According to one estimate, 80 percent of health care decisions are made by women. The growing influence of those decision-makers was one of the factors that led to the birth of the Highmark Women’s Business Resource Group (BRG) (see sidebar for more information on BRGs).
Established in 2012 to “energize the marketplace, workplace and community by leveraging the power of women’s resources,” the Women’s BRG recognizes women’s pivotal role in making health care decisions for themselves and their families along with elevating women in their careers and creating opportunities for development.
Becky Duncan, Secretary for the Women’s BRG, notes just how important a group such as this is in today’s corporate workplace. “Highmark is such a large organization and a BRG makes it easier to connect with people and inspire people that you wouldn’t have necessarily run into in your professional career.”
Duncan says it’s important to recognize the connection between Highmark and women’s health and professional development: “What can we do as an organization that can make it easier for health care decisions to be made? Plus, our organization employs a lot of women, so what can we do to help them along in their career path but also the wellness path?”
The Women’s BRG began as an internal focus group for the organization to create awareness of the market, recognizing women’s role in health care and promoting women’s health. The group collaborated with Highmark’s community affairs team, partnering with local organizations on programs and volunteering within the community. Women’s BRG participants also created internal workplace events like a Healthy Happy Hour.
“We’d do a 20-minute class, maybe get together for coffee and tea, or a healthy snack,” recounts Duncan. As the group began to grow, it implemented programs and initiatives like the Paths to Success speaker series, designed to help employees develop and achieve their goals in their lives and careers.
Paths to Success is a quarterly program through which women leaders from within the organization present on topics like work-life balance and how to move into management. The expertise of women leaders has helped to inspire and motivate members, whether they’re interested in long-term career growth or looking to adopt smaller, daily practices to improve in their current positions.
Listening to other women within the company “gives you motivation to look into areas that you might not have personal experience with and need to focus on,” says Duncan. “It’s also a great opportunity to listen to women in leadership positions to see how they got there and some of the things they do on a daily basis that helps them in their role.”
In 2016, the Women’s BRG returned to its roots in women’s health with the Paths to Wellness series. Like Paths to Success, Paths to Wellness invites speakers from various specializations of health and wellness, particularly those of interest to women, to share their expertise.
Speakers in the past have included dermatologist Dr. Ronald Maceyko and Dr. Betsy Blazek-O’Neill of Allegheny Health Network, who discussed overall well-being, including exercise, nutrition and stress management.
Susan Pierce, the BRG’s Workplace Committee Lead, noticed the impact of Dr. Blazek-O’Neill’s talk from the start. “She really emphasized trying to incorporate exercise as much as you can, even if it’s just taking a walk around the block. I think that’s a common message, but the way she approached it made people more motivated.”
Paths to Wellness isn’t limited to women’s health. Pierce recalled one presentation that focused on “just being an overall ‘well’ person as opposed to taking medication for every ailment you have — more like a holistic approach — and also being aware that what they’re doing now can affect their health down the road. It’s not just about looking good, but also how you eat and how you’re dealing with stress and its effect on your body.”
Knowing that wellness is about more than fitness, nutrition, and medicine, the Women’s BRG supports the “big picture” of its members’ well-being. Financial wellness may not appear to have much of a correlation to physical well-being, but high levels of financial stress are associated with an increased risk for health issues such as ulcers, migraines, and heart attacks.
Because of its impact on health and on employees’ futures, the Women’s BRG worked with Ernst & Young (EY) to provide a presentation on managing finances and planning for the future. The presentation covered topics like establishing positive cash flow, creating an emergency fund, and prioritizing spending based on life goals.
“We had a lot of great feedback from it,” said Pierce. “Tackling financial stress may not eliminate all stress from one’s life, but it’s certainly been a starting point for many members of the BRG to improve their overall health and well-being.”
Always looking for opportunities for its members to grow in their careers, the group also hosted discussions with Highmark Health executives like Allegheny Health Network President, Cindy Hundorfean, and Highmark Inc. Senior Vice President of Senior Markets, Barbara Gray.
The group sees value in working with other business resource groups at Highmark Health to share events, resources, and learnings. “I had the opportunity to attend a speaking event from Chief Legal Counsel Tom VanKirk as part of B-Net (Black Network),” Duncan recounted. “He provided networking tips and information and made such an impact on me.” Increasing the reach and availability of experts and executives to all BRGs allows each of the groups to attend events that may resonate with a personal or career interest, putting more employees on a “Path to Success.”
Knowing that the path to either wellness or career success is not an effortless one, the Women’s BRG continues to provide resources to inspire women to be their best possible selves — professionally and personally. Duncan has found motivation to tread a new path in her professional life, thanks to the guidance and stories of other women.
“I think the BRG itself inspired me to try something different, thanks to some of the stories I heard from the executives who said, ‘Hey — change it up; do something totally different.’”
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