Peter Panageas (01:15:46):
Hi, everybody. This is Peter Panageas and welcome to episode five of IBX: The Cover Story. For our fifth episode, I want to reflect on pride month where communities gathered to celebrate support and embrace the LGBTQ+ community, large cities and small towns across the country, I’ve held various events and parades throughout the month of June. That’s brought people together to raise awareness of this very important month. You know, additionally businesses and homes were decked out in pride colors to further show support. Just this past weekend, as I was walking around my hometown, I saw a number of flags and homes decked out and recognition of pride month.
Peter Panageas (01:18:22):
So today, we have four special guests who will discuss how businesses can better support their employees and their families who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Our first guest is James Startare. James is vice president of Benefits at Aramark. We also have joining us Vince Poplaski, vice-president of Executive Compensation at Aramark and the co-chair of Aramark’s Pride Employee Resource Group. Additionally, we have Miyumi Fair, associate Knowledge Management Analyst at Independence Blue Cross, and a member of the Independence Pride Associate Resource Group. And finally Janine Brandolo, manager of Benefits, Administration and Wellness at Independence Blue Cross.
Peter Panageas (00:01:19):
Janine, Miyumi, Vince and James, thank you all so much for being with us today.
Janine Brandolo (00:01:33):
Good to be here, Peter. Thank you.
James Startare (00:01:34):
Great to be here.
Vince Poplaski (00:01:35):
Yeah, thanks Peter.
Miyumi Fair (00:01:36):
Thanks for inviting me.
Peter Panageas (00:01:40):
So James and Janine, I’m gonna start with you both. When designing an employee benefits package, as you both know, it’s important to take all possible employee backgrounds, you know, certainly into consideration. So, James, let me ask you first, what’s Aramark’s approach when designing benefits for employees from different backgrounds, cultures, genders, etc.?
James Startare (00:02:07):
Yeah. Great question Pete and, and thanks for having us here today. It’s a great relevant and appropriate topic and thrilled to be here. I’ll start by saying benefits management is a team support, right. And, we couldn’t do it without our partnerships, all of our vendor partnerships, and that starts with our relationship with Independence Blue Cross. So, you know, we appreciate the partnership and we’re thankful for it. To address your question, we have 200,000 employees at Aramark, right? And we have over 30,000 covered by our health benefits. So that’s about 70,000 total members. When you’re talking about that many members, right? We absolutely support inclusion and diversity in our benefit design, we’d be foolish not to.
James Startare (01:00:24):
When we designed Benefits at Aramark, we look at a lot of different things, like most people in my seat, right? That lead up a large benefits program, right? We’re balancing the cost of the program. We’re making sure that we’re designing benefits that are really geared to recruit and retain employees. So it’s the ultimate balancing act, right? We don’t design benefits for any one population. However, we want to make sure that we’re current and we’re relevant. At Aramark, we support an inclusive and diverse workforce.
James Startare (01:00:58):
So it’s important for us to design benefits that suit that inclusive and diverse workforce. And we believe we do that. It’s certainly a challenge. Don’t get me wrong, especially when we’re balancing that with our fiduciary responsibilities. But we do it thoughtfully, we think we do it respectfully and we do it with the LGBTQ+ population in mind, certainly because it’s a relevant and real topic for today’s times.
James Startare (00:03:39):
That being said, we offer a lot of benefits that focus around family planning. We offer benefits that focus around counseling. We offer benefits that focus on again equity and true inclusion for the LGBTQ+ population. And we benchmark our programs against our industry peers, like most organizations to make sure that we’re going through our list of offerings and saying can we truly bring in the talent that we want to bring and be as inclusive as we ought to be, and desire to be.
Peter Panageas (00:04:40):
James, thanks. It’s such an incredible perspective. And you know, your organization is such a special one, certainly not only in the Philadelphia region, but certainly nationally and all the great work that you all do. Over 200,000 employees, 70,000 covered, you know, by, your organization for employee benefits. You touched on a few things that I think are, equally important, right? You know, the, equitable approach in an offering benefits, from a recruitment and retainment perspective.
