Joy Fitzgerald, Chief DEI Officer of UnitedHealth Group, on D&I being a top priority

Joy Fitzgerald, Chief DEI Officer, UnitedHealth Group, stresses how diversity and inclusion initiatives can strengthen a workforce. She discusses the need for workers to feel empowered and included, and why a sense of belonging matters in the workplace today.

Joy Fitzgerald Diversity Officer

The HR Digest: You have seen ups and downs in the past years. What experiences inspired you to do better in terms of global diversity initiatives?

This is my third time in the role of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. I have had several experiences throughout my life and career that have inspired me to focus on what I consider to be my life’s work, which is to serve others and normalize differences in a way in which they are valued.

I recall a time in my career when someone connected with me after a meeting and said, “Stop apologizing for who you are. When being who you are is not enough, give them the gift of goodbye.” This struck me to my core and inspired me to help others bring their authentic selves forward, which I believe is the best version of us all.

My grandmother used to tell me that people can’t dream what they don’t see. I believe that the world needs us to visualize dreams in many shapes, sizes and demographics and I want to be a pioneer to help people accept and value the differences we all bring. This individual reminded me about the importance of expressing my authentic self and my unique perspective.

Today, I am inspired to normalize differences so those experiences can be seen as an attribute to an organization instead of a risk. I am often in meetings where I am the only person who looks like me and I want to shift that paradigm. I hope that we can evolve this view for people currently in the workforce and for future generations. 

The HR Digest: What major changes under Diversity and Equity stood out positively for UnitedHealth Group after you recently joined the company?

Joining UnitedHealth Group, I was most impressed by the level of commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives across the company at all levels, from executives to team members. There is no absence of people who are trying to make a difference. I see my role as channeling their passion to accelerate the great work that has already been done and the work that is in progress.

One example of our recent work is the formation of the Equity Advancement Board (EAB) in 2020, which is comprised of senior executives from across the company who guide our strategy to advance equity. The EAB works in collaboration with our Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Office, our Human Capital organization and our internal DEI business councils to enable a more diverse health workforce and inclusive workplace.

I have worked closely with the EAB to create a strategic framework that will advance our ability to make progress against our goals.

The HR Digest: What DE&I strategies have you helped UnitedHealth Group implement to add success to the industry?

I have helped UnitedHealth Group create strategies that will amplify our efforts. One example is that we are starting an executive DEI sponsorship program, which will help advance the development of underrepresented talent across our organization, ensuring these employees gain visibility and have access to professional development and advancement opportunities.

Another program I am working on is to create enterprise-wide diversity, equity and inclusion advisory councils, which will draw insights from diverse leaders to inform and guide our talent and people strategies. These councils will be formed by a group of trusted advisors representing specific demographics who will provide thought partnership and advice for those demographics.

A third initiative is to create a more consistent common language across our company to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion. UnitedHealth Group is comprised of 340,000 employees, and it is important to create shared language and shared meaning to develop a stronger culture of inclusion.

The HR Digest: How can you tell if you’ve succeeded in convincing executives to bring more diverse talent on board, or if they are simply paying lip service to the idea?

I can tell if a leader is committed to increasing the diversity of their workforce when they are willing to sponsor this work. When they are willing to set aspirational goals and hold themselves and their leaders accountable to increasing the diversity of their teams, I know that they are committed.

Second, when a leader is willing to put processes in place, so every slate of talent is representative of gender and race and their interviewing teams are also representative, that is another strong sign.

And finally, we collectively know that we are succeeding when our retention metrics show our employees are staying with the company. When that is the case, we know that we are not only bringing in diverse talent, but also creating an inclusive environment where they can thrive and do their best work.

The HR Digest: What’s next for UnitedHealth Group?

At UnitedHealth Group, we have a vision set for the future of our organization, and my role is to help advance this vision. We have a robust agenda and I’ll share three of our priorities.

First, we are focused on increasing the diversity of our workforce, especially among the senior levels of our organization.

Second, we are engaging in work to ensure we understand the lived experiences of our employees, particularly where there are differences. We have an opportunity to learn from them and the ways we can better support their work experience.

And third, we are providing more education for our leaders and our workforce on how to create and contribute to an even more inclusive environment. This is critical for what’s next for us, that we continuously seek to understand more about our employee experience across the company.

Our employees are the drivers behind our mission, to help people live healthier lives and to help make the health system work better for everyone. We are all committed to advancing our diversity, equity and inclusion so that we can better support the communities we serve. 

Diana Coker
Diana Coker is a staff writer at The HR Digest, based in New York. She also reports for brands like Technowize. Diana covers HR news, corporate culture, employee benefits, compensation, and leadership. She loves writing HR success stories of individuals who inspire the world. She’s keen on political science and entertains her readers by covering usual workplace tactics.

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