by Lisa Saul, MD, President, Women’s Health Leadership TRUST
As members of the Women’s Health Leadership TRUST, we are uniquely positioned to be powerful allies for underrepresented groups. Our collective strength, rooted in lifting each other up, equips us to extend this support beyond our immediate circle. When we embrace allyship, we advocate for those whose voices are often unheard. In 2024, I invite us to go one step further—being an accomplice.
In a 2017 article,1 Coleen Clemens wrote: “An ally will mostly engage in activism by standing with an individual or group in a marginalized community. An accomplice will focus more on dismantling the structures that oppress that individual or group—and such work will be directed by the stakeholders in the marginalized group. Simply, ally work focuses on individuals, and accomplice work focuses on the structures of decision-making agency.” In other words, an accomplice must be willing to use their power—in whatever form that power takes—to disrupt the systems that make life unfair for people at the bottom of the hierarchy.2
Empathy and Understanding
Our organization was founded on a deep understanding of the challenges faced by women leaders in health care. Our experiences as women in a demanding field have taught us the value of support, mentorship and representation. This insight fuels our commitment to amplifying the voices of others.
As a woman leading in health care, I’ve witnessed firsthand the powerful impact of representation and allyship. As a Black woman leading in health care, I have also felt the gap of underrepresentation and lack of allyship deeply. The presence of diverse leadership fosters an environment of inclusivity and innovation. The membership of the TRUST is in a prime position to open doors of opportunity and access to underrepresented groups in our field and provide mentorship and support that improves their odds of success. How?
Building Bridges through Allyship
Each of us has the power to be an ally when we listen, speak up and act. We must move beyond simply understanding the challenges and take active steps to create change. In health care, you can enhance your allyship in many ways.
- Invite someone from an underrepresented group to take the lead on a project or speak at a staff meeting.
- Encourage men who are allies to speak up if women are interrupted in the work environment.
- Mentor colleagues from underrepresented groups to not only provide guidance but to provide opportunities to make contributions.
- Give credit publicly to those who propose great ideas.
- Identify situations where qualified people from marginalized groups are omitted from activities and ensure these colleagues have a seat at the table.
- Ask coworkers from cultural groups different from your own to lunch and actively listen to their stories.
- Read books, articles and social posts, or listen to videos and podcasts by underrepresented individuals in our industry.
- Speak up when you see degrading behavior or someone being bullied.
Building Bridges by Being an Accomplice3
Disrupt the pattern of behavior:
- If you notice an individual not speaking in a meeting, ask them what their thoughts are on the matter at hand.
- If you notice an individual’s ideas not being heard in the meeting, bring the idea up again with a statement like, “I think Cheryl’s idea of X is interesting. We should discuss it.” Keep echoing the idea in the meeting until it is considered.
- If an individual is being consistently interrupted at meetings, try using the following:
- “I’d like to hear the rest of what Vickie was saying.” or
- “Are you aware that you keep interrupting Sheila?”
- Invite coworkers to the “meeting after the meeting” (e.g. coffee, happy hour).
- Introduce coworkers to all levels of the organization.
The Path Forward
Our goal should be to create a health care industry where every person, regardless of background, feels valued and empowered. Let’s commit to being allies and accomplices not just in words but in actions. By extending our philosophy of lifting each other up to those outside our immediate circle, we can enrich our industry and improve the care of our communities.
Lisa Saul, MD, serves as the 2024 TRUST President and is a wife, mother, physician and women’s health expert. Lisa is passionate about women in leadership and health equity. She is also dedicated to improving health outcomes for birthing people, with a particular focus on women of color. She was honored as a Mpls.St. Paul Magazine Top Doctor in 2022 and Minnesota Monthly Top Doctor in 2020.