Blue Cross Blue Shield VPTA & Chief Diversity Officer Stephanie Browne

Stephanie BrowneBlue Cross Blue Shield VPTA & Chief Diversity Officer

Joining us today is the Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield, Stephanie Browne. Stephanie is responsible for recruiting, retaining, and developing high-performing staff, as well as guiding diversity and inclusion strategies. Unique to Stephanie is her background in technology which has allowed her to streamline and automate processes regarding talent management and acquisition.

Episode Transcript

TTTM 228 Transcript EPISODE 228  


[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders  on the frontline’s modern recruitment.  

[0:00:12.8] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to  understand how they make decisions. Where are they willing to take risks and what it looks like  when they fail.  

[0:00:22.7] RS: No holds barred, completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment,  VPs of global talent, CHROs and everyone in between.  

[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings got the certifications  through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.  

[0:00:39.7] MALE: Talent acquisition, it’s a fantastic career, you are trusted by the organization,  you get to work with the C-Suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between  and everybody knows you.  

[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk  Talent to Me.  


[0:01:00.2] RS: Joining me today on Talk Talent to Me is the Vice President of talent acquisition  and Chief Diversity Officer over at Blue Cross Blue Shield, Stephanie Browne. Stephanie,  welcome to the podcast, how are you today?  

[0:01:11.3] SB: I am great, Rob, it is nice to be here with you to talk a little bit about BE and I  and talent acquisition.  

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[0:01:19.0] RS: Absolutely. So much stuff to get into. Before we get to – into all the awesome  work you’re doing at Blue Cross Blue Shield, you are an interesting character. Just based on  your background, you’ve kind of come to this role in an interesting way. I would love to just kind  of document your journey a little bit, would you mind for all the folks at home sharing a little bit  about your background and how you wound up in your current role or roles, I should say.  

[0:01:41.1] SB: Sure. Thanks for thinking of me as an interesting character. I am an interesting  character because I did not come to HR in the traditional HR path. I started my career in  technology and spent many years in tech field, leading many different aspects of tech,  everything from strategy to quality assurance as it relates to program management in the  technological world of discipline.  

You know, I’ve been at Blue Cross for about 27 years, so you can imagine I have a lot of peers  at the organization who have been my customers through my tech roles there and then also, I  have hired a lot of people in my tech roles and so, there are a lot of my mentees across the  organization.  

A few years ago, about five years ago, the HR, head of HR approached me about potentially  taking on the role of vice-president of talent acquisition and chief diversity officer and my first  reaction was, “Why? Why would you ask me, someone who has been a techie for so many  years?” but then I stepped back and really started to think about the role and the opportunity  and what I could bring to the realm from an experience perspective that would help the  company continue to evolve its mission around diversifying its organization and thinking about  equity across all of the employees within the organization and so I accepted the role about five  years ago and have been working in it ever since.  

[0:03:21.1] RS: Fantastic. I love that your gut reaction was, “Why, why me?” It sounds like your  background has kind of made you uniquely effective in this role. How would you say your  background in technology kind of helps you understand the needs of this role and how to  function at a high capacity and the talent side of things?  

[0:03:39.9] SB: I grew up in – with the foundational strategy around when you come to a role,  you think about three things, people, process and technology. I think when I took on the role in  

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HR, my first instinct was, “How do I get all of the, I call the mundane, every day task out of the  role from the standpoint of, what could we automate which would allow us to actually focus on  capacity, capabilities and skills?” versus, I call, the traditional way of thinking about talent  acquisition, which is you know, the people first and so, when I began to think about strategically,  how was I going to create some pillars or directional focus around, how do we get more diversity  into the seat of folks within the organization, the first thing I thought about is, “How do I take the  bias out of the process?”  

Taking the bias out of the process for me was, “How do I automate it?” because then I can  actually think about what skills, what competencies, what type of values did I want in the folks  that we were trying to hire. I could use technology to find those folks and that way, I would all  automatically end up with a more diverse candidate pool because I wasn’t looking at where do  they come from, from a school perspective, what schools did they go to? What background that  they have looking at names and associations they might be in?  

I was really focused directly on the skills and the competency they had to do the job and then,  obviously, once you get into your interview process, then you start to figure out how those  potential candidates would be a great fit for your organization around values and experiences  but at the end of the day, I really wanted to take the bias out of the process.  

[0:05:37.7] RS: Could you maybe share some examples of things you automated once you  began leading the talent organization if you could sort of lended your expertise, identifying  bottlenecks, it sounds like things that were slowing the team down, what were some of the ways  you were able to automate things or remove processes to make people more effective?  

