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Centene: Weaving Self-Identification into Company Culture

Learn more about Centene’s “I Count: Why I Self Identify” campaign and how it has created significant progress in reducing stigma around disability self-identification.

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Centene Corporation

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Centene Corporation is a FORTUNE 500® diversified healthcare company committed to “helping people live healthier lives.” Its government-sponsored and commercial healthcare programs serve nearly 1 in 15 people across the U.S. – more than 27 million people, including Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries, people insured through the Health Insurance Marketplace and the TRICARE program, and people in correctional facilities.

Centene’s workforce totals more than 82,000 employees, and its goal to foster an inclusive workforce that represents the diversity of the members it serves is a key priority. However, when it came to members with disabilities, the company found that its workforce did not reflect this commitment. Less than 6% of employees voluntarily self-identified as having a disability, and more than 23% chose not to participate in the company’s self-identification program at all. In response, Centene launched the “I Count – Why I Self Identify” campaign in 2019 to encourage employees to voluntarily share their disability status and understand the value the data and diversity provide to the company. 

As a federal contractor, Centene is required to invite applicants to self-identify (or “self-ID”) at the pre- and post-offer phases of the hiring process and invite existing employees to do so every five years. However, the company decided to make its self-identification campaign an annual effort to encourage employees to “bring their whole selves to work.” Developed and implemented in collaboration with ABILITY, the company’s Employee Inclusion Group (EIG) for people with disabilities and caregivers, the “I Count” campaign has made significant progress in reducing stigma around disability self-identification. 

By highlighting Centene employees willing to discuss their participation in the self-identification program, the company has increased overall comfort with self-ID. Since the campaign started, the number of Centene employees who self-identify as having a disability has increased to 10%, and 85% of employees have provided information on their disability status. As a result, the company now has a more complete picture of its workforce diversity and the resources it needs to support its disabled workers. 

To encourage participation when the campaign launched, every employee received a notification via the company’s human resources management platform. The notification asked employees to update their self-identification form and reminded them that doing so was voluntary. As the campaign evolved, Centene learned that the biggest barrier was employees’ concerns that their careers might be negatively impacted by sharing their disability status. Centene addressed this by showing how it uses only the aggregated data and reinforcing that all self-identification information is kept confidential. 

Employees continue to receive this information on an ongoing basis through a variety of channels, including the company’s intranet and employee newsletters. Self-identification is also regularly discussed in forums for the company’s people leaders and HR business partners, as well as in all-employee meetings held prior to or during the annual campaign. 

Centene’s EIGs actively support the “I Count” campaign as well, encouraging their members to complete the self-identification form. For instance, efforts by the company’s LGBTQIA+, veterans’, and military EIGs have helped broaden reach, address concerns about participating, and convey support for employees with disabilities across the enterprise at all levels.

"Centene values the diversity of its workforce as one of our greatest strengths and strives to create an inclusive and equitable environment that enables all of us to be our authentic selves. To better understand the diversity of our workforce and ensure that we design inclusive programs and engage in the most inclusive ways to enable employees to be their authentic selves, we rely on employees' feedback and participation in the 'I Count' self-ID campaign. By confidentially sharing their personal information, employees ensure their voices are represented and give strength to their communities, which results in a better, more equitable workplace for us all." 

- Shannon Bagley, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer

As a result of the campaign, the company’s programs and resources to support employees with disabilities has also grown, as has its awareness of the experiences of employees with disabilities. For instance, today, the ABILITY EIG offers town halls on topics such as anti-bullying, professional development and mentoring opportunities, support groups, and accommodations. As part of an ongoing effort to reduce stigma around disability, ABILITY has addressed issues such as self-disclosing mental health conditions and communicating with disabled coworkers in a respectful way. Centene now also reviews aggregate data from employee engagement surveys by disability status, in addition to race and gender, to ensure it is measuring and taking into consideration the experiences of all employees. 

The increase in self-identification has led Centene to expand internal resources related to accommodations; since January 2022, the accommodations team has managed almost 1,000 requests a month. Centene also looks to its National Disability Advisory Council, which is made up of national leaders in disability advocacy, to provide enterprise-wide recommendations for advancing disability inclusion from a workplace and marketplace perspective. 

The company has grown its external partnerships with disability-focused organizations, including Disability:IN, a non-profit organization that works with corporations to promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities and inspire accessible innovation. Centene is actively engaged in Disability:IN’s "Are You IN?" campaign, a call to action for CEOs, investors, companies, and business professionals to further advance inclusive practices for people with disabilities. Disability:IN assists Centene’s ABILITY EIG and Community Outreach and Employee Involvement Office in educating the company’s workforce on issues related to disability inclusion and support for employees who are caregivers. 

Centene’s four years of experience with the “I Count: Why I Self Identify” campaign illustrates the value of ongoing work to promote self-identification. Today, Centene weaves disability discussions into the fabric of the organization, not just during the annual campaign, but throughout the year. The result is measurable progress toward its disability inclusion goals and a better understanding of the true diversity of its workforce and its needs.