Veteran Voices is a series that gives our veteran employees a chance to discuss their time in the military and how it prepared them for their careers with Highmark Health companies. In this post, Dr. Lonie Haynes, Highmark Health’s Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, talks about both his military and his professional careers and how he is working to help veterans at Highmark Health and in southwestern PA as a whole.

Dr. Lonie Haynes brings many credentials to his work as Highmark Health’s Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion: degrees in Management (MSc), Public Administration (MPA), and Law & Public Policy (PhD), experience building diversity and inclusion initiatives in a corporate setting, and proven performance in various roles during a military career.

But he says that his military experiences — including growing up as part of a military family — have been especially valuable in shaping his world view. During his father’s military career, the family lived in multiple parts of the world — “from Texas to Okinawa.” Dr. Haynes, an African-American, recalls one memorable period growing up on a well-integrated military base near Atlanta, Georgia as battles over segregation, particularly in the public schools, continued throughout the region.

“On the base, many of my friends were white, Latino, Asian — we lived next door to each other, we slept over at each others’ houses,” he says. “And so, when we were bussed off base to the city’s public schools, it was a total shock that almost everything was still segregated.”

Likewise, he credits military experience with imparting good lessons about diversity and inclusion, noting that it brings people together from different backgrounds. “That’s the real richness of the military, and one reason why organizations like Highmark Health actively recruit military talent,” he says. “People with military experience are used to working with others from different backgrounds and working to get the mission done.”

The Opportunities of a Military Career

Dr. Haynes’ exposure to the military wasn’t limited to his father’s 25 years of service. He can name a dozen other veterans in his immediate family and describes his decision to join the Army as “a natural transition. From my family background, I knew what it meant to go into the military and the opportunities it provided.”

He made that decision after two years in college, entering the Army as an E3 specialist, and quickly earning a promotion to E4. “I always stress this: I was in college part time, working in a retail store — and then a year and a half later I was in Germany serving as the logistics clerk for over $100 million of military artillery, weapons, and vehicles,” he says. “For individuals who may be doing something they don’t even want to do in civilian life, the military provides rich and broad opportunities to expand your skill set and learn.”

He adds that joining the Army did more than just expand his individual skills — what resonated most for him was experiencing the esprit de corps or “group spirit.”

“You work with individuals from different backgrounds — from California surfer guys to African-Americans from urban cities and everyone in between — but you all come together for a mission and you share a commitment to that mission,” he explains. “You develop a bond that is hard to even describe. Those experiences ingrained a high level of confidence in building teamwork and getting the mission done.”

After two years of active duty, Dr. Haynes joined the National Guard, went to Officer Candidate school, and earned his degrees. He says he thought deeply about pursuing a legal career in the military as part of the Judge Advocate General Corps (“JAG”) before eventually transitioning to a civilian career.

Using Lessons from the Army to Build a Career in Health Care

Dr. Lonie Haynes bio photoDr. Haynes first began working with what is now the Highmark Health Diversity and Inclusion team in 2012 under Sara Oliver-Carter. Before she retired in 2016, Dr. Haynes says that Oliver-Carter typically took the lead on strategic planning, while he ensured that the projects and programs they initiated were implemented to full capacity.

That touches on one of the many lessons Dr. Haynes says he learned in the military: respect for the chain of command. “It’s so important to respect the people you work for, who’s in your chain of command — and if you are asked to do something, you do it,” he says. “If there’s a problem, then respectfully let the appropriate person know, or say, ‘I need to verify that with my boss.’ That type of chain of command really creates order within an organization.”

Throughout his career, one of Dr. Haynes’ primary focuses has been to help Highmark Health attract, retain, and develop veteran talent. He notes that although his own transition to a civilian career (including moving from Atlanta to Pittsburgh) wasn’t bad, he understands the challenges that many veterans face, including finding a supportive community. Building a strong community of veterans and a support system for veterans coming to work at Highmark Health has been one of his most prominent achievements.

Valuing Veterans and Creating a Community

Dr. Haynes says that, while “many companies will hire veterans because they think it’s the right thing to do, not all companies are developing veteran talent as well as they could.”

In particular, he says veterans have innate leadership skills that aren’t always tapped when they enter a corporate environment. “I always remind the business that veterans have a built-in compass around being determined, dependable, and dedicated,” he says. “Regardless of job titles they may or may not have had in the past, they almost always bring a core skill set that includes project management, teamwork and a mission-driven attitude. They get the mission done without looking for praise for themselves — it’s all about the team.” He adds that data shows that a military veteran will stay with an employer twice as long as a civilian employee.

But to benefit from veteran employees, he notes, organizations must avoid common misconceptions about veterans, understand that not all of a veteran’s strengths and skills will fit neatly on a corporate resume, and create a supportive, inclusive culture where veterans can thrive.

That’s why he has been integral to helping to develop a Business Resource Group (BRG) called V.E.T.S. (Voices of Employees That have Served). The work of this BRG deserves a whole article (coming soon!) but to note just a few of its activities:

  • Runs a “buddy system” so newly hired veterans have an ally to help them navigate the organization as well as non-work things like where to find a house, schools, or recreation.
  • Partners with the organization’s talent acquisition staff to help attract veterans, from attending recruiting events to translating corporate and military jargon to helping applicants develop resumes that better reflect their skills and experience.
  • Works with marketing and sales teams to support veteran-related causes in the community, including partnering with groups like the United Way and the Veterans Leadership Program.

Dr. Haynes is quick to note that the success of V.E.T.S. is driven by support from corporate champion Deb Rice, president of Highmark Health Plans. Similarly, he credits Rice with helping in a more recent achievement: establishing an enterprise-wide Military Advisory Council, led by Rice and including senior executives throughout the organization. The new council’s mission is to continue improving the hiring, retention and development of veteran talent.

He says that all of these efforts — the Military Advisory Council, V.E.T.S., programs from the Diversity and Inclusion team, and the commitment of leaders across the organization — combine to elevate Highmark Health’s status as an employer that supports veterans. “We are doing much better, but it’s also an ongoing learning process,” he says. “I think we do well in reaching out to other organizations, and getting recommendations and references from current employees, and just understanding the military culture better. But we can still continue improving how well the overall Highmark Health culture is prepared to receive veterans and help them stay.”

He emphasizes that this comes full circle in creating a culture of diversity in general. “What is unique about veterans is that they’ve had an experience that most civilians will never have: working with people from different backgrounds to accomplish a mission,” he says. “In the military, you are assigned to people that you may never have spoken to otherwise, but you learn to trust and depend on each other to accomplish your mission. If we harnessed that in a civilian workspace, we would see astronomical changes.”