Maria Hughes Brings New Perspective to Humana’s New I&D Role

Maria Hughes Brings New Perspective to Humana’s New I&D Role

Health insurance giant Humana recently elevated the role of diversity and inclusion in the company with the creation of a new C-level position to oversee the function and direct its initiatives, naming longtime executive Maria Hughes to fill the role of chief inclusion & diversity officer — deliberately reversing the traditional D&I title to reflect its renewed focus.

Hughes, who spent 15 years at Ford Motor Credit Co. before joining Humana 11 years ago, has spent her career in operational and enterprise leadership roles. This background — not typical of D&I practitioners, who usually come from a human resources discipline — enables Hughes to bring a different perspective to the role.

DiversityInc spoke with Hughes, who discussed how her varied background informs her approach. She also shared Humana’s commitment to inclusion and recognition of its value for business objectives, culture and creating healthier communities.

Q: You don’t come to this role with the typical HR background. How has coming at diversity and inclusion with a different perspective helped you so far in this role, and how do you think it will help you as you progress through the role?

A: My broad leadership experience has been valuable. It has enabled me to quickly connect inclusion and diversity to business priorities, align leaders and key partners involved in executing the I&D strategy and recognize the complexity of integrating inclusion and diversity into the fabric of the organization.

In order for inclusion and diversity to be successful in our organization, it has to be connected to our values, sustainable and drive business outcomes.

My previous role involved leading a large service operations organization, as well as implementing new processes and technologies to improve the consumer experience. Evolving our employee experience, redesigning processes to eliminate bias and identifying ways to better leverage technology and data analytics is critical to advancing inclusion and diversity.

Maria Hughes Brings New Perspective to Humana’s New I&D Role

Q: So Humana’s decision to create your role with the title of “inclusion and diversity” rather than the traditional “diversity and inclusion” was deliberate for those reasons?

A: Absolutely. Diversity is important, but it’s also a more narrow view by focusing on representation and differences like ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and religion. We view inclusion as being much broader. It includes having a culture where all employees can thrive and are encouraged to reach their highest potential.

While it’s important to have a workforce that represents the communities we serve, we also strive to have a culture that leverages differences to drive innovation, quality, and productivity. Having leaders throughout the organization take personal accountability for inclusion is part of our culture evolution.

Q: As the first person in this role, were you involved in the creation of the position before you came on in terms of how it would operate and what it would encompass?

A: Yes, I was involved in defining the scope and accountabilities of this position. I’ve also spent time talking to senior leaders throughout company and visiting employees in local market offices. Although this role is aligned to Human Resources, I work with the CEO and the Executive Inclusion and Diversity Council to develop our I&D strategy, set company-wide goals and prioritize initiatives.

Q: How did Humana come to the decision or to the conclusion that now was the time to create this role and to prioritize it as a C-level position?

A: Creating this role was a thoughtful component of our broader culture transformation effort, which includes preparing for the future workforce.

Q: How are you going to be measuring results? Do you have specific initial goals that you’re pursuing?

A: We measure results and have specific goals connected to leadership-level representation. Annually, we survey all employees to measure the inclusiveness of our culture and create a score called the “inclusion index.” We also set specific “inclusion index” goals. We will continue to refine how we measure effectiveness and report results at the company and business-unit level.

Q: Prior to creating the C-level role, what was Humana doing to implement and promote diversity management initiatives, and how do you intend to build on that?

A: We’ve built a solid foundation. Currently, there are eight network resource groups, including “Access,” the Disability NRG that was launched last month. My goal is to mature our capabilities and evolve the I&D practice. We’ve recently launched a new Executive I&D council and held I&D Town Halls to better collaborate with key partners in the business. Our I&D strategy has four main components — our workforce, building a culture of inclusion, creating healthier communities and leveraging external partnerships.

Q: What is the process to actually go about expanding the resource groups and communicating their existence and benefits companywide?

A: There are several steps that include looking at best practices, business needs and conducting employee focus groups to determine interests and challenges. We involve employees upfront in the design, work with the Executive I&D council to identify executive sponsors and think about succession management to identify employees for leadership roles. We leverage the network resource group leadership positions to develop and recognize top talent. We hold an annual NRG Summit and leverage internal communications to highlight accomplishments and value.

Q: How do you communicate to team members or educate people who may not be fully aware of the business benefits of diversity, and who may think of inclusion and diversity simply as trying to fill quotas and implementing affirmative action?

A: We communicate to employees throughout the organization and leverage multiple communication channels, including social media. We highlight successes, leading practices and areas of opportunity, and we help employees understand the important role they play in I&D.

Members of our Executive I&D Council also play a vital role in communicating the goals and benefits of I&D to the enterprise. We also publish a comprehensive Annual I&D report.

Q: You mentioned the importance of senior leadership involvement to effectively communicate and roll out I&D initiatives. How involved and receptive has your CEO been?

A: Our CEO, Bruce Broussard, chairs the Executive Inclusion and Diversity Council, which also includes members of his leadership team. He is very involved and has challenged the council to accelerate our inclusion & diversity efforts. Inclusion and diversity is a CEO-level priority at Humana, and our goal is for all leaders to take personal accountability for the success of inclusion and diversity. This includes encouraging open and candid dialog during difficult times.

Q: You shared how your personal experiences in the workforce have helped inform how you approach your role today and your ability to transform culture. Can you elaborate on that?

A: At Humana, I was the founding president of the African American network resource group, the company’s first network resource group. I learned that being involved in a network resource group builds leadership skills, provides developmental opportunities and offers exposure to senior leaders. In my previous role, I was a member of the Executive I&D Council’s workplace committee.

I’ve also participated in several mentoring and sponsorship programs that were very impactful from a career and personal perspective. I learned that it’s valuable to have a mentor who doesn’t look like you. Mentoring is a good opportunity for both parties to learn and grow. Being involved in network resource groups, mentoring and sponsorships helped shape me as a leader, and I’m excited about the I&D leadership role. The work we do has a direct impact on the 50,000 employees and 12 million members that we serve.

Q: How do you define success, and where do you see your efforts today five years from now because I was involved in things like mentoring and sponsorship and network resource groups, I very intimately learned and appreciated the value of those?

A: To me, real success is when inclusion and diversity is part of what we do every day and is seen as a business imperative. Differences are celebrated and used to drive innovation, create personalized experiences for our members, and retain and advance top talent.

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