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What inclusive leadership looks like at DENCAP

Diversity & inclusion has been a 34-year-long focus at the Detroit-based
dental insurance company, DENCAP. Rather than dedicated formal programs,
current president Joseph Lentine puts these values at the heart of his
company’s leadership.

Joseph Lentine is committed to building a diverse & inclusive culture at DENCAP Dental Plans. He has his business reasons. There are the benefits for creativity and innovation and, most of all for Joe, the significance of this issue from a customer service standpoint. “The population of urban Detroit, where we are located, is very diverse, and I feel it’s important that our employees reflect and understand the diverse communities that we serve.” But it is also a matter of Joe’s personal values as a leader. Over the years growing up and working in Detroit, Joe has witnessed overt as well as more subtle forms of discrimination against marginalized groups. Those experiences have profoundly shaped Joe and created in him a strong drive to lead his company so that all employees “feel seen and heard”.1 Rather than dedicated formal programs, Joe focuses on promoting diversity & inclusion through a human-centric leadership and management approach.

What blocks progress? Nonmeaningful corporate diversity programs

So far, Joe has not developed much in the way of formal Diversity & Inclusion programs at DENCAP, partly because he is painfully aware, based on what he saw during 20+ years as a senior leader at General Motors, of how challenging it is to develop ones that actually make an impact: “We spent a lot of money at GM on diversity training every year but just talking about all-inclusive behaviors doesn’t mean a lot to most people. To broaden someone’s mindset and make them more inclusive, you really have to make these issues real to the person.” “A year and a half ago, I sat down with all of my employees, in 4 different groups, for hour-long open dialogues about diversity & inclusion. I got my message across: I only tolerate inclusion,” says Joe. “I didn’t really know much about how to lead such a topic, and I think just about the only thing about my diversity training that I feel proud of is the fact that I did it myself, as the president of the company. It is very important that diversity & inclusion comes from the top, and yet in my experience it’s rare to hear top leaders engage personally with these issues.” Joe feels his management team still has much to learn when it comes to such initiatives. “Diversity training – and I don’t know yet that I even want to call it diversity training – at DENCAP is a work in progress. My goal is to have a new initiative in place by the end of the first quarter of 2019.”

Diversity & inclusion at DENCAP starts with human-centric leadership



Excerpt from Business Digest N°291, November 2018

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Caroline Schuurman
Published by Caroline Schuurman