February is Black History Month (also known as Black Futures Month), a time to celebrate and honor the contributions of Black Americans throughout history. And while we have made a lot of progress as a society in working toward inclusion and equality for all – there is still more work to be done.
For example, people of color still experience striking differences in health outcomes compared with their white counterparts. Racism and bias can still be found in our schools, at our jobs, and in our neighborhoods, taking a toll on the health and overall well-being of Black communities.
In 2020, Cigna launched a significant effort to address these issues: the Building Equity and Equality Program, a five-year initiative to expand and accelerate our efforts to support diversity, inclusion, equality, and equity for communities of color.
“Building equity and equality by confronting systemic racism and social injustice is central to the work we do every day.”Susan Stith, vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, and corporate and employee giving at Cigna, and executive director of the Cigna Foundation
“There is much work to be done, and this program is part of Cigna’s commitment to make an impact in the communities we serve and within our own workforce,” Stith added.
Read on to catch up on some of the actions we’ve taken since the launch of the Building Equity and Equality Program and to learn about new initiatives and partnerships that we’re proud to introduce in 2022.
Reducing Stigma Around Mental Health in the Black Community
When it comes to mental health and well-being, Black Americans experience devastating stigmas and inequity.
Black people are 20% more likely to experience mental distress due to the systemic racism they’ve experienced throughout their lives. Compared with their white counterparts, mentally ill Black people also have more chronic disease, higher levels of disability, use inpatient services at a higher rate, use outpatient mental health services at a lower rate, and experience more barriers to seeking mental health treatment. Additionally, suicides doubled in the Black community during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdowns, while the number of suicides by white Americans fell by half.
One way Cigna is working to reduce mental health stigma in the Black community is through a partnership with Yard Talk 101 on a program called “Fit for You.” The program, which is aimed at students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU), has helped Cigna reach over 700 students with the message that Black Americans should be having discussions on mental health.
As part of the Fit for You program, Cigna recently hosted a three-part event at Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, D.C. During the event, Cigna’s Health Improvement Tour bus offered free biometric health screenings for students, faculty, and staff. In addition, students learned about Cigna internships and career opportunities during one-on-one conversations, and we hosted a panel discussion about mental health.
Creating Educational and Economic Opportunities
Inequity in education and the workforce present significant barriers for the Black community.
Research shows a sizable achievement gap affecting Black Americans – from test scores to college attendance rates to representation in education. Research from McKinsey shows Black Americans experience underrepresentation in fast-growing, higher-wage industries, along with lower odds for advancement, higher attrition in frontline and entry-level jobs, and low representation in executive roles.
Cigna is committed to addressing social determinants of health and, through the Building Equity and Equality Program, we are investing in initiatives and partnerships to help improve access to education and job opportunities for individuals in underserved and underrepresented groups. For example, we provided a $250,000 donation to the Howard University Urban Superintendent Program, which funded scholarships to help 12 educators achieve promotions to superintendent or executive leadership roles in their communities. The partnership also connected with the National Alliance of Black School Educators to help create a database of Black superintendents in the U.S. to help track progress in representation. Additionally, to help improve the pipeline of Black professionals in health care careers, Cigna partnered with Wake Forest School of Medicine. Through a donation of $250,000 to the school, Cigna established an endowed scholarship, which will help support diversity and inclusion among students as they embark on careers in medicine.
To ensure diversity among suppliers with whom we partner and create opportunities for Black-owned businesses, we expanded our commitment to reach $1 billion in funding to diverse suppliers by 2025. We are well on our journey and on track to reach this commitment, with approximately $720 million in diverse spending in 2021 – in part through programs like Cigna’s Supplier Mentor Protégé Program. The program pairs minority suppliers with Cigna executives for 18 months to help develop and grow their businesses, positioning the suppliers to compete strongly for contracting opportunities with Cigna.
Looking ahead to 2022, we are proud to introduce a host of new partnerships and grants with organizations including the Urban League of Philadelphia, Black Men Teach, LOGOS School, Concordance, and Civic Suds.
Beyond our many partnerships, Cigna's talent acquisition team also works closely with HBCUs to connect with young Black adults to recruit them directly into our own workforce. One example is our recent sponsorship of the inaugural Invesco QQQ HBCU Career Classic with HBCU Heroes, which Cigna's talent acquisition team attended to coach, recruit, and hire students for open roles at Cigna.
