Although women make up a large portion of the health care industry overall, few women and women of color end up in senior leadership positions. In this episode of Radio Advisory, host Rachel Woods sits down with Erickajoy Daniels, SVP and chief diversity equity and inclusion officer at Advocate Aurora, to discuss how organizations can solve that problem through robust programs, deeply embedded strategies, and an organization-wide commitment to purpose.
Read a lightly edited excerpt from the interview below, and download the episode for the full conversation.
Rachel Woods: We are talking about women in leadership in health care, and I'm cognizant of the fact that you are a woman and a leader at your organization. I want to start by kicking things over to you. What has your personal experience been like, particularly as a black woman in the health care space?
Erickajoy Daniels: Interestingly enough, most of my career I've either been the youngest or the only female or the only person of color, so I've been developing that muscle to trudge through and drive forward. In health care there's something a little bit different, I think, being in a purpose-driven environment. But I still recognize the challenges that are faced with being one of not that many.
I'm representing myself without trying to have to represent all who look like me or have background like me. That's a weight that I tried not to carry but a responsibility that I do feel like I need to pay attention to.
Woods: You've already mentioned a red flag that I think we will warn our audience of, which is asking people to carry the weight of all people who look like them or who identify as them. That's where I want to go next. Before we talk about the right answers when it comes to workforce diversity and inclusion, I am willing to bet that there are some myths or misconceptions that you want to bust from the start. What do most folks get wrong when they think about workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?
Daniels: That it's just about black people. Or it's about the underserved and the under-this, under-that.
That mindset can lead to this conception that it means less than. You're right, if we're going to conclude no more diversity, we'll take a chance on folks. Well, really any hire you make, you're taking a chance on unless you personally know them. Or we're going to lower our standards. Those are absolutely not the same criteria.
We don't want to reduce excellence, we don't want to lower standards or lower any bars. It's just about getting the fair share of talent who come from amazingly different packages into the organization. I think those are really important for leaders to understand.
Woods: That's such an important point. I will admit to you that I got that pushback, I'm not kidding, a few days ago. A conversation came to the same back-and-forth about women in leadership, and somebody had the concern of, "How do we balance elevating women to leadership positions and giving them positions that they aren't prepared for or aren't ready for?" My instinct was, "This is not a problem. This is not the problem that you think it is."
What would you have said to that person?
Daniels: Sometimes I try to come from a place of curiosity if I can restrain some of my concern or frustration. But it's, "What makes you think that they're not prepared?" Or, "How do you define preparation?" Because I think women have had experience in ridiculously amazing places that have led to a preparation that some people just couldn't touch, and sometimes that's missed.
Woods: And it's exactly to the point you made earlier, which is that creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace is not about elevating people who weren't prepared or giving somebody the shot. Like you said, that is not the purpose at all. It's about creating systems and structures that are equitable to all and not prioritizing one group over another.
Daniels: And finding what's missing from the organization. It's also going to come from when people say, well, what about diversity of thought? There is diversity of thought, but guess what? The diversity of my thought comes because of the diverse package I'm in. My background, my cultural awareness, my understanding, my lived experience is what contributes to my diversity of thought. Let's go there and not slip into the slippery place of, well, all we really need is diversity of thought. The thought comes from the package or from the experience.
Woods: Are there other red flags that you've experienced or you've heard from other organizations that you want our listeners to be aware of when it comes to this initiative?
Daniels: Yeah. I think it's understanding what people have that they bring, even if it's not your experience. For example, there may be associations that a person of color is a part of—and just because you haven't heard of it, doesn't mean that it's not powerful or fully understanding when someone says, I have this collateral duty or I've got this community involvement, this leadership.
Instead of making the assumption, ask more questions. Be curious and understand what does someone have to bring to bear? The other thing too, is I get uncomfortable when people share that someone doesn't fit in the organization. If we're not careful and dig deep into that, fit can be used as an easy answer to address what difference, being a part of a culture, being a part of an environment. Some things that may seemingly "not fit" may be the best fit for what we need.
Woods: Do you want to know one of my favorite pieces of advice I've ever been given when it came to my own hiring practice? I'm curious to see if you agree with this.
The advice was, "Don't assume that the right person to hire is the person who is the most like you."
Woods: Which reminds me exactly what you said of this person maybe doesn't fit. That if you're just looking for somebody else reflected in yourself or looking for yourself reflected in the candidate, you are immediately going to operate with bias. That reminds me of your fit comment.
Daniels: And you'll miss something. Think about this. In processes, in efficiencies, we want to remove redundancy. Then why are we redundant in our talent selection? You know what I mean?
When I staff a team, I look for what's missing. What do I not have? It's like baking a cake and what ingredient do I not yet have that can make this even more amazing?
Every person on my team I've found, they're attributes that I don't have and I'm excited about it because I think it just blends and make something even more amazing.