By Liz Lombardo, Vizient
When it comes to her experience of being a female breadwinner, Valerie Coffman is an open book.
It's more than a metaphor. Coffman, Vizient lead analyst, sales and client management, shared her story as part of Vizient's first-ever Human Library event in April, where she connected with other women who could relate – and fellow colleagues who were seeking to understand.
'Through this experience, I learned from others at Vizient who also identify as female bread winners in their families," said Coffman. 'Of course, to be a female bread winner you need fair compensation to provide for your family, but you also need flexibility to sometimes just be a mom with family responsibilities. Equity isn't always about everyone having the same thing, but rather everyone being able to achieve their goals based on what they're given – Vizient recognizes that."
Coffman is one of ten human books who shared her personal story and life experience in Vizient's Human Library event that set aside time and a safe space for employees to candidly connect with and learn from their colleagues. The event was part of the annual Vizient Culture Week that designated two hours each day to building workplace culture, celebrating employees, and listening to insights from company leaders and industry guest speakers.
'Bringing the Human Library to Vizient helped us expand our knowledge and understanding of different dimensions of diversity through storytelling – with employees sharing first-hand experiences about their unique identities," said Monica Davy, Vizient SVP, chief culture, diversity and inclusion officer. 'We invited our employees to join the Human Library event as books, readers or moderators. Books hosted small group sessions to discuss their unique identity, perspective or experience – bringing about more awareness, knowledge and affirmation of our authentic individualities."
Employees who participated as books reflected on what it was like to navigate often invisible disabilities like autism, hardships in childhood, single parenthood, and what it means to be an ally for groups that can be marginalized in society like women and people of color.
Dawn Bostick, Vizient administrative specialist, spend management, was inspired to attend the Human Library event as she's actively focused on living a life of service and embracing the concept of agape love – the highest form of love, of charity. Bostick said that listening to her colleague talk about becoming an active ally for women and people of color made her reflect on how she could make enhancements within her own life. 'I've become more thoughtful with my words, intentional with my actions — I think before I speak. It was an educational experience on so many levels."
Evan Willis, Vizient contract compliance and research analyst, also felt drawn to participate in the Human Library event, although he shared he felt a bit hesitant in the beginning. 'At first, I didn't' know what value my story would bring – seeing as I'm a white, cisgender male – all the things that make it easier for me to get by in the world we live in as compared to other people. I soon realized I had plenty to share in terms of personal growth – How I've evolved over the years to understand our history affects our present world and the presence of racism, sexism and other bigotries are part of our realities. At the end of the day, you never know who your story is going to help. There might be someone who needs to hear exactly what you have to say. Even if it's just one person – it's worth it."
Hear insights from our Human Library participants:
Creating a workplace where all are welcome
Vizient has garnered recognition from industry and business organizations for its commitment to establishing a workplace environment where all employees can thrive. In 2022, Vizient was recognized as one of the Fortune® 100 Best Companies to Work For® and ranked as a Fortune Best Workplaces for Women™, Fortune Best Workplaces for Consulting & Professional Services™, PEOPLE® Companies that Care and a Fortune Best Workplaces in Texas™. Vizient also received a score of 95/100 from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation 2022 Corporate Equality Index, the nation's foremost benchmarking survey and report measuring corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ+ workplace equality.
"Setting time aside to celebrate our people and our inclusive culture is just one of the reasons we've been named among the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work" said Patty Olsen, Vizient chief people officer. "Intentionally dedicating time to learn about the identities, perspectives and different experiences of our teammates helps us form and appreciate a greater understanding for each other and foster connections. By always focusing on our values, we can effectively collaborate on solutions and drive innovation forward."
Additionally, Vizient's Diversity Networking Associations (often known in the market as Employee Resource Groups) also dedicate time for employees to further explore their identities, experiences and perspectives. Vizient hosts monthly DIVE IN sessions where employees gather in a safe and collaborative forum to explore individual and collective lived experiences at the intersection of culture, diversity, equity and inclusion. These sessions encourage experiential, peer-based learning in real-time with an opportunity to safely share stories and ask questions – one way to continue sharing experiences year-round. Vizient looks forward to hosting the Human Library again in 2023 to share more stories, bring more awareness and foster a greater understanding among employees through in-person and virtual group sessions.
"We're always looking for ways to enhance empathy, understanding and collaboration among our teams," said Aalia Khawaja, Vizient diversity and inclusion director and Human Library program manager. "When each of us can be our authentic selves and contribute fully to our shared mission, we really do accomplish great things together."