Peter Panageas (00:05:11):
And a lot of challenges that I know you and your organization are facing every day. And, as a partner, I’ll offer to you that we’re honored to serve you and your employees every day as well. We think that your mission, and our mission have such alignments in the communities that we serve nationally, certainly regionally and locally. And we’re just, you know, we’re just honored to continue to serve with you.
James Startare (00:05:33):
Peter Panageas (00:05:33):
So, thank you.
James Startare (00:05:35):
Yeah, thank you Pete, for that comment too. And we could draw from kind of what’s going on in the world right now. So many employer kind of struggling to find talent. You know, we have conversations on a daily basis at Aramark. How can we recruit people, particularly what’s going on kinda, I’ll say it as I knock on wood and say, we want to close out this pandemic and it’s so hard for employers, right. If we were not inclusive, if we were not offering the benefits that we’re offering at the caliber, we’re offering them, we’re behind the eight-ball, for sure. Right.
James Startare (00:06:06):
And so we’re proud of fact that we’re kind of leading the charge and say, “Hey, look at our benefit package. It’s strong in and of itself on its own merits. When we look at what we’re doing in the space of LGBTQ+ and, the package that we’re offering, in the area of diversity and inclusion, again, something to be very proud of and we are.
Peter Panageas (00:06:29):
Yeah. And congratulations, and you should be, incredible work. You know, Janine look, you know, it goes without saying, I’m thrilled that you’re here with us, you’re dear, dear friend, and certainly a colleague. And, so proud of the work that we’re doing here at Independence. And I’m gonna ask you the same question I just asked, James, can you, can you elaborate a little bit more on, you know, things that we’re doing and that you and your team are leading on behalf of, the associates that we serve?
Janine Brandolo (00:06:55):
Sure. Peter, I’d love to. I am proud to say that we’ve always offered really inclusive benefits, regardless of demographic or culture or gender. But, you know, with that said, there’s always an opportunity for more growth when it comes to a program or a benefit. We are constantly reevaluating and looking at, the utilization where we’re, seeing gaps in care. And then we have a unique opportunity being a customer of Independence, as well as the workforce that we can wrap our benefits program in with our wellness platform and promote internally, across the org.
Janine Brandolo (00:07:40):
With COVID, the pandemic has really given us an opportunity to spread our reach, think about it our folks in Cranberry and in Minnesota never would have had an opportunity to sit through, you know, a six month meditation series or looking at, you know, mental health, which is another one of the topics that we would look at from an LGBTQ+ perspective, as well as an all associates perspective.
Peter Panageas (00:08:08):
Incredible perspective. And let me, ask, you James, the same thing, if I can toggle back to you here for a second, ’cause I think Janine, taps into something pretty special when you’re talking about wellness, certainly going through this pandemic, we’ve all been living through, right. And certainly with the, you know, mental health and wellness of the employees that we serve every day, how has that all intertwined from an Aramark perspective? How’s that intertwined with all the great work that you’re doing around, the things that we’re talking about here today?
James Startare (00:08:42):
Yeah, Pete, the best way to answer that question is, you know, we, focus heavily on mental health, right? The mental health of our employees. That’s not novel, right. Every employer would say the same thing that I just said. But how are we doing it within our population? Right. When I say we have 200,000 employees and we have 200,000 employees spread over the world, right. We have a hundred to 150,000 employees in the United States, peppered everywhere. So how do we bring counseling to people? Right. And so we’re doing it in a creative way. And a few examples to draw from is actually we brought an EAP counselor to our headquarters office. So one day a week, we have a counselor in our office, obviously not right now.
James Startare (00:09:30):
But so it’s virtual, but you know, when we’re in headquarters, we have a counselor there one day, a week. And one way on tackling that in the field is by market segment and region and working with our EAP to say, “Hey, can we get a counselor in a certain region or a pocket?” That’s dedicated to, let’s say the Southeast or the Northeast or the Southwest, etc. So we have a concentrated resource that it’s not an Aramark resource, it’s a counselor that can provide virtual visits to our employees. And then the topics, well, nothing’s off limits, right. When we’re talking about counseling and it touches on many of the questions, comments, concerns, that many of our LGBTQ+ population face on a daily basis. So, we make sure that that counseling is inclusive, to all of our employees.
