Recognizing what you don’t know is a step to creating an inclusive environment.
By Christine Bush
Jennifer Olson says learning to recognize systemic racism is a challenge her organization is facing head on.
While racial tension flared during the summer of 2020, so too did the desire to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the children’s hospital workforce. Some organizations were already involved in making progress—others saw the call for DEI as renewed motivation to begin real change.
Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis and St. Paul has been in the forefront of this effort for more than four years. Jennifer Olson, senior vice president, Systems Operations, and chief strategy officer, works with health system teams to ensure the voices of patients, families, providers and staff are recognized. Here she discusses the challenges of identifying areas of growth and taking action.
Do the loudest calls for change come from internal or external sources?
It’s impossible to separate internal and external. Our employees, providers, leaders, patients and families—our community— can’t leave issues of equity or racial justice at home or at work. You can’t leave your skin color or cultural beliefs at home whether you’re in a virtual meeting or in a clinical unit—they are part of the fabric of our existence. Calls for change are loud everywhere.
What are some of the greatest challenges to improving DEI?
At Children’s Minnesota, 50% of our patients are Black, Indigenous or persons of color. The makeup of leadership, management and frontline staff doesn’t equate to the representation of our patients and families.
The challenge is recognizing systemic racism—it’s everywhere in our health system and in our community, and the more you look, the more you see it. It’s disturbing as a white person to sit in the discomfort of not seeing issues or not understanding racial perspectives clearly in the past. The leadership team is committed to seeking to understand, to have crucial conversations and to drive change. This is not a priority that will be fleeting for our organization.
Describe your organization’s successes.
Our community health needs assessment was an early indicator—the drumbeat that got louder in 2020. We’ve established a chief equity and inclusion officer along with a respect- and dignity-focused Safety Learning Report. It’s a mechanism to report emotional harm or disrespect in care or interactions. This can also be filed by an employee to highlight opportunities for internal cultural improvement. We’ve made gains in establishing metrics and creating visibility in data. We’re about elevating issues and addressing them through measurement and candid conversations.
Share strategies for progress. Join CHA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion discussion group