Hilary Villa Shares Importance of Advancing Equality for Women
This Women’s History Month, Centene is celebrating women leaders like Hilary Villa. Hilary joined Centene’s Superior HealthPlan in 2019 and is now a Project Manager in the Utilization Management department. She also is Co-President of Centene’s women’s Employee Inclusion Group I.N.S.P.I.R.E. In the following Q&A, Hilary describes how her role as a Project Manager involves team-building and creating meaningful connections. She also shares thoughts on her work with I.N.S.P.I.R.E, allyship, and how Women’s History Month is an opportunity to focus on the future and continue advancing equality.
Q. Tell us about your background and your current role at Superior HealthPlan?
A. I’ve been working in healthcare administration since 2005 but only started with Centene in 2019. Even though it’s been three years, I sometimes still feel like the new kid on the block. I am currently a Project Manager in our Utilization Management department, which handles authorizations for medical and behavioral health services. In my position, I interact with our Managers, Directors, and Senior Leaders to organize projects and ensure they are completed in a timely manner. Prior to Centene, I worked for a third-party administrator of health benefits, managing client implementations and ongoing requests.
Q. What is the most meaningful part of your job?
A. The most meaningful part of being a Project Manager is creating connections between teams. Most people see my role as primarily that of a taskmaster, sending out reminders and updating project plans. In reality, a significant portion of my work focuses on building and maintaining connections between people who may have disparate goals. The first step on any new project is to create a sense of teamwork between colleagues so they are working collaboratively. Every person has a need for acknowledgement and appreciation, and all too often conflicts arise when we don’t feel that those needs can be met. Being able to see past any surface tension to the root of the matter — and finding a way to work past it — that is easily the best and most meaningful part of my job.
Q. Who influenced you most during your career and why?
A. Honestly, I pondered this question for a long time, and in the end, I came up with an unusual answer — me. I am the person who has influenced myself the most over the course of my career. Over the years, I have had many outstanding colleagues, insightful bosses, and smart, tough clients who have inspired me. But in the back of my head, I have always kept a vision of the person I could be in five or 10 years, the ultimate rock star, having-it-all version.
I have pushed myself through the stress of balancing a new promotion, fractured ankle, and accelerated MBA program all in the same year. I have dug up every available free or low-cost resource in my ongoing battle with anxiety and depression. I have reinvented myself when I recognized a true need for change. I’m not perfect, and there are still so many dreams I have yet to realize. But I will always want more, aspire for more, and push myself harder than anyone else.
Q. How do you feel about Centene's approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
A. Centene has worked hard as an organization to build a strong foundation in our approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. That foundation will be absolutely critical in continuing with the hard work still in front of us. Whether it is rethinking our approach to maternity leave or finding better ways to recruit and develop talented leadership for people of color, I know there are many obstacles left to tackle. However, I feel confident that we have brilliant, resourceful allies in both our Employee Inclusion Groups (EIGs) and Centene leadership to take them on.
Q. Tell us about your role as I.N.S.P.I.R.E Co-President and why it was important to you to become involved with this EIG?
A. I started as an I.N.S.P.I.R.E. Book Club host back in 2019 and applied for the role of Co-Chair for our Membership and Engagement committee later that same year. My original goal was to use every opening to network with colleagues outside of my department and health plan. I always looked for the chance to engage in leadership opportunities but did not imagine they would be realized so quickly. Being actively engaged with an EIG like I.N.S.P.I.R.E has allowed me to be more creative, to develop a plan of my own for our members. The plan doesn’t always quite work — often I have had to adjust or collaborate or just plain give up. When that happens, I have another chance to start again and find a new way to turn my ideas into a reality.
Q. What is the importance of allyship to you, and how can employees be better allies?
A. For me, the most important aspect of allyship is recognition of the obstacles faced by an underrepresented group and the ways that those in a position of privilege (like myself) have benefited. I strongly believe most people, when faced with the realities of inequity want to do the right thing, but facing that reality is the hardest part. It’s tough thinking of yourself as “part of the problem,” and recognizing the ways that you have been inadvertently racist, bigoted, ableist, etc. We all fall prey to common misconceptions, and the first step toward righting that wrong is to take a hard look at ourselves. It’s not pretty, and it’s certainly not easy to admit our failings. But I truly believe that is what we need to do to truly call ourselves allies.
Q. What are your thoughts on the significance of Women’s History Month?
A. While I understand the benefit of celebrating great women of the past, there are so many creative, resourceful, hard-working women who are doing amazing work right now. I want to acknowledge them, too. I want to focus on the future that is possible if we keep moving forward. For me, Women’s History Month is the start of the race, but I think too many people see it as crossing the finish line. I would love to see greater priority being given to the work ahead of us of the potential for all the good that we can accomplish together.