THE DOER: Talking moving the professional needle and expanding consciousness with Bridget Hurd, Senior Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
CV Henriette: Are you from Detroit?
Bridget Hurd: I’m a native Detroiter. Born and raised in Northwest Detroit. I attended Detroit Public Schools. Higginbotham Elementary School—which doesn’t exist anymore. Beaubien Middle School—that’s not around either. And then Renaissance High School. I’ve stayed in Detroit my whole life. As far away as I got was to Ann Arbor where I attended the University of Michigan for my undergraduate studies.
I love Detroit. I love the spirit of Detroit. It’s so exciting to see it now, really coming back with this cool vibe.
CVh: What did you study in university?
BH: I attended graduate school at Wayne State and undergraduate at University of Michigan where I was an accounting major for three years. It was not my thing. By the end of my junior year I was certain that I was not going to graduate as an accountant—so I changed my major to Marketing. I was on the four-year program and had no plan to stay in school longer than that, I even took spring and summer classes.
I graduated with a degree in communications. My background is in public relations. I’ve worked in the health care industry twenty years, and most of it has been tied to—even though the roles have been different and varied—communications.
CVh: You’re like a President.
BH: I’m a change agent. I go into environments that need fixing. I call it “making sense out of chaos”—bringing order and structure and keeping things moving in a more positive and effective direction. Every single job I’ve ever had has either been newly created or one where I had to go in and evolve things. Which is what I prefer. It’s more stimulating, more interesting—I have the opportunity to be innovative, that’s important to me.
CVh: Going back to your college days—what is it about Communications that you were drawn to and what is the part of your personality that thrives off this work?
BH: It’s interesting. My parents are working class. They didn’t attend college. They didn’t really know how to guide me in terms of school. I worked for a dentist in high school. He went to college, so I asked him what I should major in, and he said “You should major in accounting,” because you’ll always have a job. And I’m like “Well, ok then.”
That’s how that decision was made.
I knew I was going to focus on business because I went to a great program for leadership and development in business to the University of Maryland for summer courses. I took courses at Howard University that summer as well.
That exposed me to so many businesses in New York City and Washington DC, and I decided that I wanted to work in business because they treated us well. I like this life. I was really intrigued by that.
Over the years I learned that I was a good writer, and good at presenting things. I’ve always been into fashion. I used to read W Magazine in high school back when it was—oh, I guess they made it print again, but it’s not the same way. It was this great format that would unfold. That has always been a part of my life—listening and presenting things. I’ve always had those creative juices—always liked to make stuff. You can certainly tell a story even through what you wear.
There was a woman who was a member at my church and she said to me one day “I don’t understand why you’re majoring in accounting. You’re so creative. You should be majoring in marketing or something like that.”
That was the thing that opened my eyes, and I began to explore marketing, communications. I’m an expressive person. I’m moved by culture. I’m moved by art. I love music. I listen to music every day. It’s part of my spirit.
When I think about the different roles I’ve had, communicating has always been a central part. Whether it’s convening stakeholders together or diversity and inclusion, communication is important. You have to be able to engage people and tell a story, to share perspectives in a way that pulls people in. That’s what resonates with others and taps into their emotions.
CVh: So many people draw a line between business and creative endeavors, but at the heart of creativity is problem solving. Which is exactly what you’re doing. You’re using your tools—specifically, storytelling to come into businesses and solve problems.
BH: Yes, exactly. It’s all about problem solving. I drive my team members crazy—This is nice, but how can we push the envelope? How can we take it out of the box? That’s where the creative part comes into play. Thinking out of the box. I ask of us to not just do things the way people expect them to happen.
Let’s be more creative. Let’s think more freely. Whether it’s a Power Point presentation or an event we’re developing. Especially when talking about diversity and inclusion—what does that really mean? How can we employ creativity in a way that helps resonate with people? Because I’ve learned that people don’t always understand the meaning of diversity. When we refer to diversity, everyone has a different idea about what that means. And typically it’s a fairly limited perspective.
How do we expand the consciousness? How we feel, how we think, how we perceive different things as part of that process? Again, that’s creativity coming into play.
CVh: First reaction: You are ahead of your time. You’re going into these institutions—for example, a large health care insurance provider—and there are boxes that have been structured in the same way for a very long time and you’re a change agent for diversity and inclusion. Over the years, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced coming up against these systems?
BH: Employees. Especially with a company like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, where a lot of employees have been here a really long time. People have a tendency to not want to change, to do things the way they’ve always been done.
But the culture, since Dan Leopp has been CEO, has been focused on change and change management and diversifying in the sense of how can we become the strongest, most effective, insurance company in this nation? That’s an entirely different focus. We use words like nimble, flexible, innovative.
Being in an environment where that’s becoming more and more of the focus, the employees have had to try to work with those parameters. It’s easy for some—and for some it’s extremely difficult. Many are resistant to change. And they will fight back, hard. That has been the biggest challenge.
They key, again, goes back to communication. I have made it a personal goal of mine to get in front of our 8,000 employees. Not for work—but because it is important to me personally and the bigger vision of diversity and inclusion. If I can get in front of all of them at least one time, then I can work to expand consciousness and share our message. It’s having that one on one communication that makes the difference.
People make assumptions about diversity. They have ideas, yet they may be stuck in one little box, so I want to encourage them to think broadly. The main thing they need to understand is that every single person brings diversity to our workplace and to our community. So often people think diversity is someone else. A, ‘It’s them, not me’ mentality. No, it’s about all of us.
