Diversity & Inclusion Puts Kaiser Permanente on Top With Employees, Customers

What diversity and inclusion strategies helped this company rise to the DiversityInc Top 50?

Kaiser Permanente COO Bernard Tyson

Can diversity and inclusion help your diverse workforce reach its full potential? Ruling with an iron fist might get the job done, but it won’t help you attain true business growth.

This is the lesson that Bernard Tyson, president and chief operating officer for Kaiser Permanente (No. 3 in The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity), addressed during his presentation at the DiversityInc event in Washington, D.C.

“I like to work with people out of aspiration,” Tyson said, “with the commitment that people are working from their full potential. I will specifically align that to Kaiser Permanente in terms of diversity [and inclusion].” He notes that managing through methods of forced compliance, such as firing and other penalties, causes people to do “the minimum amount they need to get by.”

As a direct report to Kaiser Permanente’s chairman, Tyson knows the value of a strong commitment to diversity at the top levels of an organization. He’s a direct report to Chairman and CEO George Halvorson, who is a vocal proponent of diversity and inclusion. In fact, it’s Kaiser’s diverse board of directors and senior management that thrust them to the top of The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list, and it’s why they were recognized with our 2011 Special Award for Top Company for Executive Development.

Tyson is responsible for the organization’s operations and oversees the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plans. He is executive sponsor for Kaiser Permanente’s initiatives to eliminate healthcare disparities and to promote diversity in the workplace.

Among Kaiser Permanente’s best practices for inspiring diversity:

  • Equity for health. Kaiser Permanente is the only organization that is able to conduct race-based data collection. Its leaders receive a dashboard report each month of health outcomes. “I know how we are doing in every single color and race,” said Tyson, attesting to the impact of good information. Eliminating disparity is the priority agenda.Diversity and inclusion for Kaiser Permanente evolves into a quality-of-care issue. “We know for a fact that as we improve as an organization, the healthcare to all populations is improving,” said Tyson. That’s why the company runs a program to bring farmers markets into low-income Black communities. Healthy eating is critical to good health, but grocery stores in these locations typically do not provide healthy food.
  • Build a representative workforce. “The people in our organization are our most precious asset and resource,” Tyson said. “What I am doing is kid’s play, deciding on a billion dollars here or a million there, deciding on an ad campaign. Someone cutting someone’s chest open, that’s serious business.” He notes that one of his most important roles is to represent Kaiser Permanente’s people.

Kaiser Permanente already employs a diverse workforce, with 42 percent white, 26 percent Asian, 17 percent Native Hawaiian, 13 percent Black and 1 percent American Indian employees. But the company is still striving to improve: It has a goal to increase diversity in upper management.

  • Economically sustainable communities. Kaiser Permanente has an aggressive goal to spend a billion dollars with diverse suppliers over the next five years. (It is already on target to spend $680 million in 2011.) Tyson receives a monthly dashboard of the pipeline to make sure all business is on target. 
  • Healthy environments.Healthcare is an ongoing dedication and extends beyond office visits and doctor appointments. Kaiser Permanente seeks a full return on its investments by getting involved in the communities it serves, spending more than $2 billion a year with major initiatives across the country.
    • Ensuring the most vulnerable populations have access to care
    • Extending reach beyond healthcare in building farmers markets, planting gardens and producing educational theater for children on topics regarding healthy living including sex, bullying and HIV
    • Identifying and impacting social determinants of health

Above all, diversity and inclusion efforts can only be successful under the guidance of inspiring leaders, Tyson said. Kaiser Permanente’s executives set an example by getting involved with charitable organizations. Tyson himself recently worked with Remember Them: Champions for Humanity to create a bronze monument in Oakland, Calif., which depicts 25 international humanitarians. The goal was to make sure future generations don’t forget those who strived for the greater good. The project raised $7 million.

“My role is that I’m trying to create an environment where brilliant people can do brilliant things,” Tyson said.

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