In 2018, Highmark Health welcomed its newest business resource group (BRG): Exploring Asian Societies and Traditions (EAST).

The idea for the group was born when Antony Gnalian, then an associate with HM Health Solutions, participated in an Emerging Leaders program. At an orientation meeting, he noticed that although Highmark Health had seven business groups covering a broad range of identities (see sidebar), his ethnicity as the son of Indian immigrants wasn’t represented.

Gnalian reached out to Highmark Health’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and presented a plan to bridge this gap. In collaboration with other interested employees and leaders, and with the direction of Dr. Lonie Haynes, the EAST BRG made the journey from a good idea to an officially recognized, dynamically active, and truly business-focused BRG.

After serving as the initial EAST BRG chairperson, Gnalian moved on to pursue a Master’s Degree at Carnegie Mellon. The group’s current chairperson, Myla Granadino, is overseeing EAST’s evolution through its first full year. A strategy analyst in the Highmark health plan’s senior markets division, Granadino took time to offer insight on the EAST BRG’s purpose, activities, and plans for the future.

Engaging and Connecting Global Communities

Although open to everyone (like all Highmark Health BRGs), a central focus for EAST is to engage and connect global communities from Asian, Middle Eastern, North African, Asian-American and Pacific Islander backgrounds. Its purpose is to enhance professional growth for employees, promote cultural humility, learning and multicultural awareness across the organization, and also impact the bottom line by providing insights that will help Highmark Health companies to better understand and meet the needs of their customers. All Highmark Health BRGs champion the enterprise’s core values and promote the Diversity and Inclusion focus of “Inclusion Begins with You!”, but the specific thrust of that message for EAST is “diversified in thoughts, unified in goals.”

“Our vision is to promote awareness, education, and inclusive practices about the diverse cultures of the countries that we represent,” Granadino says. “At the same time, we’d like to collaborate with the diverse communities around Pittsburgh to partner with them.”

She explains that the group divided its initial strategy roadmap into goals and activities for each of its first four quarters. The first quarter included solidifying high-level strategic planning, forming its leadership team, and putting out official announcements, culminating in “soft launch” events at the organization’s Pittsburgh and Camp Hill, Pennsylvania locations. The events had the dual purpose of introducing EAST BRG to employees while encouraging broader involvement. The result: 70 new members joined!

Members of the EAST BRG and Diversity and Inclusion team at the group's formal launch event

Members of the EAST BRG and Diversity & Inclusion at the group’s formal launch event May 23, 2018.

EAST’s second quarter included a “tea social” to further increase membership and interest, followed by the group’s formal launch in May 2018. While the main launch event was held in Pittsburgh, video feeds connected employees in Camp Hill, Delaware, West Virginia, and Wilkes-Barre, allowing all employees across the organization to hear from the EAST BRG executive sponsor, champion, and the rest of its leadership team.

As the group moves into its third and fourth quarters, other plans include hosting a “Feast by EAST” food fest showcasing appetizers from eastern ethnic regions, in combination with Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights.

While everyone loves food fests and learning about celebrations in other cultures and traditions, Granadino points out that these kinds of activities are just one part of the group’s strategies. She describes its larger mission as resting on four pillars: community outreach, patient experience, workplace inclusion, and market excellence.

Community Outreach

Granadino says that community outreach includes several things, from supporting different organizational initiatives to getting involved in community volunteerism and partnerships. Even more specifically, she explains that EAST intends to be a resource for growing immigrant and refugee populations from eastern countries.

“One of our goals is to make immigrants and refugees from our communities aware of employment opportunities here at Highmark Health,” she says. “We have many open jobs at Highmark Health, but some people in our communities may not know how to apply. We’d like to collaborate with our Talent Solutions team and AHN Center for Inclusion Health (CIH) to reach out to our communities to better access their talent.”

Everyone benefits when better connections are made between qualified employees and appropriate jobs, but Granadino adds that EAST will be active with immigrant and refugee populations in other ways as well. “The life of an immigrant or refugee is typically challenging because they’re transitioning from one culture and environment to another,” she says. “We want them to feel welcome, and so we want to reach out and see how we can support them. We’d like to partner with different organizations as part of our volunteering effort to support our communities.”

Patient Experience

All of Highmark Health shares the goal of improving patient experience as part of its work to transform health care — and Granadino says that EAST will do its part to ensure that patients from the many cultures represented by EAST BRG get comprehensive, high-quality care. Among other things, with the guidance of Diversity and Inclusion, she says this can take the form of educating health care providers to improve cultural humility, developing innovative ways to address health disparities and bias, and serving as a built-in “focus group” that the organization can tap to get the perspective of those from EAST cultures.

Workplace Inclusion

The primary workplace priorities for EAST include educating and creating awareness about different cultures and religions, promoting cross-cultural intelligence and an inclusive corporate culture, and driving leadership skill development and training.

Emphasizing that a company culture of acceptance and inclusiveness contributes to greater success across the board, Granadino says the group is prepared to take on difficult challenges such as raising awareness regarding religious diversity and educating on the broad spectrum of faith and spirituality.

“We’ve talked about xenophobia and Islamophobia, and how to raise awareness of it in the workplace,” she says. “It’s a difficult and sensitive issue, but it’s important — obviously we have employees from many different cultures who are of the Islamic faith. One plan is to have a celebration for Ramadan, and host a symposium about the significance of Ramadan.”

Extending this to a broader context, Granadino says EAST will discuss a range of ideas “relating to our goal of trying to retain diverse employees. We want employees to feel welcome and appreciated for who they are, no matter where they’re from or what traditions they practice.”

Getting Involved

To learn more about Highmark Health’s BRGs, visit the Diversity & Inclusion page on the organization’s Careers website. If you’re an employee and want to get involved, you can contact EASTBRG@highmark.com.