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Tufts Health Plan has been a part of Pacesetters since the program’s inception in 2018.
Pacesetters, a program of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, understand the economic case for inclusion by increasing supplier diversity spend across local, state and national partnerships with businesses of color. Through the Pacesetters program, procurement practices emerge as an equity tool and a runway for action on creating systemic and economic opportunity. We chatted with the Tufts Health Plan’s DEI & Procurement leadership for an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at how they have led their teams to tackle diversity, equity, and inclusion from the inside out.
Juan Lopera, Business Diversity Officer , has been a proponent of Pacesetters since the program first launched in 2018, but his leadership in the diversity & inclusion space has been his core commitment for years.
Keith Wang, VP, Procurement and Strategic Sourcing, joined the Tufts Health Plan team three years ago.
Getting the buy-in from a business is no easy task, however it is the cornerstone that must be laid before a foundation can even be built. This became the impetus for a change in all facets of diversity, equity, and inclusion work at Tufts Health Plan.
Lopera shares that when Thomas Croswell stepped into his position as President and CEO in early 2016, he worked very closely on answering the question of “why” diversity, equity and inclusion needed to be embedded into all aspects of the business, particularly procurement practices as a way to address wealth inequality, which is a social determinant of health. The business case also revolved around the potential for significant growth, by capturing the fast-growing diverse consumer segments (their findings indicated around $2.2 billion in revenue opportunity) and addressing health disparities that manifest in unnecessary medical cost.
Says Lopera, “we made it a business case that we review & revisit from time to time. We looked at the demographics of the region where we sold our products and the diversity of our customers – and we found that there is a compelling business case for this.” To this day, Tufts Health Plan has done more than $80 million in business with diverse suppliers.
Laying a foundation proved to be only the beginning of this work. In addition to curating a vision, their leadership team had to establish plans across all sectors of their organization.
Some of those plans involved blunt instruments like internal policy changes. Juan shares details of one of the most major changes – a policy that outlined “that for any contract we had to consider at least one diverse supplier in the bidding process. And, if that supplier is not selected for any reason besides price/standard, that choice needed to be justified to the Chief Financial Officer.”
Another change made were technical improvements, such as selecting software that helped advance their company’s internal goals. Tufts Health Plan invested in an online portal where certified diverse suppliers can register as eligible vendors. This software captures their information and provides an easy way for these organizations to have their name in the system, and not just be a potential networking opportunity.
Additionally, the leadership at Tufts Health Plan decided to create a role focused solely on procurement and strategic sourcing. In 2017, they appointed Keith Wang as the Vice President of this operation.
Wang, who sees supplier diversity as the grassroots of supporting the local economy, worked alongside Lopera to catalyze change through practical goals. But, Lopera shares, “like many of these things, they don’t happen overnight. This is DEI in the trenches. You [first] have to make sure it works and [then] help people embrace the new relationship.”
One of the greatest successes of the Tufts Health Plan’s team is connecting with Anthony Samuels and Done Right Building (DRB) Services, a company that provides janitorial, landscaping and snow removal services. Although making the switch caused a few bumps in the road, the leadership at both Tufts Health Plan and DRB Facility Services took a “this cannot fail” attitude, which, ultimately, led to great success.
Wang shares that their company has appreciated the “smaller, more intimate setting for organizations that are similarly minded and have supplier diversity at the forefront of their agenda[s].” Pacesetters allows Tufts Health Plan to share and learn with peers through quarterly meetings with other Pacesetter companies and their procurement leadership. Wang has appreciated hearing how other organizations are tackling the trickier parts of integrating this “DEI in the trenches.”
Lopera shares that when it comes to this business, “there are no secrets.” Everyone must be willing to collaborate to push themselves, their companies, and, ultimately, the future of Boston business.
“Pacesetters has allowed [us] to seize this moment and make it grow significantly. There is a recognition that racism is real, and it permeates everything.”
Although the work is never done, through programs like Pacesetters, the business community can begin to rewrite the narrative of diversity, equity, and inclusion through procurement practices.