Peter Panageas (00:10:37):
Yeah. Incredible work. we’ve talked, recently in prior podcasts about the new norm and the way, care is being, delivered and, kudos to you and the Aramark organization and Janine, I know we’ve done the same thing here at Independence, relative to the virtual approach to bringing health care, you know, forward. Right. And, helping us, navigate through some very choppy times. And certainly as it pertains to the LGBTQ+ community, So I’m going to, I’m gonna shift gears here a little bit, and toggle over to Vince.
Vince as the co-chair of the Aramark Pride Employee Resource Group. Can you share with us a little bit about your group’s mission and the work it’s done to support the LGBTQ+ community?
Vince Poplaski (00:11:44):
Sure. And, thank you, Peter. I’m thrilled to be here to talk about Aramark Pride ERG and some of the great work been doing through the ERG.
Vince Poplaski (01:04:12):
Aramark’s Pride ERG is one of 11 employee resource groups that Aramark offers to its employees. And our Pride ERG mission statement is to promote an inclusive, respectful, and diverse workplace that empowers our LGBTQ+ employees and their allies to be their best selves and bring their best selves to work. Our Pride ERG focuses our contributions to Aramark around four main pillars. The first pillar being our workforce pillar, and this pillar focuses on the attraction, retention and development of our LGBTQ+ population, as well as our LGBTQ+ allies.
Vince Poplaski (01:05:10):
Some of the events that fall within this pillar are things like tabling events, where members of our talent acquisition team will go to various pride events around the country and represent Aramark as an employer of choice to the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, all of our training events will also fall in this pillar. Things like pronoun and LGBTQ+ terminology training that we provide to our employees and our managers, at Aramark, as well as all of our allyship trainings. Our second pillar is our work place pillar and all of our culture building activities fall within this pillar. This would include things like, where we partner with other Aramark employee resource groups to co-sponsor events. Such as in February, we partnered with our lead ERG, lead at Aramark is leaders and employees of African descent.
Vince Poplaski (01:06:11):
So we partnered with them to put on a Black History Month event where we focused on LGBTQ+ people of color throughout history who made strong contributions, but, you may never have heard of them. Additionally, in March for women’s history month, we partnered with our empower ERG in power is Aramark’s women’s ERG. And we put on a panel entitled women out at Aramark where out women where we’re asked questions and it was a panel discussion. Our third pillar is our marketplace pillar and all of our philanthropic and corporate advocacy efforts would fall within the marketplace pillar. So for example, when Aramark makes grants to a local not-for-profit organizations, that would be the responsibility of our marketplace pillar.
Vince Poplaski (00:14:46):
And then additionally, through our corporate advocacy pillar, we look for ways that Aramark can promote the LGBTQ+ cause externally. An example of some work that fell within this category would be Aramark joining the amicus brief to promote the expansion of Title VII, which was expanded in 2020. Then our last pillar is our hub leadership pillar. So at Aramark, we have a diverse workforce that’s spread out all throughout the country. And really ensuring that our message is getting out through all of our hubs, and all of our various locations is really critical. So our hub leadership pillar focuses on getting out the message so that everybody feels included regardless of where you are geographically.
Peter Panageas (00:15:44):
Vince, when I, when I hear you talk about your workforce, your workplace, your marketplace, and your hub pillars, right? Amazing work, it’s totally a 360 approach to managing it from, you know, you had mentioned attracting and retaining employees, right? And I want you to talk a little bit more about your pronoun and LGBTQ+ training in a minute. I’m gonna come back to you about that in a minute. You talk about your inclusive approach, the work that you’re doing in the community. And certainly it’s not something that you’re locally focused on. It’s, it’s a national approach and, an incredible strategy that you’re going through. Incredible work.
