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Year-end event celebrates progress of the all-inclusive BJC Connections program

Despite the chilly wind and rain outside, the room full of BJC Connections members was warm, friendly and buzzing with conversation Oct. 29 at the BJC All Connections Groups End-of-Year Celebration. The event brought nearly 100 members to the BJC Learning Institute for a lively evening of sharing, toasting and connecting.

This marks the third year for the celebration since the BJC Connections program launched in 2016.

Including every voice

The evening began with a “Blue Table Talk,” a riff on actress Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk, a Facebook Watch show. June Fowler, BJC senior vice president of communications, marketing and public affairs, and John Beatty, BJC senior vice president and chief human resources officer, led a frank and funny discussion about the genesis of BJC Connections, the initial trepidations and the ultimate successes.

“In an organization of 31,000 employees, it’s sometimes hard to find where you belong,” Beatty says.
“We created a way to connect through a grassroots effort to see if people were interested. We had no idea if it would go.”

It went. Today, the BJC Connections program has grown to eight groups with more than 1,500 members across BJC. The pioneer group was the Veterans Connection, soon followed by SPECTRA.

“We took a chance and it was impressive how quickly BJC’s executive leadership team embraced it,” Fowler says. “Now we’re building momentum and trying to involve more people on the planning teams.”

Beatty hopes that through initiatives such as the BJC Connections program, employees continue to increase inclusiveness in BJC’s culture and the program serves as a role model for the entire organization. “As the largest employer in St. Louis, we can make an impact by what we’re doing and saying,” he says. “It’s important everyone’s voice is included in the conversation.”

One of those voices is Dawn Freeman, RN, who’s been a nurse at Barnes-Jewish Hospital for nearly 19 years. She joined the BJC Veterans Connection group at the beginning and is now part of the Women’s Connection. “They are fantastic groups and it’s nice to meet people with similar interests,” she says. “I enjoy the camaraderie and volunteer projects we do. I feel like we’re valued.”

With five years as a St. Louis Children’s Hospital nurse, Stefani Session, RN, has gotten to know many team members as part of BJC Blended Connection. “Through our group’s community service work, I gain perspective and better understand the barriers and struggles families go through. It helps bring home why we’re here and what we can do better for the patients, community and hospital.”

Another BJC Blended Connection member is Cheryl Posley, CPhT. Even after 37 years as a BJH employee, she joined her Connection group so she can meet new people across BJC and learn about others’ roles. “My department is busy, so we’re not out a lot,” she says. “People can feel secluded. But this group has changed my perspective. I’ve noticed the need to all connect as one, as a family. Connections groups give us more opportunities to reach out to others.”

Through BJC Blended Connection, Posley reconnected with a childhood friend, Terrie Hart, now BJC’s workforce diversity manager and leader of the BJC Connections program. “I didn’t know Terrie had worked at SLCH until we ran into each other at a Connections meeting. We screamed when we saw each other. BJC Connections groups help you see who works here. I’ve seen a lot of former classmates.”

Hart appreciates the commonalities the BJC Connections program uncovers, as well as the unique experiences employees bring to offer different perspectives in the workplace. “Our goals in 2020 are how to measure the work that the Connections groups do to better show our impact. We’re also going to focus on building our allies and will continue to learn from each other,” she says.

Learning from others, shifting mindsets

The BJC All Connections Celebration included guest panelists from the community who are leading diversity and inclusion efforts at their organizations, including Ameren, Cigna, Edward Jones and MasterCard.
Each company has “resource groups,” which are similar to BJC Connections groups. The panelists shared their experiences and how their groups have begun to drive change and serve as internal resources for
strategic planning.

Deanna Taylor, chair of Edward Jones’ Black/African American Business Resource Group, says over the past 11 years, their group evolved from an affinity group to a business resource. “By being purposeful and getting work done for the organization, we affected change,” she says. “We measured results and shifted the mindset of leadership.”

Emily Brasel, BJC employee communications director, is inspired by the resource groups’ progress and impact and excited about the potential the groups have. Brasel is also a co-leader of the BJC Women’s Connection group. “Some companies have programs more than a decade old that are now woven into the organization’s priorities and strategies,” Brasel says. “I see BJC Connection groups having a similar impact.”

For example, she says as BJC evaluates its benefits, Sherry Ward, vice president of Total Rewards, is asking for feedback from SPECTRA and Young Professionals Connection members about the current offerings and is interested in what resonates with them.

This interest in employee ideas carries throughout BJC leadership. Rich Liekweg, BJC president and CEO, mingled with employees at the BJC Connections celebration and wants to hear their feedback, Brasel says. “The support is outstanding. BJC senior leaders are committed to the BJC Connections program. They believe in a culture of inclusion and acceptance and understand its importance to engagement and retention.”

Finding your place to belong

Brasel is proud of how far the BJC Connections program has come with involvement of employees from all over the organization at every level. “I’ve seen BJC Connections evolve. It started as an idea and we had no idea where it would go. There’s beauty in that. BJC was willing to stick its toe in and try it out. Our focus is making sure everyone finds a place where they belong. The BJC Connections program gives employees a good opportunity to find that place, no matter where you work or what your job is.”

Beatty, who’s retiring from BJC after 12 years, says BJC has been a fantastic place to work, yet any organization can always be better. “With the Connections program, we’re perfectly positioned to lead the way in creating an even more inclusive and accepting culture. We just need to keep recruiting members and be unafraid to cross boundaries.”

As the tireless leader of the program, Hart agrees. “We’re going to continue to take BJC Connections to the next level.”

The BJC All Connections Celebration included awards to various groups for their creative, engagement and learning initiatives. In addition, BJC SPECTRA Connection co-lead Megan Gallagher, BJC ITMS analyst and Epic liaison, was presented with the “Connector of the Year” award for her enthusiasm and for going out of her way to support the Connections program and each Connection group event.

BJC Connections groups support the inclusion and diversity goals that are determined by the BJC Human Resources Workforce Diversity team and the BJC Diversity & Inclusion steering committee. BJC Connections groups work strategically, both internally and externally, to benefit and advance their group members with the support of allies. The groups also contribute to BJC’s purpose of improving the health and well-being of the people and communities the organization serves.

Each group serves under five pillars, which describe the actions and activities the groups will accomplish in support of BJC: Recruitment, Engagement, Development, Retention and Community Outreach.

BJC Connections groups are open to all team members who want to show their support as allies.

Diversity and inclusion are a big part of BJC’s identity, and an important step to inclusiveness in connecting with and understanding one another. To learn more about BJC Connections groups and how to get involved, visit www.bjc.org/Connections.

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