e030. Fostering Inclusion with Teresa Belthrop Hairston

Teresa Belthrop Hairston (she/her) is the Head of Diversity Inclusion and Belonging at Delta Dental. Delta Dental values of Trust, Service, Excellence, and Innovation represent the character of the organization. They inform their behavior and guide their decision-making to shape their workplace culture. When they bring their values to life, they ensure they achieve their objectives without compromising their high ethical standards. Delta Dental of California  employs 4.000 people.


#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with Teresa Belthrop Hairston

Interview Transcript

[00:00:43] Amy: Welcome back to Including You. I’m your host, Amy c Waninger. My guest today is Teresa Belthorp Hairston. She’s the head of Diversity, inclusion and belonging, or DIB at Delta Dental of California. Delta Dental values of trust, service, excellence and innovation represent the character of their organization.

[00:01:04] Amy: They inform their behavior and guide their decision making to shape their workplace culture. Delta Dental of California employs about 4,000 people in California, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, and I am excited to talk to one of those employees today. Welcome, Teresa, to the show.

[00:01:20] Teresa: Thank you so much, Amy.

[00:01:23] Amy: I’m so excited to have you here.

[00:01:24] Amy: You and I have worked together in the past and when, as we were talking about goals for our work together, I learned so many amazing things about the work that you’ve done and the work that you continue to do at Delta Dental of California. Can you just tell us why is building an inclusive culture so important in your work?

[00:01:47] Teresa: Oh, thank you, Amy, for that question. It’s important because we want to be successful. We want to have a culture that people want to be a part of. We want to have the type of culture where people are giving their best and that they’re not facing any barriers, and so when we think about inclusion, we think about it in terms of inclusive leadership.

[00:02:08] Teresa: We think about it in terms of all employees being welcoming and feeling trusted, respected, valued, and supported, and all of that helps us create business outcomes that make a difference, such as we’re able to truly service our customers and patients our providers. So, all of that’s important because if the business wins, we all win.

[00:02:35] Amy: When you talk about inclusion, you mean something bigger than representation.

[00:02:40] Teresa: I certainly do. I’m talking about creating the type of environment where people are feeling as though they can fully contribute, that there are no barriers to their success, and that they’re being given the tools that they need to be able to succeed.

[00:02:57] Teresa: So, they’re getting the coaching, the feedback, the development, the training that they need to really succeed so that they can work on their personal goals as they’re helping us achieve our business goals.

[00:03:11] Amy: And so, as you think about those things that you want to accomplish, how have you set out to do that?

[00:03:16] Amy: What have been some of the initiatives that have really moved the needle for Delta Dental of California in terms of moving beyond representation into real inclusion?

[00:03:25] Teresa: Sure, so, I would say the first thing is having a strong roadmap. We built a three-to-five-year roadmap for diversity, inclusion and belonging.

[00:03:37] Teresa: And in that roadmap we worked on creating or building a foundation for success, and then we established multiple priorities, and in those priorities as we were at the beginning stages, the first one was around what we call strengthening the foundation, creating a governance model, making sure that our senior leaders were on board, making sure that our senior Diversity council was aware of the strategy, able to influence others around the strategy.

[00:04:07] Teresa: We also had another priority around, fostering inclusivity, and we took a look at our employee resource groups or inclusion communities as we called them, and we focused on building those out. We started with two, now we’re up to six, a total of six, and they’re helping us understand the concerns, the issues, the challenges that are faced by people who’ve been historically underrepresented in the organization and then the third priority is around equipping our leaders, because we realize that inclusive leadership is really good leadership, and to the extent that we can build the awareness and the knowledge and the skills around inclusive leadership, then we expect that we can influence all employees to do what’s needed to make sure that the environment is fully inclusive, that everybody’s contributing.

[00:05:01] Amy: You’ve done a couple of things very specifically around community building at Delta Dental of California, I know the first initiative that, that you and I talked about in, kinda in the prep for this session was your seen and herd initiative. Can you talk about what sparked that initiative and what results you saw?

[00:05:22] Teresa: Yes, so, during the time the death of George Floyd, the employees in the organization wanted to be able to talk about what had happened and the impact to them, the impact on the business, and the employees also voiced their concerns around the organization’s response to this. It was really a horrible and tragic incident, it was also a watershed moment for many organizations, including Delta Dental, to really place a stake in the ground around the response to this injustice.

[00:05:55] Teresa: And so, as a result of that, we created what’s called our Seen and Heard series and in seen and heard, we pulled together a group of employees who are listening to facilitated dialogue around diversity, inclusion, and belonging and the organizational context. So, whether that’s about listening to women, talking about how they show up in the organization, resources that they need, listening to other women who are seen as role models for success all the way to inclusive leadership, talking about what it means to be inclusive as a leader.

