Making a difference in your business through diversity, equity and inclusion

By Rheaana Guess on April 21, 2022 in Corporate Social Responsibility


At Delta Dental of Illinois, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is more than hiring and retaining a diverse pool of talented professionals. It’s also creating a workplace environment where employees feel seen, heard and respected.

Delta Dental of Illinois has a diverse customer base and works with many diverse partners and communities. To fully serve our customers, partners and communities, we’ve done our best to have an equally diverse workforce. Our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are vital to what we sell, how we serve and how we operate.

Ways to enhance DEI in your company:

Strive to make your office safe for constructive, two-way communication. According to our employee survey results, 97% of employees expressed confidence in organization leadership and 93% agreed that Delta Dental of Illinois leadership is open to employee input. Impressively, 99% of employees strongly agreed that company communication is frequent and detailed.

“As a woman, I know all too well the experience of not feeling heard, but the authenticity and passion of this team and our organization created the safe spaces needed to do this work and lay the foundation of open two-way communication,” said Jess Vavra, foundation and community benefit program manager at Delta Dental of Illinois. “I love how this work does not have an endpoint – it is a journey with endless opportunities for learning and growth.” 

Provide opportunities and resources for cross-cultural understanding to empower all employees. Not only will this enable employees to connect and understand one another, but it also allows them to understand your clients and surrounding communities. One way we achieve this is through our Lunch & Learn events during the year, which are accompanied with a matching gift for the organization/cause of the speaker of that particular event. The first Lunch & Learn this year was in recognition of Black History Month, where we were joined by special guest Shanta Nurullah, a musician, artist and storyteller. She used instruments, song and spoken word to depict the journey of Black Americans in our nation.

We also held a Lunch & Learn during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month last year, which included a bystander intervention training led by Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago in partnership with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Chicago and Hollaback. The training educated Delta Dental of Illinois employees on identifying hate incidents as they happen and how to take action safely. Our employees are taking note of these efforts, with 97% reporting that Delta Dental of Illinois is fostering a culture of diversity.

“Delta Dental has a very diverse workforce. I especially enjoy hearing and learning about the various ethnic cultures and traditions of our enterprise,” said Ed Blazonczyk, financial reporting analyst at Delta Dental of Illinois. “Diverse backgrounds and experiences contribute to diverse solutions and greater productivity.”

Create a hiring process that is both intentional and strategic. Connect directly with potential candidates by targeting local diverse professional organizations and university groups. This approach shows prospective hires that your company is committed to recruiting diverse talent. We post specific positions within national and local diverse professional organizations like the Chicago Chapter of The National Association of Black Accountants and the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources. We have also started partnering with area community colleges and will begin increased engagement with local university affinity groups as students return to campus and host more in-person recruiting events. 

Build a benefits package based on what your employees truly want and need. Use your employees’ direct feedback to identify the most important benefits to them. It’s valuable to recognize that what’s important to a diverse population is always evolving. At Delta Dental of Illinois, we’re committed to holding ourselves accountable to delivering what our employees tell us they need.

We have taken this approach and made some of our programs more equitable. Our annual tuition reimbursement was increased by 75% to increase educational opportunities for our employees. A more robust paid parental leave was created to benefit all parents, and a volunteer time off policy was made to encourage our team members to contribute to the communities where they live and work. The eligibility period for medical and dental benefits was also shortened from 60 to 30 days, and the maximum weekly short-term disability benefit was increased by 50% to drive forward inclusivity and support for all employees.

Offer opportunities for your employees to get involved in DEI efforts. Delta Dental of Illinois has a dedicated DEI team made up of diverse employees from 10 different corporate departments at seven different job levels and varying tenures. We also communicate our DEI efforts in our monthly internal newsletter, weekly update emails, team meetings and more as needed.

“The simple fact that we recognized the need for DEI at Delta Dental of Illinois constitutes a major step forward. However, there is a gap between acknowledging a fact and doing something about it. Delta Dental of Illinois is doing something about it,” said Laurend Doumba, Director of Underwriting at Delta Dental of Illinois.

Preventing DEI fatigue:

Embrace the joy that comes with diversity and inclusion. Take time to remember that the goal of DEI is to recognize, celebrate and embrace the differences that make everyone unique. People are more motivated to put in hard work when they’re celebrated — it’s simply human nature — which is why it’s critical to weave joy into DEI work.

“Following the social unrest of 2020, I was hyperaware of the work that I felt I needed to do to better advocate for people of color. I knew that joining the DEI team would be a great opportunity to have a voice and be an integral part of the change I was hoping to see,” said Michelle Govan, operations project coordinator at Delta Dental of Illinois. “I have truly expanded my understanding of what DEI is and it brings me great happiness to share the work our team is doing with my family, friends and community.”

Make space for the recognition of difference through enjoying commonalities like exploring art, food, dance theater and music. This is when true engagement and understanding occur, and subsequently when real progress is seen. At Delta Dental of Illinois, we have highlighted the joy of DEI through our regular internal communication channels, cultural cooking demonstrations and musical performances, as well as an engaging video on employee holiday traditions.

Offer opportunities for professional development and growth to ensure all employees are engaged. In late 2021, Delta Dental of Illinois joined Chicago United, a Chicago-based professional membership organization that seeks to achieve economic opportunity parity for people of color. Chicago United does this by advancing multiracial leadership in corporate governance, expanding the talent pipeline for executive-level management and growing minority businesses.

Chicago United membership allows racially diverse and majority CEOs and executive-level management to share common experiences to promote diversity and inclusion. For example, the Chicago United Corporate Inclusion Institute is a year-long cluster program where a diverse fellow, manager or director and a corporate sponsor participate in a variety of professional workshops, simulations and 1:1 training sessions to develop as both an individual and leader. In February 2022, eight Delta Dental of Illinois employees started their Chicago United Corporate Inclusion Institute journey.

Training to make a difference:

Training plays a key role in Delta Dental of Illinois’ DEI work. We focus our training on what makes an inclusive culture by continuously keeping a pulse on what our employees think we are doing well, where we may fall short and how we can best support them. What we are doing has been working as 95% of our current employees report being satisfied with Delta Dental of Illinois as an employer, and the New Hire Survey in 2021 showed 97% of our new hires were satisfied with the company and their immediate team lead and 85% were happy with the level of training. 

We have revamped training on inclusive leadership skills, engaging and facilitating two-way communication and identifying unconscious biases in hiring and employment. There are many types of unconscious bias. One of them is an affinity bias, which refers to people’s tendency to gravitate toward people like themselves. This might look like hiring or promoting someone that shares the same race, gender, age or educational background. The opportunity for companies here is to do their best to ensure candidates slated for open positions include at least two qualified women alongside two others from underrepresented groups. At Delta Dental of Illinois, we require all employees to complete an eight-part DEI training module, and we will be holding a company-wide unconscious bias training this year.

Delta Dental of Illinois also offers various informal sessions for employees to share and learn, and we have a DEI-specific channel on our employee intranet and resources in our online HR and payroll platform that includes training materials. Employee support for these events is strong, with over 70% of employees having attended a lunch and learn last year.

“DEI isn’t only a task at work. It’s life. It’s how you live. And it’s every day,” said Rebecca Beardsley, marketing communications coordinator.

Learn more about how Delta Dental of Illinois promotes a culture of inclusivity, offers advancement opportunities and fosters an open dialogue around diversity, equity and inclusion.