Back in 2020, Culture Amp played a crucial role in Covered California's DEI journey, offering support from templates to raw conversations on addressing racism. Culture Amp’s people science in partnership with Covered California’s internal efforts led to increased engagement, bolstered retention, and cost savings on training and onboarding investments. Read more about the start of Covered California’s DEI and employee experience journey here. Fast forward a few years later and Culture Amp continues to be the tool of choice in supercharging their employee experience and DEI strategy.
For context, Covered California is committed to providing Californians with affordable, high-quality healthcare coverage, thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Typically, the organization serves Californians who can’t get employer insurance, are between jobs and looking for insurance coverage, or are just on the cusp of not qualifying for Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program.
As a state agency, Covered California serves one of the most diverse populations in the US. Naturally, there's a significant focus on diversity and inclusion to authentically connect with the communities it serves and effectively fulfill its mission. In recent years, the organization realized the equal importance of embedding DEI ideas into its workplace culture to build an environment where everyone can thrive.
Abigail McEntee (Abi) joined Covered California nearly seven years ago, bringing her background in politics and education advocacy to the organization. Her efforts and impactful work over the years led to her current role as Deputy Director of the Office of Organizational Culture, Inclusion, and Engagement, where she oversees the organization's diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, team building, and employee engagement, among other duties.
Challenge: Fostering an inclusive workplace where everyone feels valued and respected
In 2020, Covered California faced the challenge of creating a strategy to cultivate inclusivity and belonging within the organization. With a limited budget and a workforce of more than 1,400 employees, the organization faced the difficult task of building a culture where DEI initiatives resulted in active, lived outcomes.
"We were not only unaware of how our employees were feeling about DEI, but we also lacked any means to understand if certain subsets of our employee population were experiencing things differently than others. We didn't have a solid starting ground. Essentially, we didn't know what we didn't know.”
Abi quickly realized Covered California needed to dig deep into how employees felt to ensure their voice was heard throughout this strategic process. This process started with a DEI work group and developing a roadmap for the organization to identify clear goals for its DEI work and plan to move forward.
Solution: A multifaceted DEI strategy with meaningful impact across the organization
Covered California set out to develop a DEI strategy from scratch, underscoring the universal truth that true progress is born from within. To effectively accomplish this, the organization implemented multiple measures – including partnering with Culture Amp – to lay the groundwork for its mission of supporting a diverse, welcoming workplace where everyone felt a sense of belonging.
A DEI framework to set the right foundation
Initially, Covered California launched a DEI work group with representatives from approximately 15 divisions to actively shape the changes needed to foster inclusivity. From there, the organization collaborated with an external consultant to undergo an in-depth assessment and develop a robust DEI framework to set the direction for future initiatives.
The proposed roadmap prioritized four key focus areas:
- A data-driven approach toward DEI
- Optimizing the talent lifecycle to recruit and maintain a diverse workforce
- Providing a space where every individual can bring their whole selves to work and reach their professional potential
- Expanding the organization’s infrastructure to support, promote, and drive the DEI strategy
DEI surveys through Culture Amp that ensured transparency
Understanding the necessity to work from a data-informed position, Covered California used Culture Amp to run regular, anonymous DEI surveys. Unlike generic demographic surveys that restricted data transparency, Culture Amp gathered feedback on seven evidence- and research-based constructs within diversity and inclusion.
“This was an opportunity for people to share candidly with us, and we hoped that they would. We have always encouraged voices here, but this was a new type of voice we were asking about. We've never asked people about sensitive questions like how much voice they have in decision-making or if they feel safe in certain situations.”
The responses were openly shared with all employees, from leadership to the frontline, to encourage hard but much-needed conversations across the organization. More importantly, the data-driven approach facilitated by Culture Amp helped Abi present a compelling business case to leadership to invest in DEI.
"The beauty of these surveys is that people can leave comments for us. So, we not only see the positive scores in specific areas, but we also go through these comments. Truthfully, our CEO and the chief deputies personally review every one of the thousands of comments we receive – often more than 4,000. These comments then drive our work for the following year. If they see a gap, or if something doesn't quite resonate or goes amiss, we have a conversation about it. So, we hold ourselves accountable through the surveys facilitated by Culture Amp in a big way."
Partnership with Culture Amp’s people science experts
The senior leadership team at Covered California, alongside a 17-member DEI workgroup, also took the opportunity to collaborate with Culture Amp's Global Director of Customer People Science, Ken Matos, as part of Culture Amp’s PS+ program. They spent significant time delving deeper into the DEI survey data, reviewing over 1,000 written comments that supplemented the quantitative survey results.
Additionally, Culture Amp offered meaningful insights through expanded results interpretation training. Through this process, Culture Amp helped Covered California frame these responses in a way that acknowledges DEI challenges while driving positive change, and offered suggestions on how to prioritize actions.
Ultimately, working closely with Culture Amp’s people science experts allowed the Covered California team to appreciate the data's depth and breadth. Through this collaboration, Abi and the rest of the team moved beyond fixating on specific data points and, instead, stepped back to look at the big picture.
Strategic DEI pillars to embed inclusivity throughout the organization
Abi and other senior leaders believed that it wasn’t just enough to talk about DEI – they needed to embody these principles. To do that, Covered California rolled out a three-year strategic plan embedding DEI across all organizational pillars, ensuring inclusivity and belonging are considered in every aspect of the work.
“At Covered California, this approach is fundamental not only to improve the health and experiences of our consumers, but also to cultivate and maintain a workforce that embodies our core values and mirrors the diversity of the people we serve."
To ensure continuous growth and alignment among all employees, the team frequently refers to these organizational pillars and core values while holding themselves accountable.
DEI speaker series to improve belongingness in the workplace
Covered California also launched a DEI speaker series, featuring both internal and external experts who discuss key DEI topics.
With quantitative and qualitative DEI survey data in mind, Covered California designed the speaker series to resonate with the entire workforce, engaging both those who are hesitant and those eager for deeper involvement by presenting DEI content in a digestible way.
Thanks to internal engagement and pro bono speakers, this series has had a profound impact in just four sessions, despite a modest annual budget of $4,000. In conjunction with other initiatives like the Culture Corner, DEI article in the monthly newsletter, and identity guidance campaign, the speaker series really resonated with Covered California’s employees.
Results: Increased sense of employee belonging and active DEI engagement
Culture Amp’s surveys informed Covered California’s strategic decisions, laying the foundational elements of the organization’s DEI work. And it has already paid off. Employees report experiencing the tangible effects of Covered California’s efforts, including:
86% approval of Covered California’s DEI speaker series, illustrating the effectiveness of the organization’s efforts to reinforce the importance of DEI.
10% surge in perceived DEI progress across the organization, based on survey responses.
500+ comments attributing the positive impact to multiple DEI initiatives, rather than a single action driving the change. Key contributors included the DEI speaker series, an informative DEI web page on the employee hub, the strategic DEI roadmap, phonetic name pronunciation and pronoun feature, Culture Corner, and the incorporation of DEI in the monthly newsletter.
“Thanks to Culture Amp for providing us the data-driven guidance to push the envelope on building a culture of equity, respect, and belonging at Covered California,” said Emanuel Melgarejo, a career service specialist at Covered California, who previously held a position as a DEI specialist.
Want to learn more about Covered California’s holistic approach to DEI?
Watch our recent webinar with Abigail McEntee, Nurturing DEI: A Case Study of Covered California’s Transformation.