Vince Poplaski (00:18:19):
Thank you, Peter. Yeah, we really believe that it is important to, approach our ERG’s contributions from multiple angles to ensure that, we’re really focusing on all of the different elements that are important to our LGBTQ+ employees and their allies.
Peter Panageas (00:18:41):
Thank you so much Vince.
Peter Panageas (00:19:53):
Thanks, Vince, for sharing that with us, incredible mission. Miyumi, how you doing? Welcome. And I’m so happy you’re with us.
Peter Panageas (00:20:04):
So let me, let me ask you this question as a member of Independence Pride Associate Resource Group. Can you talk a little bit about the group’s mission, and the work that’s being done to support the LGBTQ+ community?
Miyumi Fair (00:21:19):
Hi, yes, I can. first and foremost, thanks for having me. it’s really nice to see everybody virtually. So let me go into it. So first, what does Pride even stand for? People Recognizing Inclusion Diversity in Equity. And that’s definitely what our group is doing and has been doing since 2014. Our mission, Pride’s mission, is to influence independence, family of companies decisions by providing the LGBTQ+ community perspective and providing access to resources, support and networking. So associates of all sexual orientations and gender identities feel empowered, inspired, and celebrated.
Miyumi Fair (00:22:11):
And that’s honestly what we do as a group, we have three pillars I think all of the ERG groups that we have at Independence have, pillars to really support what their group does and really make sure that they’re moving the needle on exactly what it is that they’re trying to do. As far as what we’re doing specifically right now, we’re in virtual mode. So, we really haven’t been able to really get in contact and really touch our members the way that we’ve been able to recently. Recently we’ve had Pride talks.
Miyumi Fair (00:22:47):
We’ve had, out at work, basically events to really bring the community that, supports us and also the individuals within the community together here at Independence. as an ally, it’s definitely, you know, important to listen, it’s important to learn, and it’s important to show up and definitely my work on the leadership team and really kind of taking a step back and really listening really helps. and we’re just an evolving group and it’s a pleasure to be on the team. So it’s a little bit about what we do and what we’ve been doing.
Peter Panageas (00:23:29):
You know, Miyumi, I’ll tell you, as I’ve been preparing for our podcast and I’m gonna share this with everybody here, on a personal level, this has been a very eye-opening experience for me. As I’ve uncovered and learned more about Janine, what you and your team and James, certainly what you’ve been sharing with us today from a benefits perspective and, Vince and Miyumi, what you’re doing, it’s taught me a lot, right? It’s taught me a lot about, understanding the LGBTQ+ community in ways I’ve never really understood it before. Right.
Peter Panageas (00:24:09):
It’s given me an opportunity to educate myself and I encourage all of our listeners to take these steps, um, take this step forward and educate yourself more about, all the great work, whether it’s your employer or whether it’s in the community that you live, better understanding the LGBTQ+ community and embracing it is a really, really important step.
Peter Panageas (00:24:39):
You know, and Vince, I’d asked you earlier to, to talk a little bit more about the training that you all are doing on the pronoun and LGBTQ+ training that you’re doing at Aramark and, you know, admittedly learning more about the pronouns for me personally, it has been an eye-opening experience for me too. Right. So something that I’ve learned and I’ve also realized that I have a lot more to learn. So I’d be interested to hear a little bit more about what you all are doing around that training.
Vince Poplaski (00:25:10):
Yeah. And thank you for that, Peter. Internally, one of the common questions we receive from members of our workforce who are either in the LGBTQ+ community or not is the feeling that they cannot keep up with the changing acronyms, the changing terminology, the changing pronoun usage. So we identified that gap early and we thought it would be good for our organization to develop a training for our Pride members, as well as employees who are not members of Pride to give them the basics in terms of LGBTQ+ terminology, as well as pronoun usage. To execute this training, we develop content by relying on content available out there through Out and Equal.
