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Women Transforming Health Care: Kristen Cerf

Kristen Cerf is president and CEO of Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan
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Kristen Cerf is president and CEO of Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan, a wholly owned subsidiary of Blue Shield of California. She is responsible for ensuring access to quality care for Blue Shield Promise’s nearly 500,000 members, as well as managing Medi-Cal growth strategy and expanding Blue Shield’s presence throughout California.

Why health care?

After a few unexpected turns in college and law school I found myself in health care and just knew that this is where I wanted to be. With Medi-Cal in particular, there’s a significant opportunity to be of service, actively engage in work that transforms communities and makes a difference in health care. Blue Shield’s mission is to ensure that all Californians have access to high-quality health care at an affordable price, transforming a dysfunctional healthcare system into one that is worthy of our family and friends and sustainably affordable. We can’t achieve that mission without serving the Medi-Cal population and bringing the mission to our Medi-Cal members is what gets me out of bed every single day.


Who are some of the women that inspire you?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem and both of my grandmothers are some of my biggest inspirations. All are women who lead with authenticity, own who they are, and never apologize for it. I’m also inspired by the women I work with and alongside every day. For me, it’s not just how we’re breaking ceilings; we’re breaking down walls to go high and wide. This is life-changing work and I’m constantly inspired by and learning from so many amazing people in this company who share themselves and make me a better person.

How can we/do you support the next generation of women leaders?

Our chief operating officer, Todd Walthall, said it best: it’s about leaving the door open for others. Not cracked, not partially open, wide open. Todd took it further than just opening the door, he helped me see an ability I didn’t know I had and supported me in taking the leap that changed my entire career. Being the recipient of that kind of leadership is a gift. Sometimes leaving the door open is just the beginning, and you have to help see a person through.  I take that to heart and try to help others see that greatness in themselves, see the door and help them to get through it where they’re blind to greatness within themselves.

What challenges do we still need to overcome to achieve equality?

There are so many challenges that women face in the workforce that need to be overcome in order for us to achieve equality. For me personally, it is about the challenge of leadership with vulnerability, whether that’s emotion, humor or another non-traditional female leadership styles. We can all do better at lifting one another up to help each other be our true and honest selves. I laugh and I smile, and that doesn’t resonate with some people.  Equality will come when we are accepted for who we are, regardless of gender. This means creating a safe environment where high-performing leaders are lifted-up rather than ridiculed or stigmatized because they do not fit a mold or expectation – whether for style, a mistake, etc. People should be valued for their honesty, authenticity and what they bring to the table.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak changed/challenged the way you lead?

You have to be even more vulnerable and verbal about where you’re coming from and what your true north is when you’re not being able to see or interface with people every day. It requires more of an extension of your personal self than normal to connect with people. That’s something I struggle with as a private person. The benefit of this time is that we can now just get at it – whatever “it” is. We’re in this together; let’s be honest, get it on the table and let’s do this.