10 to Watch

Visael “Bobby” Rodriguez

Healthcare/Human Resources


Who he is:
Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of RI

What you think he does:
Affirmative Action.

What he actually does:
Manage and implement a strategic, company-wide plan for diversity and inclusion (D&I).

“The job of diversity is not affirmative action. This is not what I do. Diversity is inclusion. It’s when you bring the best of everyone into an organization. Imagine a place where we can get ideas from everyone and everyone can contribute to the success of the organization – for that you need to change the culture. That culture needs to be open to receiving people.”

Why that matters now:
Rhode Island’s demographics are changing fast: Rodriguez estimates that by 2020, 28% of Rhode Islanders will be people of color, and 11-13% will be LGBT. He is teaching one of the largest companies in one of the state’s few growth industries to think about diversity in a new way – and other organizations have already approached him to teach them the same lessons.

How he’s different:
Businesses listen to him because he can take high minded issues, like respecting and understanding other cultures, and connect them to bottom line of productivity, growth and return on investment. While most diversity experts come from a human resources background, Rodriguez comes from a business background, having spent 13 years in sales and business development for Xerox.

“Organizations that do well in diversity and inclusion see a change first in workforce, second in turnover, and third in return on investment – there’s a link. It can be a journey of 10-15 years to do it well.”

What that actually entails:
A lot of things, including:

  • Working with all departments to build diversity and cultural competence.
  • Making sure that healthcare information is translated into the many languages BCBSRI’s customers speak. (A full-on Spanish language version of the company web site launches this year.)
  • Marketing the company’s healthcare plans in Latino, black, and LGBT communities.
  • Developing partnerships with organizations that are trusted in those communities (Progreso Latino, RI Free Clinic, etc.) to develop better healthcare awareness and outreach.
  • Keeping an eye on demographic trends in the local market and making sure BCBSRI is positioned to adapt to them.

The difference between diversity and inclusion:
“If diversity is just about counting people, I can go out and hire 30 black or Hispanic people. But do you think they’ll survive here? The culture is what determines whether they survive. Inclusion is what drives that. Diversity is nothing without it. Diversity is just a bunch of differences. Inclusion is putting it all together.”

Fast facts:
Rodriguez is a native of Puerto Rico who has spent most of his career traveling and living in places like Orlando, Washington, DC, and Rochester, NY. He came to Rhode Island about a year and a half ago, where he now lives with his wife and two children in Kingston.

Why we’re not a melting pot, and how that benefits business:
“We’re not a melting pot – we’re a big salad. In a melting pot, everything comes to be one. In a salad, everything keeps its own flavor. In the future, you’re going to need talent from every community. Knowledge comes from every community. When you embrace inclusion you come to be a better organization that’s more productive and more easily sees return on investment. Behind diversity and inclusion there is a business purpose linked to ROI and money.”

Beyond return on investment:
“What I’m trying to achieve is that we’re more culturally competent. We can help communities grow their awareness in healthcare. We want to have all Rhode Islanders healthier. If you don’t know what you should be doing, you will be sick. If I have a baby and I just came from another country, I don’t know what to do. Every year you should be taking your child for an annual checkup – but people don’t know. My hope is that we can improve the health of all communities.”

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