provide details about their scope and impact on healthcare solution development?
We celebrate the skills, experience and dedication that serving in the military demands. Therefore, Optum recruits transitioning service members, veterans, and military spouses through our veterans’ programme, which provides career skills, training, and workforce reintegration to transitioning military service members, enabling them to continue caring, connecting, and growing together. OGS India signed an MoU with the Indian Navy in 2021 to further our commitment to the armed forces and provide the veterans a platform to continue doing their life’s best work.
In your opinion, what steps can the healthcare and technology sectors take to further emphasize the importance of DEI in shaping the future of healthcare solutions?
I believe that the importance of DEI is industry-agnostic, delivering cultural and strategic advantages to all businesses. The more extensive and inclusive the talent, the greater the performance, innovation, informed decision-making, engagement, belongingness, and employee retention, to name a few of the several advantages.
In health care, the future will be characterised by the interplay between people, environments, and the tools of technology. There is an imminent need for diverse talent to invest their skills in healthcare and solve global challenges.
- OGS is a global team of doctors, nurses, technologists, data scientists, care advocates, administrators, researchers and more. We know the extraordinary happens when we value, include, and learn from diverse people and perspectives reflective of the communities we serve.
- We approach DEI like any other business priority, with transparency, leadership accountability and a data-driven approach to setting priorities and measuring progress. We monitor our progress by listening to our people.
- In 2021, we launched a new inclusion index in our employee surveys to help us better measure and understand employee sentiment related to fairness, affirmation, safety, identity, and connection. We leverage these insights to improve hiring and developing, engaging, and retaining our talent.
- We established an Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Board made up of members of our senior executive team, who meet quarterly to hold us accountable for making progress.
We have advanced our approach to attracting, developing, and retaining the world’s best diverse talent to effectively support our strategic growth priorities. Supporting the well-being of our workforce builds a culture where people feel empowered to innovate, creating new health technology solutions to drive a modern, high-performing health system and a healthier environment.