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Top 3 Tips for Retention & Diversity


How labor shortages are presenting immense challenges, what companies can do to retain their people, and how to think creatively about where to recruit talent to ensure a diverse workplace.

Top 3 Tips for Retention & Diversity

Our guests today are Mary O’Hara and Kristin Wood. Mary is the Executive Vice President of People & Engagement at Blue Shield of CA, and Kristin Wood is the VP & Head of Talent. In this episode, we talk about how labor shortages are presenting immense challenges, what companies can do to retain their people, and how to think creatively about where to recruit talent to ensure a diverse workplace.

What we love about Mary and Kristin is their unwavering dedication to people, people, people. They lead with empathy, compassion, and openness. At Blue Shield of CA, they’ve built exemplary programs that create pipelines and pathways for people to grow in their careers and be promoted from within the organization. The programs have been so successful that they’ve exceeded their internal promotion goals for the past several years in a row.

Mary and Kristin are a formidable team who are truly building a people-first organization. The company has earned numerous awards over the past several years. In 2022, Blue Shield of CA was named to the Fortune 100 list of Great Places to Work and recognized as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ by the Human Rights Campaign.

About This Series

Imagine if you could learn from some of the top experts on how to build company cultures where everyone can be fully engaged, feel valued, and have impact. In this series of interviews from GMN’s Leader’s Playbook podcast, we talk with leaders who are laser focused on that mission, including Chief People Officers, Heads of Talent Development, DEI specialists, ESG experts, and more. They candidly reveal the challenges they’re facing during these extraordinary times and share their most effective strategies for creating positive changes that are transforming the future of work. And yes, we also hear about the ideas that did not work. Why? Because the best leaders pay it forward and help others avoid their mistakes.

Labor Shortages & The Great Resignation

We keep hearing about the Great Resignation and how many companies are having trouble finding enough workers to fill jobs. The healthcare industry is certainly not immune to that. It’s an issue that Mary thinks about a lot.

“By 2030, the World Health Organization expects a net shortage of about 15 million health care workers,” Mary says.

15 million? I don’t know about you, but that was a really startling statistic to me.

“It means you’ve got to grow your own. That’s an absolute. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about that,” Mary continues.  “The fact of the matter is that organizations that don’t manage their talent pool internally as very important assets and quite intentionally try to cultivate the potential of the people who work for you, I think you’re potentially doing so at your own peril.”

Commitment to Employee Retention & Talent Development

What I appreciate about Mary and Kristin is they’re open about the skepticism from some people about talent mobility programs, especially among underrepresented groups who sometimes feel like it’s more about checking a box than making a true commitment.

Kristin says they mitigate the skepticism with a two-fold approach. “First…our established commitments are not just at an enterprise level or at a leadership level, but by business unit. And so leaders are on the hook.”

And secondly, Kristin says, “We’ve offered a lot of opportunity for feedback loops to be able to get feedback from individuals, whether leaders or individual contributors, about their experiences.”

Get Creative About Diversity & Inclusion

Mary and Kristin are adamant about aligning Blue Shield’s diversity with the communities they serve. That means not just looking at Ivy League schools or a narrow economic range, but also at public colleges in California and across the country. They also partner with groups like Girls Who Code and the Hispanic technology leaders group HITEC for employee referrals.

“Some are coming in with a lot of education and experience for more leadership roles, and others are more junior,” Kristin says. “We also provide university partnerships where individuals can get an education while they work with us…so we can help everyone to be as developed as they can be.”

These types of efforts are just as good for business as they are for talent.

“We know that these things make us stand apart as an employer,” Mary explains. “It’s also tremendously important for business because you have people who are truly engaged. They’re far more likely to be loyal to your organization and to continuously learn and grow along with the direction of the business.”

Guests in This Episode:

  • Mary O’Hara, Executive Vice President, People and Engagement, Blue Shield of California | LinkedIn
  • Kristin Wood, PhD, Vice President, Head of Talent, Blue Shield of California | LinkedIn

About the Interviewer & GMN

Thuy Vu is co-founder and CEO of the Global Mentor Network, a pay-it-forward enterprise with a noble mission to solve one of the world’s greatest challenges – building the next generation of diverse, transformational leaders.

Prior to GMN, Thuy was a news anchor in San Francisco, seven-time Emmy winner, and recipient of a prestigious Edward R. Murrow award for in-depth journalism. She came to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam and is currently a board member at The RealReal, as well as a former Advisory Board member at DocuSign.