SMPH charting new path for leadership of diversity and equity transformation

At a virtual meeting on June 15, 2021, titled “Planning for a New Approach to Diversity and Equity Transformation” the SMPH community heard updates about the school’s evolving approach to leadership of diversity and equity efforts. The meeting provided details about plans for new leadership roles in the school focused on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) through the power of institutional transformation.

Angela Byars-Winston, PhD, professor of medicine, and Hope Broadus, JD, associate dean for human resources, gave the presentation. Dean Robert N. Golden, MD, served as moderator and also took questions. Parts of the conversation continued a discussion of topics from the June 2020 Faculty/Staff Meeting.

The school’s new approach will look beyond the traditional model of a single individual in leadership whose office is charged with “managing DEI,” said Byars-Winston. Instead, the school will create a new senior leadership position at the associate dean level, and a second position who will report to this individual.

The senior position will dedicate their full effort to establishing a systematic transformational approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout SMPH, in partnership with UW Health and UW–Madison. The second position would include a person with content expertise in developing and delivering diversity and equity-related programming, such as workshops, seminars, and trainings.

“This is a new, unconventional structure…we want to be the leader when it comes to advancing this vitally important agenda,” Golden said to start the meeting.

There are many options for the title of this new position, and a major contender is Associate Dean for Diversity and Equity Transformation, among others. The individual will report directly to the dean, be part of the Dean’s Leadership Team, and be provided with resources to support their responsibilities.

The presenters outlined how this approach will provide SMPH with a visionary and inspiring leader who will develop a broad, systems-level view of the organization and envision and catalyze sweeping organizational transformation to advance diversity and equity. For example, this dedicated senior leadership role will work to establish accountability structures and assessment and evaluation processes to make relevant data-driven decisions. This will spark transformation at a holistic, school-wide level and help empower each member of the school community to advance these efforts in their individual daily actions.

School leaders anticipate this senior leader, once they begin, will hire a second individual who will be an expert manager — in the style of an “executive leader of operations” role — who can skillfully translate change strategies into specific programs and offer services, guidance, and consultation.

“Imagine the possibility of transforming SMPH into an academic medical center that is equity-minded, leveraging diversity as a human asset capital,” said Byars-Winston, who was tapped by Golden to help conceive of the new structure because of her extensive expertise and research in this area. “We are imagining a senior leader who will be a catalyzing agent and create synergies between SMPH, UW Health, and campus writ large, plus another individual who can facilitate and respond to programming needs that so many departments are excited to bring to others.”

The group involved in strategizing the nature of the new positions used many resources, including feedback from the school community and materials from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Key AAMC resources include the vision of David A. Acosta, MD, AAMC’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, to create the “next generation of diversity work” and the comprehensive “Proceedings of the Diversity and Inclusion Innovation Forum: Unconscious Bias in Academic Medicine” published in 2017.

The meeting also provided context on how the new position will fit into the school’s overall leadership structure. For example, the position of Associate Dean for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs that had been held by Tracy M. Downs, MD, has been redefined as Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs for Health Professions Learners, which will work within the Office of Academic Affairs on behalf of the school’s five health professions degree programs and related mentoring and pathway programs for younger students. More information about this position will be announced soon. In contrast to the tailored scope of this role, the two new positions unveiled in the meeting will be school-wide in scope.

Broadus gave more details on the recruitment timeline for this senior leadership position. The goal is to finalize the position description and form a small search committee by late July and post the position in early August. Applicants would be narrowed down throughout the fall, with finalists visiting near the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022. The anticipated start date is late April or early May of 2022.

“We want as many people as possible to participate in a robust search process,” Broadus said. “I look at this process as taking action from the space that you’re in. It’s something we can all contribute to from where we are and where we can have influence.”

The presenters also took questions from the audience, which ranged from how best to increase engagement of white-identifying individuals at DEI events to how the school will be accountable for change. Byars-Winston stressed the value of this leadership position being focused on organizational change and how that will allow the individual to guide the school toward system-wide progress.

“Structural racism doesn’t need bigots to keep it moving,” she said. “It happens because systems are in place to keep it moving. We are poised as a school to capitalize on the momentum of great work and growing interest in diversity and equity needed to do the ongoing work of systems change so that all learners, staff, and faculty may flourish.”