Embracing DEI through Heluna Health’s Workplace Inclusion Initiative

At Heluna Health, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is an integral part of the workplace and culture. While maintaining a diverse, equitable, an inclusive environment has been an important part of Heluna Health for decades and is firmly embedded in the everyday work of health equity, the organization took an important step in July 2020, when Heluna Health launched a Workplace Inclusion Initiative (WII), designed to structurally incorporate DEI initiatives into its operations. WII programs have included an implicit bias awareness workshop, various live and recorded trainings, a DEI needs assessment survey of all employees, and special training sessions for hiring managers. Formed to recommend and implement DEI initiatives and build a more consistent culture of communication and collaboration surrounding the various identities that employees bring with them into the workplace, a committee of 20 staff members across our broad range of population health programs was born and continues to grow.  

Over the past few years in the U.S., many companies and organizations have increased efforts to promote DEI measures within their institutions. “The impetus for our efforts was the drafting of our strategic plan in the summer of 2019,” says Tim Seifert, Heluna Health’s Chief Human Resources Officer. The plan contains five pillars of focus, one of which states that by the 2025 fiscal year, “Heluna Health will measurably enhance employee engagement by continually empowering our teams to pursue meaningful work in connection with our mission and vision—work that is deeply aligned with our core values, including diversity, equity, and inclusion.” “The murder of George Floyd in 2020 and other cases of police brutality heightened the need, but we had the structure in place,” Seifert says.

Recent programs, such as those offered in spring 2023, included two virtual seminars with Shaun Harper, USC University Professor of Business and Education, who has worked with more than 400 companies, agencies, and institutions on DEI issues. More than 200 employees attended each of the live virtual sessions, and recordings of each were shared internally and are also available 24/7 on the employee Human Resources Information System (HRIS) dashboard. The first session introduced staff to the concept of intersectionality and how systems of inequality are based on interrelated forms of discrimination. The second session covered issues around recognizing and mitigating microaggressions in the workplace.

The establishment of a “Concierge Team” is an additional project that has been launched and will continue to be enhanced with the knowledge and passion of new members. The Concierge Team consists of members of the WII committee who are available to answer questions and share DEI information with fellow Heluna Health employees through the organization’s HRIS dashboard. “This is a great tool,” says Isaac Diaz, a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified health education specialist, and lactation educator, with a master’s degree in public health, in Heluna Health’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program. He joined the WII committee and later volunteered for the Concierge Team, because he wanted to be an active resource and help answer some of his colleagues’ questions on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“You can always go to Human Resources with questions, but many of our employees have considerable knowledge about DEI tools, so this peer-to-peer platform will be a great resource,” Seifert says. A favorite initiative that many employees look forward to each year is the “Global Cultural Calendar.” The calendar is both interactive and digital, allowing employees to click on a specific day, week, or month to link to websites where they can deepen their knowledge about a particular holiday or recognized festivity. Employees can also order free printed copies to display at their work stations or in their homes.

The WII group is made up of smaller subgroups. This allows members to focus on particular goals and initiatives in a manner and structure that is most effective and efficient for them. The three subgroups that currently exist are Communications/Awareness/Evaluation (CAE), Newsletter, and Training/Resources/Onboarding (TRO). WII is always recruiting employees and welcomes new members. “As diversity is one of our core values, we want to ensure that we are hearing voices from across the organization so that we can have a range of perspectives to achieve a dynamic workplace,” says Sara Espinoza, HR Manager-Employee Experience. “Addressing DEI issues is a key part of Heluna Health’s strategic plan, and we look forward to continuing to make meaningful changes that will benefit the organization and its employees.”