[00:06:36] Teresa: what it feels like when inclusivity is absent, and so seen and heard has been our vehicle for a lot of those discussions. They’re attended by up to a thousand employees at a time. We’ve also included external facilitators such as Willie T. Ribs, who was a Nascar great, and Willie talked about coming through the racing profession at a time when he was not included as a way of kind of modeling and sharing what it’s like at the extreme level of exclusion all the way to what it looks like when we

[00:07:13] Teresa: aas an organization, building inclusion and helping people understand what that means and how to demonstrate it each day. So also, it’s seen and heard, we do focus groups because we wanna hear from employees about topics such as inclusive leadership, do you feel as though it’s happening? Do you feel that your leaders is inclusive?

[00:07:33] Teresa: Do you feel that people on your team are inclusive? And so, we’re doing a lot of listening, a great deal of this inclusion work is about leveraging a listening strategy. So, the strategy encompasses our pulse surveys or engagement surveys, the focus groups, the seen and heards, the exit surveys, the onboarding surveys, you name it.

[00:07:55] Teresa: So, we’re getting information from a lot of sources and channels, and we’re taking that information and measuring our environment as far as inclusion, and what we’re finding is that, our numbers around belonging, around culture, around other topics are trending upward even though we’ve come through a very difficult period in the organization with the pandemic and with business impacts and things of that nature.

[00:08:24] Teresa: So, we’re, and we also came through a period of losing talent, so the great resignation did affect us, but we’re seeing people come back to the organization, so for us, inclusion is making sure that this is an organization where people truly want to be and they can do their best work,

[00:08:44] Amy: And you’re giving them a lot of tools along the way to help with that, with not just the programming, the, not just the listening sessions where you’re pulling information out of your employees, but you’re doing a lot around really pouring into your employees as well.

[00:08:56] Amy: And I know over the summer you had a women’s leadership summit that went a long way in terms of giving, giving leaders skills that they needed to be their best selves at work and to, really highlight the strengths and the contributions of their teams. Can you talk a little about that?

[00:09:13] Teresa: I’d be happy to. So, we created what we called our first ever, the Inaugural Women’s Leadership Summit, and at that time we were thinking about the population and the organization as in healthcare as predominantly female. We have 70% females in the organization as compared to 30% males, and yet what we saw is that males were very influential at the leadership levels in the organization.

[00:09:41] Teresa: And women, although present, we needed to find a way to amplify their voices, and then we did some discovery work to find out what are women needing in this organization? What would they want to get out of the leadership conference? So, we leveraged a professional facilitator and consultant

[00:10:01] Teresa: Dr. Jennifer Martino, and she helped focus groups to find out what was needed, and from there we built a summit or a conference with topics such as executive presence, we also looked at the imposter syndrome, we looked at networking without bias, we looked at a number of topics, so we had a full week

[00:10:23] Teresa: conference with three sessions per day and we had over 4,000 impressions, meaning of course we had people who attended multiple times, but at least 4,000 hits when it came to participation in the overall conference, and we did decide to not just make this a Women’s Leadership Summit, we opened it up to all employees.

[00:10:47] Teresa: So, every employee within Delta Dental received an invitation, and what we found is that we did have male participants, we had male facilitators who led one of the programs on allyship and male allyship specifically, and what we found in the feedback is that women were saying the topics were spot on. It was exactly what they needed in terms of ways to build their skill sets, increase the tools in their toolboxes to give them insight and understanding to the business how to navigate the workplace culture, how to contribute and

[00:11:24] Teresa: it was very important that we took that listening and we translated that into action, and that we did receive feedback that the initiatives were very beneficial,

[00:11:38] Amy: And I was part of that summit, I thought it was incredible. It was incredibly well run. Dr. Martinos is a phenomenal consultant and facilitator in her own right.

[00:11:46] Amy: It was a really fantastic event even from the outside to participate in. What kind of results are you seeing now? You’ve been at this work for a couple of years in the company, you personally and the company overall, right? Has been at this work for a couple years now. Within the company, so, what kinds of results are you seeing in terms of employee engagement, moving the needle on inclusion? Are you, do you feel like you’re getting beyond representation into influence?

[00:12:15] Teresa: Yes, Am, I really do. So, we are a big believer in looking at maturity models and assessing our progress against those.

[00:12:23] Teresa: So, we’ve looked at the Deloitte model, we’ve also looked at the coin ferry model, and all of those models are good in their own right in terms of helping organizations like mine figure out where we are, what the what examples of behavior. We’re seeing that align with the various stages, and so in looking specifically at the Deloitte model, it starts with the not the programmatic, but the compliance level, and then it moves to the programmatic level.

[00:12:53] Teresa: And we are squarely in the programmatic level in terms of we’re having to do a lot of awareness and education, a lot of modeling around what we mean by diversity, inclusion, belonging, what it means for leaders, and how we hope to influence leaders to demonstrate these behaviors each day and their work.

[00:13:13] Teresa: We also are taking a look at inclusive language in our competencies, and when we think about where we want to go next, we want to now move into the space where leaders are championing the work in the organization. So that means we’ve got to do things like ensure that they understand why this is a priority for the business.

[00:13:35] Teresa: Understand the roadmap, understand what’s expected of them, and then we want to see them start cascading this by way of real task and opportunities within their own divisions to magnify the work and to amplify the voices and to do things such as, Look at their performance management and rewards processes.