Addressing Health Disparities and Access to Care
When it comes to physical health outcomes and general health access, there are striking inequities for the Black community, and Cigna is committed to addressing these health disparities. Research shows that Black Americans are more likely to be uninsured, and the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services reports that Black Americans are generally at higher risk for disease, particularly heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza, pneumonia, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS.
The COVID-19 pandemic put these disparities in clearer focus. Data from Johns Hopkins found that Black Americans are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, experiencing 2.6 times higher cases, 4.7 times higher hospitalization rates, and 2.1 times more deaths from COVID-19 compared with white Americans – which researchers attribute to inconsistent access to health care and other factors related to social determinates of health.
To address these inequities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cigna rolled out a campaign that provided 5 million people with educational materials and resources to help dispel myths and share information about COVID-19.
As part of the campaign, Cigna sent more than 135,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to employees at seven large employer clients in Memphis, Tennessee; South Florida; and Houston, Texas. We also provided free flu shots, PPE, and other COVID-19 resources at multiple locations in those three localities, including churches, YMCAs, food banks, and other charitable organizations. To encourage members of the Black and Hispanic communities to get flu shots and take other preventive measures, Cigna teamed up with local leaders and influencers, each passionate about improving health disparities, including NBA Hall of Fame legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Through the Building Equity and Equality Program, Cigna also partnered with Johnson to further increase access to health care for minority- and women-owned small and mid-size businesses. Cigna piloted a program offering a suite of customized health care plans to companies with fewer than 25 employees that include health and lifestyle services for specific health issues – including asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and high-risk pregnancies – that disproportionately impact the Black community.
Looking ahead, Cigna will continue to work with partners to help drive progress – specifically those who work directly with their local communities. For 2022, we provided a new $100,000 grant to a long-standing partner, the University of Maryland’s Health Advocates In-Reach and Research (HAIR) program. Launched with the help of the Cigna Foundation, HAIR builds upon the rich and powerful history of barbers and beauticians as trusted entrepreneurs in Black communities, working with them to reduce disparities and create a local infrastructure of public health and medical services, including health screenings and education.
Leadership Accountability and Supporting Our Employees
Accountability is foundational to our efforts, and as part of the Building Equity and Equality Program, we have launched a number of corporate governance initiatives to oversee, track, and report on our progress.
For example, last year we announced our Enterprise Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council, a group of diverse leaders responsible for shaping our organization’s ongoing DEI and health equity efforts, and launched our first Diversity Scorecard Report to track progress and communicate our health equity goals in a transparent way.
“Within our workforce, we are committed to creating an inclusive work environment where people are treated with respect and dignity, and to celebrate the diverse experiences of each and every one of our employees,” Cigna's Stith said.
One example is our African American/Black employee resource group, which promotes empowerment, mobility, and total wellness for our Black employees, customers, and communities by connecting them with people and resources that enhance their success. The group hosts events to engage all employees on crucial topics related to the Black community and provides networking, professional development, and volunteer opportunities. Recent events have included discussions and workshops on mental health and well-being, and sessions on health disparities and health equity.
In addition to creating a safe and supportive environment within our workforce, Cigna supports our employees’ philanthropic passions in their local communities. The Cigna Foundation matches individual employee’s donations to eligible nonprofit organizations and encourages employees to donate to social justice and racial equity and equality efforts.
Beyond our workforce, Cigna leaders are proud to continue work with like-minded organizations to identify, develop, and promote scalable and sustainable public policies to address societal systemic racism and social injustice and to improve societal well-being. One example is Cigna’s partnership with the Society of Black Academic Surgeons in selecting Dr. Paris DeSoto Butler for a first-of-its-kind academic fellowship focused on eliminating health disparities and promoting diversity in leadership through research and public policy.
Cigna also recently announced that Dr. Luis Torres, medical director for behavioral health at Evernorth (Cigna Corporation’s health services business), was selected to represent Cigna by participating in the CEO Action for Racial Equity fellowship. Dr. Torres will work alongside more than 200 fellows representing more than 100 of the world’s leading companies and business organizations to address racial injustice at national, state, and local levels.
“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work over the last year, and while we are proud of our achievements, we do recognize that there is still more work to be done,” Stith said. “Cigna remains committed to advance racial equity and equality, and we will continue to strengthen our Building Equity and Equality Program.”
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
At Cigna, we are committed to respecting differences, treating each other fairly, and standing together. We take an expansive view of diversity, including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, veteran status, ability, sexual orientation, and gender identity.