Mario Barge Reminds Us of Significance of Black History, Culture, and Accomplishments



Mario Barge headshot.

This Black History Month, Centene is highlighting its diverse employees making a difference every day. Mario Barge joined Centene in 2018 and is Vice President, Human Resources Business Partner. He has 20 years of experience in various aspects of human resources (HR) and is also a licensed attorney. Learn more from Mario, including the importance of employee engagement to an organization’s success, lessons he has learned from his grandfather and children, and his perspectives on highlighting Black culture, history, and accomplishments. 

Q.    Tell us about your background, your career at Centene, and your role as Vice President, Human Resources Business Partner.

A.    I am originally from Ohio and Texas, with parents who worked in corporate America and higher education. I have a brother who is five years older than me and we grew up playing sports, primarily basketball, soccer, and track. Recruited out of high school for soccer, I graduated from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., with a bachelor’s degree in history. I also graduated from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, with a Juris Doctorate, and I am licensed as an attorney in Ohio. I am married with two children — a 16-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy. 

Over my 20-year career, I have lived all over the country working in various aspects of HR, gaining critical experience in Centers of Excellence (COE), and as an HR Business Partner. I have led everything from regional HR needs to COE teams and developing and implementing enterprisewide programs for ADA/FMLA/Leave Management, HR Compliance Governance, Union Avoidance, Office of Federal Contract Compliance, and development and culture-related initiatives.     

I have been fortunate to work alongside amazing teams of leaders and HR professionals at Centene as I’ve overseen HR needs for Buckeye Health Plan, MHS Indiana, Absolute Total Care, PA Health & Wellness, WellCare of Kentucky, Michigan Health Plan, and Peach State Health Plan. I’ve focused on the specific culture needs at Buckeye and Peach State, rolling out new culture models for each plan. I’ve served as an HR lead for the Pharmacy Operations focused Centene Forward initiative. Today, I oversee HR needs for Peach State Health Plan, enterprise diversity, equity, and inclusion needs, and co-lead the HR Engagement Council.

Q.    What is the most meaningful part of your job?

A.    The relationships I have developed over the past three and a half years. In addition to several other aspects, Centene’s mission and vision attracts amazing talent, and it is incredible to work alongside so many talented people. 

Q.    Who influenced you most during your career and why?

A.    The greatest influence for me has been my great grandfather, Virdre C. Laws. He was a farmer and co-founder of an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Worthington, Ohio. He was an amazing man who fiercely loved his family, driving them from Ohio to South Carolina every year to see family during the times of “Sundown Towns” — communities that excluded Blacks and other minorities through discriminatory laws, harassment, and threats of violence — and “Jim Crow” — laws that enforced racial segregation in the American South.

Despite everything that was put in his path, he always kept a positive attitude, was incredibly resilient, and became very successful, buying land in Ohio and raising a wonderful family. He drove me to school every day and though I may have given him some headaches, I listened and remember everything he told me. I’ve applied his advice in my professional and personal life. One aspect that stands out was his belief that our relationships are what will always last, so cultivate and protect them whenever you can. That philosophy has served me well.

Q.    How is Centene’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion different from other companies?

A.    As a company, we are being more and more deliberate around our mindset for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our commitment to allocating $1 billion toward supplier diversity by 2025, extensive work in building our leave management approach, and our continued focus on diversity programs aimed at developing talent, all serve as examples of Centene’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Q.    Can you talk about the importance of employee engagement?

A.    Engagement is critical for our success. If we are not engaged, there is a central breakdown in our communication, commitments, focus, and execution. We need engagement at the core of what we do to ensure optimal results. 

Q.    What is the importance of allyship to you, and how can employees be better allies?

A.    Allyship is critical. It is the essence of being responsible for one another and having each other’s back. Being a better ally starts with being humble, recognizing what you don’t know, seeking to better understand and be more informed. Once we know where we can learn, then we can improve and move things forward. But first, we must be willing to acknowledge when we don’t know something in order to grow. I learn so much from my children every day. They keep me humble and open. My daughter helps me be a better ally every day. 

Q.    What are your thoughts on the significance of Black History Month?

A.    To me, this month is a celebration and a reminder of everything that has come before me. As a man raising a son and daughter, I have a very big responsibility, like so many other parents. As a Black parent, I have the unique responsibility of helping my children navigate this world through our lens. Black History Month is an amazing time to have such a bright light focused on our culture, history, and accomplishments. It helps remind my children, outside of what Mom and Dad say, the extent of our history and that they truly can accomplish anything.