Vince Poplaski (00:26:04):
Out and Equal is an organization that partners with corporations on all matters related to, LGBTQ+ workforces. So with that content, we also pulled in some of our transgender workforce at Aramark to develop the content so that it’s customized for our employee base. And then this training hopefully will allow our managers to feel somewhat prepared when they deal with some of these situations that the LGBTQ+ community consistently deals with. We really want to try to educate our workforce and avoid the situation where people are too afraid to ask because they don’t want to offend anyone. So we want to get out ahead of that and equip our managers with the information they need to tackle some of these issues.
Peter Panageas (00:26:59):
Vince, thank you. James, Janine, I’m gonna shift back over to you both. James, I know recently, Aramark conducted, I don’t know if it was a town hall type of session or, maybe you can educate us here a little bit, but I know that you recently had a forum that you talked about certain topics supporting the LGBTQ+ community. I’d love to hear more about the work that you and your organization did.
James Startare (00:27:39):
Yeah, great. Happy to. It was just about a week and a half ago, Peter, that we had a collaborative effort between Vince and myself, you know, Vince and our colleagues. We both are part of the Aramark total rewards team. So it’s easy for us to kind of speak and collaborate. And we did just that, right. Vince, as the co-chair of our Pride ERG, me as the vice president of Benefits, you know, we said, let’s put this education session together for our Pride ERG employees, and we did just that.
James Startare (00:28:09):
You know, along the lines of Vince’s comments around kind of use of acronyms, you know, people get so confused around benefit terminology, what is covered, what is not covered, right? I mean, you need a Rosetta Stone to kind of figure it out unless you’re like us in the business. And so, you know, we thought it was a great opportunity just to do some general education for our Pride ERG employees and our ally population, to educate them on the, not all of our benefits, of course, the benefits that are most relevant to the LGBTQ+ population.
James Startare (00:28:45):
And then we tackle that by bringing in some key vendor partners, Independence was one of them. So we appreciate the partnership of the Independence team. We had a medical director, we had Independence leadership on that call with other vendor partners. So we had a nice panel discussion and great collaboration. We had a nice Q&A, and it was one of true education.
James Startare (00:31:00):
And it was one that people walked away with feeling informed, feeling educated, feeling in a better place than before the session. So we thought this information session was appropriate and relevant, and it served to be just that.
Peter Panageas (00:31:25):
James, thanks for that insight. And, I did get some feedback, from some of the folks from Independence who were there, and they said it was an incredible session. So, congratulations James to you and Vince, you too.
Peter Panageas (00:39:57):
And Janine, pivoting over to you to the incredible work that Independence has been doing, love for you to share a little bit of insight from a benefits perspective of some of the things that we’ve been accomplishing in supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
Thanks Peter. One of the most important things that we have established in the last year is a domestic partner leave. This provides the same job protection to our LGBTQ+ folks as the Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA. We created this to meet the needs of the domestic partners throughout the company, and it eliminates, fear of job loss. So FMLA doesn’t cover domestic partners, life partners, or civil union partners. And we created this as a vehicle for inclusivity for the entire population.
Peter Panageas (00:41:04):
Wow. Congratulations, and kudos to the organization and to you and your team for leading that effort. And, Miyumi, I know that there were some aspects of that too, that you wanted to build upon.
Miyumi Fair (00:42:26):
So kind of piggybacking off of what Janine said, my mom used the adoption benefit a good 26 years ago when she adopted me. So, it’s really nice to know that our company is inclusive of everybody and really thinks of everybody’s needs. It’s good to hear someone actually say that.
Peter Panageas (00:42:55):
That’s awesome. So I’m gonna ask the four of you this question. And, Miyumi, I’ll start with you first, but I’m gonna ask all of you this question and then Janine, I’ll ask you to go after, what does Pride mean to you?
Miyumi Fair (00:43:21):
Pride means to me showing up, showing out and being there, being supportive, showing up to the table, bringing someone along. I remember that yesterday when we were prepping for this, it was just like, are we the right people for this? And we are the right people. Everybody is the right person for pretty much anything. So Pride means to me showing up in, showing out, especially as an ally.
Peter Panageas (00:43:57):
How about you Janine?