[0:06:00.3] SB: When I first went into the role, you know, the biggest thing was to get everybody  aligned on the same goals and values and the vision as it related to the talent sourcing model.  The sourcing model at that particular time was pretty much “wait and they will come” versus  thinking about, “Okay, what is it that I need to have out there in the marketplace as a brand to  make sure people know that I want all folks to come work for Blue Cross, what’s our brand as it  relates to diversity, equity and inclusion?”  

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That was one work, one set of work that we did with our marketing group to really think about,  what did we look like in the marketplace and so we ended up creating this tag line, “Bring your  true colors to Blue” and that basically helped us open up the marketplace from the standpoint of,  “We want everyone here, we want all experiences here.”  

The second thing that we did was to think about, “So, how are we sourcing and what tools could  we use to source and leverage those competencies?” that I just talked about around what do I  need for a role to do? What skills do they need to have? What values do they need to have?  And how can I take some of the manual process out of that and put it into a tool and then on an  organizational structure as well?  

We looked at our best practices around the talent acquisition, we decided to organize our team  a little differently. One was we created a sourcing team and that sourcing team is designed to  actually go find the candidates, not only just wait for the candidates to apply to our company.  

Then the second thing was to really have our talent acquisition recruiting partners on my team,  really work with the business around, what are the really, the core competencies that that role  needs to have and build an interviewing model that is more aligned to those core competencies,  so you are actually assessing the talent in a different way.  

Between the sourcing team and the interviewing strategy and the goal for my team to actually  bring a diverse candidate pool to the table day one, we were able to begin to move the needle  around increasing the diversity of our organization.  

[0:08:19.1] RS: In your opinion, did automating some sourcing processes – did that result in  less bias in the hiring process?  

[0:08:29.9] SB: Yes, there’s some Harvard reviews that were done around how to diversify a  candidate pool and what is the likelihood of somebody being picked that’s different if that  candidate pool had more diversity in it. They had a review that talked a little bit about how do  you increase the diversity of women in your organization and how do you increase the diversity  of people of color in your organization.  

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By just increasing that pool to 50%, the likelihood of that person getting picked was like a 150%  more likely than they would get picked because they wouldn’t look different. They wouldn’t stand  out in the candidate pool as being different or too different that I might not want as a hiring  leader may want to take a chance. The more diversity you have in that candidate pool, whether  it be gender diversity or racial diversity, it has allowed us as an organization to move the needle  where probably, right now, we’re probably about 30% of our hires are diverse.  

[0:09:35.5] RS: That’s fantastic. I’m familiar with the study that you mentioned, I’ll try to include  those links in the shownotes. The takeaway for me was, if you have for example, one woman in  a slate of nine or 10 candidates you’re looking at, she’s not going to get the job, right? It’s like, if  you have to reach a critical massive representation of the total candidates for a role before they  have any chance, right? It’s simple probability, right?  

Four out of nine has a better chance than one out of nine but you make a good point about how  the more different a hiring pool looks, the less different any individual one looks, right? They’re  just kind of – they’re just an individual as supposed to standing out. It’s an interesting way to  kind of like you just sort of productize and work around natural human biases, frankly.  

[0:10:21.0] SB: Correct. I think with every organization has a call a “fit factor” and you know,  there are qualities and competencies we want in our employees and so, you have to find a pool  of candidates that fit all of those and then let the hiring leader make the selection of which one  best fits the organization that they need to hire them into. You just need to have that candidate  pool be very wide and varied, so that they can find that fit. 

[0:10:53.2] RS: Yeah, absolutely, makes sense. I want to ask you about the chief diversity  officer portion of your responsibilities because it’s interesting to me, you kind of have these two  titles typically tend to be held by two different individuals. You are however the second person  I’ve met who has put – has a traditional recruiting sort of title but then, appends diversity on to  as well to make the point that hey, this is a crucial part of this role, right? 

I’m going to be thinking about this, I’m going to be making this my job. It’s not two jobs, this is  the responsibility of your senior most talent pro. When you were tapped on the shoulder to run  talent, was the diversity piece also kind of offered to you or was it your process of saying, “Hey,  

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this is an important initiative, this is going to be part of my role as well.” How did you wind up  having both roles?  

[0:11:43.8] SB: Well, so it wasn’t my brainchild. No, it was the person that our CHROs  brainchild. Actually, I call it – it’s probably pretty novel from the standpoint of many diversity,  equity and inclusion officers really have a hard job influencing the vice-president of talent  acquisition to do things a little bit differently so that they can grow and diversify their  organizations. I always say, I can’t fight my – I don’t have to do that because I would just be  fighting against myself.  

I did have both jobs from day one and I actually do two jobs, I have the talent acquisition job  where I’m responsible for the delivery of everything from the C-suite to our entry level, early  career customer service and intern roles so I call the whole suite of the organization. Then, I  

also have the responsibility of the diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, which is where I have  a pillar strategy around how we look at diversity through the lens and all aspects of our work as  an organization.  