I could come to work, do what I need to from my office and go home—but I want to expand the consciousness of all our employees.
CVh: On the ground, what does this look like?
BH: We offer over 100 learning sessions for employees every year. When they come to these sessions I want them to have an experience from the moment they walk through the door, until the moment they walk out, where they feel impacted, moved—where they’ve learned about a different culture or community in a way they never expected.
I have been in this role for two years. Over the last year and a half, I have seen employee engagement and enthusiasm for the program grow like crazy. Now, employees email me ideas. They come to me and share things that are personal about themselves because they feel, here at Blue Cross Blue Shield, we have a safe environment—and that’s encouraging. It makes me feel we are making a difference verses just doing a job. We are expanding consciousness.
It is so gratifying when I’m walking down the hall, someone comes up to me, and says I get it now.
We had a great session where we utilized a Ted Talk called Being Muslim in America. As part of that, we had two employees share their stories and experiences. There was one women who participated—she wears a headwrap—and she thinks every single day, what people think of her when she walks out of her house. One morning when she was preparing for work, she brought out a plastic bag to carry her lunch. This bag had words written on it in Arabic. She paused and thought about it—Should I take this bag or not? She decided not to because she did want to incite fear in someone at work.
You can align that struggle in the Arab community, or the Muslim community specifically, with how sometimes, when you’re a black man wearing a hoodie, people make assumptions about you based on something you may be wearing.
We explore all those things in a very personal, emotional way.
Another employee thanked me after a learning session on the Sudanese and Arab cultures—people never talk about black Arabs. She shared with me that she felt included and respected.
CVh: There are 100 of these sessions a year? It seems like you cover very specific topics.
Yes. The key is learning about people, different cultures. We are alike in so many ways. It can be European ethnicity—Irish, Polish, for example. We need to know about those cultures. We talk about Arab and Arab American cultures, the many Asian cultures—East Asian, South Asian. We talk about the LGBT community as a culture.
Introvert or Extravert. That’s a dimension of diversity, especially in the workplace. I’m an introvert—just an outspoken one. But maybe there’s that person on your team who’s always quiet, doesn’t really say anything, my hope is to not make assumptions about that person.
CVh: They don’t like me. They’re not in a good mood. They don’t have team spirit…
BH: Right. Exactly. Maybe they’re just an introvert.
CVh: And they’re just processing.
BH: Yes. People like to receive information and then go back and think about it. As leaders and team mates, we must see, tap into, and understand that. Maybe later send an email. Or stop by that person’s desk to ask if they have any thoughts.
When we talk about diversity, it’s about understanding those different layers.
CVh: So much of the work you’re doing is impactful to the culture at large. You’re taking the time to provide people with tools they can take outside of work and into their everyday lives. It’s the type holistic approach that big businesses are not necessarily known for embracing. Throughout your career, how has the climate changed around embracing this type of training? Are these sessions something you couldn’t have implemented fifteen years ago?
BH: Again, I must salute my boss, Dan Leopp. He had a vision of diversity and inclusivity in this company. When you look at other companies they’re just now starting to think focus on these issues. This program has been around for ten years. Diversity and inclusion is very much the it phrase right now.
When you look at our world, the time is ripe for the conversation. But, again, when we talk about diversity, we’re talking everything. It’s not just race. It’s not just gender. We need to broaden that conversation.
CVh: Throughout the years, what role have mentor’s played in your life?
BH: My whole career I have had great mentors. All but one of them have been women. The one gentleman was Herman Coleman. He was my mentor when I was 20 and he exposed me to the importance of having a quality life, having quality interactions, and just really focusing on being the best that I can be.
All my mentors believed in my competencies and capabilities and they gave me the room to soar. They didn’t put me in boxes. There were no limitations. They inspired me to be great.
CVh: What sustains you?
BH: I’m very spiritual. It’s something I’ve understood and embraced throughout the years, starting in my mid-twenties. Understanding how we are all connected one to the other, what that really means, in finding balance and purpose in everything we do in life. That’s how I meet every single day—with balance and purpose.
My purpose is to inspire people to seek information and understanding, and to expand their consciousness.
CVh: There’s this trending moment of work/play—nap pods, endless cereal etc. What you’re speaking of seems to be the soul of all of this. This idea of living your work, having a job in alignment with your values, seems to be something you’ve been advocating for your entire career.
BH: I mentor all types and ages of people, and I tell them don’t just have goals. They’ll say I want to be a manager next. Or I want to be a Vice President. I’ve never set those types of goals. I just know what sort of impact I want to have, what contribution I want to make. I encourage them to think about what their overall vision is for their life. Start there. And your career will follow.
It’s important to be clear about your values, personal and in the workplace. Knowing that will help you make the right decision every time.
I have a favorite quote I keep above my desk: Success is knowing your purpose in life, growing to reach your maximum potential, and sewing seeds that benefit others.
CVh: Astrological (sun)Sign?
BH: Leo (born August 13 – The Week of the Leader)
CVh: Last book you read?
BH: The Intuitive Way: The Definitive Guide to Increasing Your Awareness
CVh: Last place you visited?
BH: New York City and Naples, Florida (both in May)
CVh: Personal mantra?
BH: Keep it Simple. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” A quote by Leonardo Da Vinci
CVh: Inner avatar?
BH: Teacher and counselor.