Meeting the Challenge & Celebrating IDEA

By Allison O’Connor, TRUST President

When we established the TRUST’s inclusion, diversity, equity and access (IDEA) goals in 2021, we sought to elevate our work in this area. We held our first DE&I (as it was known then) event on March 2, 2021, and began our efforts to move diversity and inclusion from discussion to action. Since then, we’ve added “access” to our goals and continue to weave IDEA into everything the Women’s Health Leadership TRUST does.

To celebrate our IDEA work and demonstrate how we’re rising to the challenge, I’ve asked Lisa Saul, MD, and Rajni Shah, MD, leaders of the TRUST’s IDEA endeavors, to join me for a brief Q&A.

When we started our formal work in 2021, we referred to it as DE&I, and now it’s IDEA. People may be less familiar with the term access in this equation. Can you enlighten us?

As a committee, we sat down and asked, “what is important to us?” We hear so much about diversity, equity, inclusion and DEI that these words have lost some meaning. We had to think about what this work means as TRUST members. What are we looking for and trying to do?

The TRUST exists to support and elevate women in their careers. Part of that goal is to help under-represented individuals advance and reach new heights. Access is a big part of this. It doesn’t matter how equitable the field is if we don’t open doors. We have to reach out to people who would never have access to the TRUST and these networks. That’s the whole point of why the Women’s Health Leadership TRUST got started. The health care industry used to be a men’s club, and women were largely on the outside. Women sought access to network and help each other out. The TRUST helped provide that access.

The theme of access kept coming up over and over. We want to support those who need help opening a door. Thus, IDEA – Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access – was formed.

The TRUST has steadily increased our IDEA storytelling series. How does this series help achieve our IDEA goals?

The point of our storytelling series is that no one ever takes a straight path in their career. We’re always on journeys, and we learn from the journeys of others. We wanted to focus on access in a small space with senior leaders in our community so they could share their stories and TRUST members could learn how to excel from them. It’s more powerful to hear a story. Stories are what make people who they are. Our storytelling series allows for listening and active engagement in a safe environment where asking questions and networking is not intimidating.

As you continue the roadmap for the TRUST, where do you see our IDEA work in the future?

To date, our primary focus has been to get IDEA going and get our storytelling series off the ground. We’re still creating space to foster inclusive and equitable practices and embrace IDEA in our programming. There are three key areas as we advance our IDEA work.

  1. We know allyship is a big deal, and we want to create a network of allyship. That will be a significant next step for us.
  2. Another big step is looking at ways to financially support women in our community who may not be able to afford to be members of the TRUST. Perhaps that’s a scholarship or sponsorship where we can help bring women into the TRUST.
  3. IDEA is becoming part of the TRUST’s culture. We will embed IDEA in everything we do – programming, committees, membership.

We often discuss diversity, equity, inclusion and access as everyone’s responsibility. How can each TRUST member embrace this responsibility within the TRUST and in their personal and professional lives?

TRUST members should understand diversity, equity, inclusion and access is a journey. The first step in the journey is to be aware of yourself – your biases, and who you are. Through that journey, we can all grow together. IDEA work requires understanding and the want to change. We’re on this journey together.

We’re all about creating spaces and celebrating inclusion. We’d love to see more members join the committee and support our goals in the future as we work to embed IDEA into the TRUST culture. We’re excited about the TRUST’s commitment to IDEA and where the community is taking us!

Allison O’Connor serves as the 2022 TRUST President and is Vice President of Strategy Execution at Lifespark. Allison has also held roles as Board Chair with the American College of Healthcare Executives Minnesota Chapter and Minnesota Rural Health Association, Vice-Chair with Cedar Riverside People’s Center and is a current Board member with American Red Cross North Central Blood Services North Region.