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When Madison-based insurance provider Quartz Health Solutions issued an anti-racism statement in September, it was more than just a statement.
“It’s easy to create a statement and it’s easy to say that our organization is talking about racism and how to be anti-racist organization,” says Quartz Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Kimila Daniels. “It’s much more important to actually put it into practice and have some actionable items that we’re following through on. We’ve embedded Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) into the strategy of our business.”
While DE&I have long been embedded in Quartz’s culture, Daniels says an additional push was necessary in 2020 thanks to the confluence of two big events: the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affects communities of color, and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Even though they seem separate, they’re very much connected because the root cause from my perspective is racism, systemic racism. They’re connected,” Daniels says.
Daniels says the 17-member executive team convened “open, honest conversations” about current DE&I efforts as well as new initiatives.
“Our executive team came together and said, we need to accelerate our DE&I efforts. We’re going to start doing that by first, bringing Executives together for a series of really crucial conversations. Open, honest conversations about accelerating our DE&I efforts. And to ensuring we’re moving towards being an anti-racist organization.”
Daniels says a focus on equity and racial justice makes sense for a company focused on healthcare.
“We’re a healthcare company. We’re owned by healthcare providers,” she says. “We’re very in tune with any issues that are impacting the health and well-being of not only our employees but our members in our community. We recognize that COVID-19 has been disproportionately impacting communities of color, specifically our Black and Brown communities. So, that was already at the forefront of our mind in conjunction with the unrest from this past summer.”
Daniels notes that several states and municipalities — including the state of Wisconsin, Dane County and the City of Milwaukee — have declared racism as a health crisis in just the past year or two. Daniels says that’s great, but they’re late.
“Healthcare professionals identified racism as a public health crisis over a decade ago,” she says.
To combat that crisis, Quartz is taking several specific measures that go well beyond the issuance of a statement.
“We’ve intensified our recruiting efforts to increase representation of our Black, Indigenous and people of color at all of our locations,” Daniels says, looking to diversify the 800 employees at the company’s locations in Madison, Onalaska and Sauk City.
And the company has made intentional efforts to bring in a diverse talent pool not only at the entry levels, but in management positions as well, and to foster an environment where people of color can move up in the company.
Which requires the company to create an environment where people of color want to stay.
“We need to make sure that we have a safe space for them to be themselves and authentic,” Daniels says. “We also recognize their lives are impacted every day by racism and that impacts their work lives. We chose to partner with Anesis Therapy here in Madison to offer a series of racial trauma sessions. We opened that up to our employees of color, and created a safe space for them to come and talk about the racial trauma, to be able to give them some tools that help them be able to manage the effects of racial trauma.”
The company has also put its money where its mouth is, investing in anti-racism work in the communities where it operates: “We developed what we now call Quartz Cares. In each one of the communities in which we have locations, we have identified organizations who are committed to the work of addressing racism, and we donated dollars to them as well as created an opportunity for our employees to also donate dollars to them.”
All of these efforts lead not only to becoming a welcoming and inclusive workplace and benefits provider, but a fully anti-racist organization — an important next-level step, Daniels says.
“Being an anti-racist means you’re no longer silent,” she says. “Silence is consent. From my perspective it’s easy for people or organizations to say that they’re not racist. Being anti-racist is really action. It’s doing things to really combat racism.”
Quartz’s statement in September was, as we’ve said, more than a statement — it was a call to action, a promise, a statement of purpose for an organization committed to the important, difficult work to end the public health crisis of racism.