The 2010 census declared that Latino Americans are the largest minority group in the United States. That same year, Highmark launched SALUD, the organization’s Business Resource Group (BRG) for Latino employees. The word “salud” is Spanish for “health,” but the group also uses it as a rough acronym: Strengthening Awareness of Latino culture by Using and understanding Diversity.

The goals of the BRG were straightforward: SALUD wanted to collaborate with business units across the organization, become involved with community initiatives that affected the Latino community, and serve as partners for both the organization and the community. They also wanted to help facilitate professional and personal development for Latino employees.

“When we started out, the company was looking at bringing in different ‘focus groups’ to better understand its customers,” said Jessica Perez, a member of SALUD since day one, and its current president. “We were able to provide those kinds of insights, and do a lot more.”

Early on, the BRG focused on community events. Members helped establish Latino Night programs at local soccer games, Diversity Night for minor league baseball teams, and attended and volunteered at numerous festivals and parades, representing the organization.

“We wanted to get out there and let the community know that Highmark is an inclusive organization. We specifically wanted the Latino population to know that it had a voice here,” said Perez.

Oft in Translation

“In the beginning, we hit the ground running, full-speed,” said Karina Kane, another day-one member of SALUD.

Within a year of its launch, the BRG accepted the task of helping to translate the Highmark health plan member website into Spanish. SALUD members wanted to ensure that the site translated well both literally and culturally. It took a lot of work, and some members volunteered full days to help see the project to completion, but Kane said the extra work was “worth it.”

“We have a large Spanish-speaking population, so it was important that we create a website they could really use,” Perez added.

Since the completion of the website, SALUD has helped structure a more robust, formal translation process within the organization, so that more publications are accessible to all of Highmark Health’s Spanish-speaking customers and community members.

Committed to Employee Growth

A t-shirt with SALUD on it and a marketing communication in SpanishAbner Vargas, another of SALUD’s founding members, serves as the group’s communications officer. He led the charge in creating the BRG’s quarterly newsletter, La Voz SALUD (“The Voice of SALUD”). SALUD was one of the first BRGs to distribute a publication like this, sharing updates about SALUD’s community involvement, and spreading its messages of inclusivity and cultural awareness. The newsletter has also helped to recruit new members to SALUD.

“One of the things we wanted to have in place, from the beginning, was a community where Latino employees can get together and share their experiences — a group where they can grow personally and in their careers,” said Vargas.

SALUD’s employee engagement initiatives have included résumé assistance, workshops, and mock interviews — which Vargas says have led to several promotions among the BRG’s members.

Vargas has experienced the benefits of this kind of professional development first-hand. He started as an intern at Highmark in 2009 and was hired full-time shortly after graduating college. Five years later, managing SALUD’s communications the whole time, he is now a team manager in charge of validating the performance and response times of Highmark’s application systems.

“Through my involvement with SALUD, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the Board of Directors, the President and CEO, and Chairman of the Board. These are opportunities I wouldn’t have had without the exposure I obtained through the BRG,” he said.

Other BRGs at Highmark Health have taken note of the success of such programs. As Kane explained, SALUD was one of the first BRGs to offer professional development to their members. Today, many other Highmark Health BRGs offer similar programs.

Building Bridges in the Community

Since its inception, SALUD has been focused on reaching out to members of the Latino community and welcoming them into the Highmark Health community. For example, in response to SALUD’s recommendations, Highmark Direct Stores now have either Spanish-speaking representatives on site or they offer access to on-call translators.

“We want to show Latino consumers how our products are well-suited for them,” Vargas said. SALUD’s recommendations have been implemented in Highmark’s marketing content, direct marketing, on billboards, and more. Eventually, the group would like to help develop new Highmark Health products and services that tackle the unique challenges facing Latino Americans.

The group sponsors events at the Latino Hispanic Community Center in Harrisburg, the Hispanic Cultural Festival in Lancaster, and the local YMCA, where SALUD members helped decorate cookies, paint faces, and make crafts with area children. SALUD members have also attended the openings of multiple Highmark Direct stores, to help let Latino customers know they were welcome and included.

And how has the community responded? Kane explains, “It’s extraordinary. For them, it puts a human face — someone who speaks their language — on the Highmark Health brand.”

“It’s inspiring to see people connect with us when we’re out in the community,” said Perez. “It helps me know what we’re doing is important, not just for our fellow employees, but for the people our company serves every day.”