I would say it, it’s respecting each other’s differences and demanding justice for all. We’re none of us are really any different than the person next to us. we all breathe the same air every day. So if you would like to think it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to have us all look at each other as equals.
Peter Panageas (00:44:29):
James Startare (00:44:31):
I’ll address it in the most literal sense. You know, Pride means to be proud. I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of the company I work for. I’m proud of the person sitting next to me that is open and living their life in an open, in an open fashion. Right. And hiding behind no curtains, no doors, no closets, just being proud of, of who I am my own skin and who my colleagues are and the organization I work for, that’s what Pride means to me.
Peter Panageas (00:45:01):
And Vince. How about you? What does Pride mean to you?
Vince Poplaski (00:45:05):
To me, pride means inclusivity. I think for members of the LGBTQ+ community at certain points throughout their life, they’ve felt, me included, that you just don’t belong. And Pride is about the opposite of that. It’s about belonging, it’s about promoting a sense of community, it’s about being included and being seen.
Peter Panageas (00:45:33):
Thank you. To recap some of the great feedback that you all shared, being there, showing up, having respect for one another, justice for all, being proud, inclusivity, , a sense of community. I think you, you summed it up perfectly. This has been an incredible experience for me. You’ve all taught me something and I couldn’t be more proud to work with such a great group of people here at Independence and the leadership Janine and Miyumi that you bring.
Peter Panageas (00:46:11):
And certainly partnering with an incredible client, James and Vince in Aramark. So in closing, and this is kind of a trademark I’ve tried to do with all my podcasts. I’m gonna ask each of you, if there’s any one more thing you’d want to share with our audience, what would it be? So, Vince, I’m gonna start with you.
Vince Poplaski (00:46:34):
Yeah, I guess for me, one thing I’d add is just to shout out to the employee resource groups, most companies today have them, look to see if your employer has any, see if any are, or if you’re interested in any support for those that your organization has, because the support of allies, really means a lot.
Peter Panageas (00:46:56):
James Startare (00:47:22):
You know, Peter, this represents who we are as a company; Aramark. So thank you for allowing us to participate in this discussion today. It makes us proud to be partners with independence and for having us here, we’re very appreciative for that, right? This is a topic I believe if you’re not in front of it, you’re behind it. I think at Aramark, we’re in front of it, at Independence, you’re in front of it, right? And that’s the world we live in.
James Startare (00:47:51):
And to be at an organization and that you feel the same way that thinks and acts this way organically, it’s, is not forced is a wonderful thing. So, that’s what I would say, right. I oftentimes think from a benefits lens and be able to work for an organization that cares about this topic as much as Aramark does, we can, it makes me, makes me feel proud. So again, thanks for having us here. I’m pleased to be in an organization and work with an organization is in Independence and again, in front of this topic.
Peter Panageas (00:48:29):
Thank you, James. How about you, Janine?
I’ll leave you with a quote. One of my favorites, “Be who you are and say what you feel for those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
Peter Panageas (00:48:46):
Peter Panageas (00:48:48):
Thank you. (laughs) Love it.
Peter Panageas (00:50:19):
Peter Panageas (00:51:25):
So Janine, Miyumi, Vince and James, thank you so much for joining us today in our podcast. It was such a pleasure speaking with all of you and I’m so appreciative of the insight, and the incredible work that you all are doing and representing, Independence and certainly Aramark. So again, thank you so much for being with us today.
James Startare (00:52:06):
Thank you, Peter. Good to be here.
Miyumi Fair (00:52:07):
Thank you for having opportunity. It’s this great guys.
Peter Panageas (01:21:47):
So check out the show notes for more information at insights.ibx.com, that’s insights.ibx.com. if you’ve missed out on any Pride celebrations during the month of June, many cities and towns have postponed their celebrations due to COVID-19, please check out your local media outlets for the latest on Pride celebrations near you. So I want to thank each of you again for joining us. Please tune in next month where we’re gonna discuss workplace changes and the impact on employee behavioral health. Thanks again. Have a great day.