Image of POWER leadership team.

Powerful Mission Unites Women at Blue Cross

On the surface, Vaneitta Goines and Anne Strayham appear to have little in common.

Goines is a black Muslim woman from Generation X, while Strayham is a white Christian woman from the baby boomer generation. But for nearly three years, they’ve shared a common interest that transcends their cultural differences.

Image of Vaneitta and Anne.

Vaneitta Goines and Anne Strayham at a recent POWER event.

Goines and Strayham are part of the leadership team for POWER, a group that supports the personal and professional development of female employees at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Goines’ and Strayham’s dedication to POWER has not only helped them build relationships throughout the Blue Cross organization, but it’s also helped them develop a solid friendship with each other.

“We’re creating opportunities where people can connect across all barriers,” said Goines, a systems analyst associate for Blue Cross’ Customer Contact Systems department.

 ‘It gives you inspiration’

POWER, which stands for Professional Optimistic Women Exploring Resources, was established in 2008 and has more than 700 members. It’s the largest of Blue Cross’ 10 Employee Resource Networks, which celebrate diversity and encourage the development of professional skills and relationships.

POWER provides opportunities for employees — both men and women — to learn, listen and share. Throughout the year, it hosts learning sessions, networking opportunities, film and book clubs, community outreach activities and a variety of other enriching events.

“From what I’ve heard about sororities, they’re always about building each other up. And I think that’s something the women I’m volunteering with at POWER are naturally doing. I feel a big sense of camaraderie and sisterhood here,” said Strayham, a senior analyst for Blue Cross’ Benefit & Claims Analysis and Design department.

More than 70 percent of the employees at Blue Cross are women. So providing female employees with opportunities to connect and discuss issues they’re dealing with is not only beneficial to the employees themselves, but it also can have a huge impact on the productivity and morale at Blue Cross.

“People here are able to connect and say, ‘Hey, we have some challenges that we all face, and here are ways that I’ve successfully handled that.’ It gives you inspiration that it can be done, and it gives you some practical paths on how to make it happen for yourself,” Goines said.

The perfect time to celebrate women

Group photo of Morning Mingle participants.

Morning Mingle participants pose for a group photo.

March is Women’s History Month, which honors the historic and societal contributions of American women. For seven years, POWER has kicked off Women’s History Month with its annual Morning Mingle event. During this signature gathering, 100-plus female employees in the Blue Cross organization get the chance to interact with and get advice from about a dozen women in executive leadership roles at Blue Cross. This event has helped broaden perspectives and establish mentoring relationships between executive leaders and rising stars within the organization.

“When you see executives at the top level of the company who are willing to take time and talk to someone in a completely different role, it lets you know that people care,” Goines said. “And that opens your heart to what may happen for you and being there for someone else.”

Morning Mingle participants chatting.

Participants networking at a recent POWER Morning Mingle event, including the author, Maiya Hayes, in the blue and gray turtleneck, third from left.

This year’s Morning Mingle event took place on March 1. Both Goines and Strayham were on hand to make sure everything ran smoothly and to observe the discussions that took place. At the end of the event, they were delighted by all the positive interactions they witnessed and the overall outcome of the event.

And as the POWER leadership team gathered for a group photo (lead image, above), Strayham said she was proud to be part of a group of culturally diverse and dynamic women.

“This is what I want my friends to look like,” she said of the leadership group. “This is what I want my church congregation to look like. I want friends of all nations.”

An abundance of support

In addition to the Morning Mingle event, POWER keeps Blue Cross’ female employees connected and informed with monthly meetings, a bi-monthly newsletter and internal company websites that feature educational resources.

POWER also offers sessions that focus on topics central to women, such as heart disease and postpartum depression. And it has developed sessions and support groups that discuss cultural, personal and career topics, including:

  • Exquisitely Wrapped: A session in which attendees learn about the reasons men and women wrap or cover their hair from different cultures and religious traditions
  • Rock Your Crown: A session in which women discuss something they’ve been through and how they’ve overcome it  
  • Tech DIVAs: A committee to support women working in tech fields and to educate women about technology

“Some women tend to be more reticent and don’t push for themselves,” Goines said. “Organizations like POWER offer the opportunity for those women to concentrate on themselves and do something that offers them not just professional development, but also something that helps them with their personal challenges.”

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Photo credit: Kristie Stocker

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