Partners for Inclusion: Advancing Leadership + Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

“Diversity initiatives are most successful when we bring the right voices to the table”: Manika Turnbull reflects on Blue Cross and Blue Shield of IL unique partnership w/ @ADA25AdvLeaders Tweet This

Share this article Tweet about this on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Email this to someone

Manika Turnbull is vice president, community health and economic impact officer for Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), the parent company of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. Turnbull previously served as HCSC’s Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. She sits on the boards of Leadership Greater Chicago, Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and is a founding member of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s Executive Committee.


For over 13 years, I have lived out my passion for helping people and organizations thrive through leadership positions at Health Care Service Corporation—the parent of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL). One of the reasons I love my job is that every day, I get to help employees tap into their unique skills and experiences to reach their fullest potential. I also get to use my abilities as a connector to seed new relationships that help people grow.

As one of the largest health insurers in the region, BCBSIL serves incredibly diverse populations. We want our customers to know that their health insurer understands their needs, so we work hard to build a strong organizational culture of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Since 2015, BCBSIL has been a partner and supporter of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, whose mission is to develop a network of leaders with disabilities in the Chicago region. As a healthcare organization, BCBSIL wants to lead the way in disability inclusion and show that our differences only make us—and our organizations—stronger. Partnering with Advancing Leadership has been instrumental to focusing our initiatives and learning about best practices for disability inclusion.

To help drive our disability inclusion efforts, BCBSIL created two employee groups for disability inclusion: In-Abled, our business resource group, and the Disability Advocacy Council, made up of leaders from across the company.

As a healthcare organization, BCBSIL wants to lead the way in disability inclusion and show that our differences only make us—and our organizations—stronger.

The two groups worked together to create BCBSIL’s Disability Toolkit, which provides resources for employees and hiring managers on everything from the accommodations process to self-identification to employees’ rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. In-Abled members also participate in recruitment, engage in local community events such as Chicago’s annual Disability Pride Parade and lead inclusion best practice sharing sessions with other corporate resource groups outside of BCBSIL.

To ensure BCBSIL continues to benefit from a disability perspective, it is essential that we cultivate a strong pipeline of employee leaders with disabilities. That is why we have supported the participation of three BCBSIL employees in the year-long Leadership Institute.

The Leadership Institute offers a unique blend of leadership development, community-building, connections to leadership opportunities, disability education and exploration of disability identity. BCBSIL has already benefited from the lessons our employees have learned, as well as the expanded networks: one employee connected us to another Fellow in her class who was perfect for a BCBSIL job opportunity.

Three panelists seated on a stage in front of banners reading Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit
Manika Turnbull and fellow Executive Committee member Kent Klaus sit on a panel at the annual CBLN Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit.


Since 2017, BCBSIL has been recognized as a Best Place to Work on the Disability Equality Index—with a perfect score each year! It has been deeply gratifying to receive this acknowledgement of our hard work to build an inclusive culture with leading-edge practices.

On a personal level, Advancing Leadership has given me many hands-on opportunities to make a difference. I’ve served on the organization’s Executive Committee since its inception, and I also have mentored an emerging leader with disabilities for the past three years. I am sure I’ve gained as much, if not more, from the relationship as my mentee has.

Diversity initiatives are most successful when we bring the right voices and perspectives to the table. Advancing Leadership has been critical to helping BCBSIL expand our knowledge and build better programs to make our company a truly welcoming place for everyone.