[0:12:53.9] RS: Pray tell Stephanie, what are the pillars?  

[0:12:57.0] SB: So, we have five pillars, they are career, culture, community, commerce and  care. If you think about career and culture, those are traditionally the HR space. They’re the  traditionally the lead for those two pillars are myself and the CHRO. I lead the career pillar and  my CHRO leads culture pillar from an accountability perspective. 

Then we have commerce. Commerce is the work of the business, so that’s where our products  and our services are delivered on behalf of the organization and that’s led by our vice-president  of business development and then we have community, which is the work that we do externally  with the community, keeping the community and moving the community from a health  

perspective. Health and quality and affordability perspective and that’s led by our vice-president  of corporate citizenship.  

Then finally, we have care and we probably say we all work for care because care is where we  are actually building the ability to have equity across all our members as it relates to their  

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healthcare, disparities, making sure that we don’t have health disparities and then the equity of  just the affordability across our members. 

Those are the five pillars that we hold ourselves accountable for and each one of them is led by  a senior person within the organization and works cross-functionally to make sure that we’re  doing the work that we need to be doing for our members and our associates.  

[0:14:32.7] RS: I like that you have focused on these different areas in the interest of equity and  inclusion because it’s so common to only focus on how do we get diverse individuals into the  organization, who do we hire them? Some people struggle – most people struggle with that,  that’s hard enough and especially for someone leading a talent acquisition department, I  wouldn’t blame them if they’re like, “Look, I just get t hem in, I don’t know, everything after that is  not my job” right?  

But the problem is that you know, inclusivity is so important, not just in terms of, is the culture  welcoming or are the teams welcoming, are there ideas being heard but in the product you’re  developing, does the product serve a representative audience as well? A holistic strategy, I feel,  necessitates this kind of approach that you’re looking at. With the commerce and the community  pieces, I’d love to doble click on that a little bit. 

Would you mind going into the commerce pillar and how it’s important to like how building a  product for a representative swath of individuals, feeds back into overall diversity goals?  

[0:15:39.8] SB: Sure, you know, healthcare is – that cause a no-brainer when it comes to the  person that’s actually at this core of the product. What does that person need and from that  perspective? Our consumer experience strategy is so important, how do we approach our  customer, how do we know what our customer needs are?  

We have a three tier model from a customer perspective because obviously, many of the  corporations in the businesses around the state actually buy the healthcare for their employees  and so it’s really important that we have diversity across our health plans in order – so they can  meet those demands of those customers based on career level, economics, diversity, I mean,  all of the above, all that’s really important and so our consumer experience officer and our  

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health and management group really lean in on, how do we build the right products and services  on behalf of our accounts so that our members, the people who actually – we deliver those  services to are getting what they need, based on where they are in their lives?  

Then you think about how we service those members. You know, every member has their own  way of wanting to be contacted and engaged. There are some members who may want to use  our mobile app, there are some members who may want to use our website, there’s some  members who may want to pick up the phone and make a phone call to us.  

All those different ways of servicing a member come from preferences that the member may  have and so there’s a way to look at it through that lens as well especially in addition to cultural  competence. When you think about a cultural competence perspective, you know, if you have a  diverse membership then they’re going to all have different backgrounds and experiences that  say how they approach their own healthcare.  

[0:17:36.5] RS: Does building technology and services that is accessible to any kind of  individual, will that happen automatically as a result of having a diverse work force? You have  those kinds of people in the room, making product decisions, will that happen automatically or is  there this really important market research piece that needs to be done so that it’s a deliberate  initiative?  

[0:18:03.8] SB: I would say, it’s just and, and so kind of all of the above. I think there is a  definitely, a discipline around consumer experience and market research that gets done to  understand how different demographics think about different processes and different  technologies but then, I also think, when you’re thinking about language and content and  marketing, it’s good to have different experiences at the table so that we can then in turn, have a  better innovative outcome on how we build those engagements and strategies.  

[0:18:44.4] RS: Yeah, I can see how it’s both. I can see how someone in your position can have  the impact on those voices at the table, right? Having, you know, giving that perspective that  can create a product for a wide swath of people but on the other end of it, the market research,  the language, all of that stuff that needs to be done, that impacts your ability to have a  

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representative holistic approach to diversity but how would you in your role have impact on the  individual who is in charge of that? 

Because that’s like a very senior product type of person typically, perhaps a technologists, how  does the VPTA/chief diversity officer hold that person accountable and make sure that that work  is being done when it is not – it affects your ability to do your job well but it is not maybe an  explicit responsibility? 

[0:19:33.6] SB: I wouldn’t say hold them accountable, I would say influence. When you are  thinking about talent management and to talent design and organizational design, I work with  my peers across the organization to help them understand what their organizations look like,  what do they need and how experiences can shape the outcomes of the work that they do. 