[00:13:59] Teresa: So, this year we’ve focused a lot on that inclusion in the standard processes or the systems that are influencing people in the organization, and so we’re looking at that specifically for unconscious bias. We’re looking at our talent review and succession planning processes, again, we’re looking to take out any unconscious bias, so we’re having some important.

[00:14:24] Teresa: Some noteworthy conversations with leaders about their behaviors, and so that’s what we see in the future. More of that so that we can get to that next level when it comes to the maturity of our DIB strategy. So, we feel really good about that. We’ve accomplished. I’ve been with the company now nearly two years, and so we’ve done a lot of important work, a lot of important initiatives, but we also want to see that we are squarely influencing behaviors and that people are talking the talk and walking the walk.

[00:15:01] Teresa: So, we had a scene and heard session at the end of July, and it was part two, inclusive leadership. We invited various leaders from the organization to talk about what inclusive leadership means to them and how they demonstrate it, and that was one of the most. Highly attended sessions for the year. We had around 1100 people,

[00:15:23] Teresa: we had some very positive feedback around what these leaders were saying, it echoed what people were feeling, and so we’re starting to see this change occur across the organization and it’s really making a significant difference in terms of how we see inclusion actually come alive in the business

[00:15:45] Teresa: through the behaviors, actions, the words, the attitudes of people in your organization.

[00:15:52] Amy: It is such important work, and you are doing such a phenomenal job. I know when you started there you’ve characterized the predominant leadership style as more command and control, and to evolve from a place where you’re changing hearts and minds, but also the way you do business internally from, a largely outdated management style into something that’s, becoming really at the front lines, the front edge of leadership standards, and, advancing through a capability maturity model in DIB.

[00:16:27] Amy: In this way in such a short period of time, I think is so commendable and I know that your employees appreciate it.

[00:16:32] Teresa: Yes, they do, and we see that in our pulse survey. We do a survey twice per year to check in sentiment survey to check in and see how employees are feeling, and there are any number of points made around

[00:16:49] Teresa: the culture and how things feel different and how people want that to continue, and so we’re very pleased that’s being recognized and we’re pleased to see and hear when people are doing the right things, when they’re using the language, when they’re starting to hold other people accountable, just the fact that we’re having different conversations

[00:17:09] Teresa: than were ever had in the past is something that’s pointed out to me really frequently to say, we’ve never, we haven’t been there before, we’ve never done this before, and we’re making progress and people see and feel that. So, it’s really tangible in the organization and we have the data that helps us understand that.

[00:17:28] Teresa: So, as I look at various data points, I’m looking at the talent that we’re bringing in, bringing in a diverse slate of candidates, I’m looking at promotions, I’m looking at development, who’s being developed? Is everyone being developed or is it that special assignments are going to certain people only?

[00:17:48] Teresa: And the same people always pop up on the on the list in terms of our go-to people, we’re starting to see leaders really think about their behaviors in terms of how they show up every day, and now that we are in, we’re using a much more flexible model and people are working from home, there’s also the need to continue engaging people even in that space, in that remote space.

[00:18:15] Teresa: We intend to at some point bring people back into the office for purposeful conversations, for purposeful work, but by the same token, we’ve got to learn to evolve with this new change that we’re seeing people working from home, working by remote, we want them to feel included and to be recognized and to know that their contributions are making a difference.

[00:18:39] Teresa: So, we’re seeing changes that are helping to that are influencing our behaviors in the organization around inclusion, and we’re taking advantage of those and we’re trying to incorporate these principles in every way possible across the employee life cycle.

[00:18:56] Amy: And it’s just such important work to be doing, and especially in light of all of the changes that are happening, right?

[00:19:02] Amy: Because employees need help processing external changes to the organization, internal changes to the organization, and then their own personal change curves as well, all of those things get layered in together to really, to influence and impact how employees experience work.

[00:19:19] Teresa: Exactly.

[00:19:20] Teresa: And that’s, key to the way we want to approach this. We want our leaders to lead with empathy and understanding. We’ve come through a pandemic in a lot of ways we’re still in it. We’re seeing economic changes, we’re seeing business changes, we’ve deliberately created new strategies to be more focused on the patient experience and we really need to make sure that employees in our organization understand why the changes,

[00:19:50] Teresa: so, we’re doing a lot around change management, but even more we want to provide them with the tools and the skills that they need to be effective. We wanna care for the whole person, so for mental health, for physical, we wanna provide the benefits and tools that people need to care for themselves as they are caring for our customers.

[00:20:11] Teresa: Our mission is to ensure that everyone can take exceptional care of our customers and also of one another, and so we’re living up to that, we’re bringing that to life.

[00:20:26] Amy: Teresa Belthrop Hariston, thank you so much for your time, for sharing your expertise with us and for sharing all of the amazing work that you’re doing. I counted maybe 50 nuggets of tools and tips just in the short conversation, and I hope that my listeners are taking good notes. Thank you.

[00:20:43] Teresa: Thank you so much, Amy, It’s been a real pleasure.

[00:21:33] Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of Including You. Join me next week when my guest will be Alyssa Stamp from Ensure Equality.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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