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Lokvani Talks To Karen Young

Anil Saigal and Ranjani Saigal

Karen Young serves as VP & Chief Inclusion Officer of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, a regional health services company-serving members throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. In her current role she is responsible to catalyze and advance Harvard Pilgrim’s company-wide commitment to put inclusion in the forefront of everything we do.   Reporting directly to Harvard Pilgrim’s President & CEO, she leads the Center for Inclusion Initiatives and provides direction for six tracks intended to deliver business results: Marketplace, Workplace, Supplier/Vendor, Health Care Equity, Community and Enterprise Leadership. 

Prior to this role, she held the position of Director, Learning, Development and Inclusion and was responsible for value creation through organization development, learning, development and inclusion for business and workplace outcomes.  Her previous experience includes consulting to businesses in the areas of organizational change and learning strategies. 

Ms. Young holds an MSW from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Barrington College.  She has also completed a Certificate Program in Photography from the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Ms. Young is the recipient of the 2016 Carl Sciortino Ally award from the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and has received the Compassion, Courage and Professionalism Award from the Northeast Human Resources Association for her practice of human resource management.  Ms. Young currently serves on the Board of Directors of Boston Alliance of Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Youth (BAGLY) and is a Member of the Perkins School for the Blind Corporation. 

She talked to Lokvani about her work as Chief Inclusion Officer. 

Could you tell us a little about your role at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care? 

I have the honor of being Harvard Pilgrim’s Chief Inclusion Officer, leading our business strategy to value difference and create value through difference.  This role was created by and reports directly to our President and CEO Eric Schultz, who sees inclusion as a key aspect of Harvard Pilgrim delivering its mission as a health services company.  The team at the core of the initiative is the Center for Inclusion Initiatives (CII).  Along with business leaders and enterprise wide teams dedicated to results, CII serves as a catalyst and guide to grow the company’s capability for greater inclusion, manage efforts in targeted areas and achieve results. 

Why is it important to have a focus on inclusion in the marketplace? How does that specifically impact the delivery of service? 

At Harvard Pilgrim, we believe that in health care, one size does not fit all and that being attuned to differences makes us a stronger company.   We have found that paying close attention to the concerns of the various communities we serve – and building a business strategy to address those needs – benefits all of us.   We are giving an increasing amount of thought to how we talk about insurance and making sure that our member experience is delivered with language and accessibility options that meet our members’ needs and allow us to keep learning as a health plan.

Is a focus on inclusion in the supplier/vendor selection more for fairness or does it actually have an impact on the business? 

Understanding and expanding the diversity of our partnerships is good for us as an organization, and also for valued partners/organizations with which there’s a strategic alignment.  Interacting with vendors has allowed us to form valuable ties with diverse communities where there is mutual benefit. Our vendor/supplier program allows us to contribute to economic development, and we believe that’s good for everyone. 

How does inclusion efforts at Harvard Pilgrim differ from others in the industry? 

Many companies talk about inclusion, but it’s equally important to develop a structure where it can flourish.   We’ve purposely established a strategic framework that is enterprise wide.  We have opportunities to focus not only on our own workplace, but have expanded the focus to an enterprise business strategy.  Over the last six years, diversity and inclusion have been evolving discussions for us where people have shared their ideas in very different ways.  Some of the insights have been strategic, others pragmatic.  Many of the best ideas have come from personal life experiences.  All have been helpful in determining our course towards greater engagement with diverse communities.   As an example, Priyanka Dalvi, a member of Harvard Pilgrim’s Inclusion Advisory Team, suggested that we consider offering short-term medical coverage for family members visiting from India.  We now offer Visiting Family medical coverage for these international travelers.   

What do you like most about your job? 

This position has given me a unique and welcome chance to be strategic and leverage my own viewpoint in a highly impactful way. My colleagues at Harvard Pilgrim are wonderful and our connections to the community are evolving in a very thoughtful and productive way.  I am delighted to be focused on creating meaningful change.   

What are some of the challenges to making inclusion a reality? 

Harvard Pilgrim’s vision is that inclusion is for and about everyone, not just some parts of the company and some communities.  As a result, we need to continuously reinforce the definition of inclusion and its impact and value for all of us.  Other challenges come in the form of influencing the assessment of impact and sequencing of inclusion – for example, advising that even though something might appear to impact only a small number of people, the actual impact is far greater; and providing guidance about the increased value of inclusion in the early stages of a project or initiative design. And, by far, the greatest challenge to address is understanding and interrupting unconscious bias in oneself and others. 

 We as a community are grateful for the outreach to the South Asian community.  What special partnerships with our community has been impactful? 

INE Multimedia and Saheli have both been highly successful South Asian community partnerships for us.

There is a level of excellence, service and community mindedness that is shared by the South Asian community and Harvard Pilgrim that is very reinforcing for our mission.  Through our sponsorships of both organizations, we have not only supported important community programs, but we’ve also had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the South Asian community’s needs and wants concerning health care. 

As a result of interactions with the South Asian employer community, we have introduced Eastern Harmony – a program that combines the traditions of western medicine with those of India and China.  While designed for South Asian and Asian employers, it also expands choice for our other members too.  We also added acupuncture as a covered benefit on our commercial plans nearly two years ago, and have received much positive feedback on it, both from inside and outside the Indian community.  In developing our alternative medicine capabilities, it has also been very helpful to receive guidance from wonderful partners, such as Jay Gupta, with his focus on therapeutic yoga and mindfulness as a way to better health.  

What can the community do to gain from Harvard Pilgrim? 

The community’s suggestions for new products and services have been very helpful.  We look forward to receiving additional suggestions to benefit the community.  We are also happy to share best practices and lessons learned from our inclusion strategy in ways that might benefit the community.  As an employer, we welcome your interest in a career at Harvard Pilgrim.  As a purchaser, we welcome your interest in being a vendor/supplier at Harvard Pilgrim. 

South Asians have a big presence in the healthcare field. What can we do as a community to advance the mission of bringing high quality low cost care to the country as a whole? 

There is much work to be done to offer high quality, cost-effective health care to everyone.  We welcome opportunities to advance that mission and pursue innovative answers to health care’s many challenges in partnership with health care professionals in the South Asian Community, and talented young people also seeking ways to make contributions to our industry.

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