There’s plenty of studies that say a more diverse team actually builds better products and better  services and is more innovated. Many times, many organizations don’t get the chance to  actually see from a demographics perspective what their organizations look like and so what we  do is we, you know, one size doesn’t fit none. That’s what we say, one size fits none and we  work with the team with where they are. 

You share data with them about what the organization looks like, we share data about kind of  what career levels they have within their organization, are they building a pipeline from entry  level talent to this most senior talent making sure that they are looking at it through the eyes of  gender equity, racial equity and all of the above and you work with them to go and source and  design the teams the way that they feel as they need to have them to deliver on the work of the  organization. 

[0:21:04.6] RS: Yeah, I like how you reframe that as an influence rather than accountability. I  can see how you are in the role you are. This also just goes to show the impact that senior  talent professional can have on the rest of the business. I think not enough people speak about  how influential the senior most talent professional can be because you touch every department  in a way nobody else probably besides the CEO does, right? 

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When you are helping other business leaders become aware of the realities of their organization  in a people capacity and how they’re tools are impacting the world and are perceived by other  audiences capacity, that is just – it is the next level. It is like the difference between checkers  and chess like recruitment versus talent. I just wanted to call out that I think this is a good  example of how to be a strategic business partner to the whole company, the upper echelons of  talent. 

Related to being in the upper echelons of talent and I kind of wanted to go back to your own  journey a little bit because you had this background as a technologist and I am sure you  perhaps didn’t envision yourself in this role, right? You said when you are initially asked you’re  like, “Why? What, I don’t get it, why me for this role?” but now that you find yourself in this  position, a childish question but do you like it? 

Do you enjoy this role? Do you enjoy this kind of – it is a career pivot for you in a way, so I just  wanted to ask you to reflect a little bit on what that means for you? 

[0:22:26.5] SB: When I think about where I came from and where I am today, I do enjoy the role  because I actually probably was more of a people person, more of a mentor/connector than I  call the average tech person. This role allows me to use all my skills, all my competency, the  things I really love to do, which is finding and connecting people in a way that makes them  better. 

That’s everything from the hundreds of mentee calls I do to help people navigate their career, to  being a whisperer to a senior leader who’s telling me somebody to kind of tell them how they  might be showing up, to just supporting people from an inclusion perspective to make sure that  they can do their best work, so it gives me the ability to do a whole bunch of things that makes  me feel as though I am actually really delivering what the company needs. 

The answer to your question is yes, I do love what I do and one of the things I did say when I  took this role is like, you know, when I was in my tech role, I can leave the company tomorrow  and nobody will ever remember who the heck I was because tech people come and go from the  standpoint of tech always is changing. It is kind of the newer folks coming into the roles who  bring those new technologies and bring those new skills. 

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In the role that I have today in talent acquisition and diversity and inclusion, I have touched a lot  of people and so they’ll remember the help I gave them along the way. 

[0:24:06.3] RS: Yeah, of course they will. I tend to agree with you. I think there is much more  opportunity to be impactful on this side of the business and you mentioned that you had  experience in sort of a mentor type role. I imagine you are interfacing with a lot more recruiters,  source’s talent pros now, what are you learning about these folks and kind of how are you  helping them uplift themselves and their careers and sort of look forward and be critical about  their own growth? 

[0:24:35.4] SB: Well, you know, I guess I would say to recruiters and folks in the talent field is  that especially right now with the great resignation and what’s going on in the marketplace  around talent, you are very valuable but you’re only as valuable as the relationships and the  influence you have in those relationships. People want you to deliver great talent and it is not  just check the box talent anymore. 

It’s you really have to understand the business and what the business is trying to accomplish  and then how do you connect the talent to the business. You’re really more of an adviser and so  being in that advisory role is really important and there is an accountability there, so just  learning how to have those relationships is really important. So my mentoring of my team and  whoever I get a chance to talk to around this role is to building that confidence and people  feeling confident that you can be a confidante, so it is kind of all of the above. 

Most talent organizations have a real difficult role trying not to just be full with requisition over  the transom and you just go fill it. Being able to be at the table, it take a lot of work and you have  to deliver really, really well in order to be at the table and you know, one mishap will throw you  completely all the way back, so it’s a matter of building an up organization that works from the  bottom up around accountability and delivery. 

[0:26:19.1] RS: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s fantastic advice too Stephanie and we are  creeping up on optimal podcast length here and I just have to say, this has been such a great  conversation. You have really documented what it means to be strategic in this role, so at this  

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point I would just say thank you so much for being here and sharing your experience and  wisdom with me and I love learning from you today. 

[0:26:39.3] SB: Oh, you’re very welcome and thanks for having me. I really appreciate it Rob. [END OF INTERVIEW]  

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