AcademyHealth recorded a series of five videos last year in which the speakers told their personal stories of driving positive change in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the health services research (HSR) workforce. One year later, our speakers are reflecting on those stories and sharing where they are now in their journey to advance DEI. In this post, watch a three-minute video by Dr. Kevin Frick and read on to learn how he has continued to promote a more inclusive, equitable culture in HSR.
When I watch the video that I recorded to share as part of AcademyHealth’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work in 2021, I see myself talking about people in marginalized groups being willing to share their stories. This happens alongside people in privileged groups making an effort to listen to understand the stories. One potential goal of all this is to amplify the stories and work toward solutions that come from those who are directly impacted—rather than privileged groups bringing solutions to marginalized communities. I have continued to focus on learning and leading with humility by making sure to listen to those around me, like a non-binary student whose pronouns were not acknowledged by all faculty and who had a situation in which a faculty member shared information that should have been kept private.
Reflecting on My DEI Journey: Supporting LGBTQ+ Storytelling, Dismantling Unconscious Bias, and Exploring Identity and Empathy
One large effort in which I participated was the LGBTQ+ Narratives in Academia project at Johns Hopkins. Sixteen members of the LGBTQ+ community were interviewed, focusing not only on concerns about how their community is treated, but on the strengths and assets they bring to the larger university community. I supported three, five-minute videos on allyship, empowerment, and inclusion. The videos were recognized by the university’s Diversity Leadership Council. Two stories from the video compilations stand out in my mind. One international student contrasted what he could express about his identity in the United States with expression in his home country. Another student, a senior, looked back on her freshman year on the soccer team when she was seated at a table with students of mixed seniority; one of that year’s seniors talked about spending the summer with her girlfriend without any hesitation. The interviewed student had found a place to be her authentic self. Such storytelling is important because sharing personal experiences facilitates connections between established researchers and junior colleagues and facilitates an environment in which individuals can be their authentic selves, which is critical to success.
The concept of storytelling permeated my experience in other ways. Recently, I gave an invited lecture on unconscious bias. One approach to mitigation is listening to the stories of those against whom we might hold unconscious biases. I was reminded of how hidden these biases can be when I took an implicit bias test focused on the relationship between science and liberal arts and gender. I thought I had put the notion of “boys are good at science and math and girls are good at English and social studies” behind me in middle school. The implicit bias test reminded me that despite my experience mentoring numerous women in STEM, my old thought patterns remained. Sharing my struggle with this is just as important as sharing successes when teaching people about the hidden and potentially deleterious nature of such biases.
I also participated in a series of conversations at the business school called “Identity in the Workplace.” These were safe spaces for conversation in which the goal was to take away the lessons while leaving names in the virtual meeting rooms. Individuals spoke about experiences of gender, sexuality, race, income, and mental health. While I have never been treated for mental health issues, I shared a short story about challenges to my sense of identity when I stepped down from a high-level administrative role. I asked for and received informal support, and my informal support group would have sent me in the right direction to access formal support in a heartbeat if they thought I needed it. Someone also commented that my story helped normalize asking for help. This reemphasized to me the importance of sharing struggles that others can empathize with.
On the topic of empathy: in lectures on mentoring and unconscious bias, I talked about various types of empathy, including: cognitive, emotional, compassionate, and radical. While there are definitions of radical empathy, I have my own conceptualization, focusing on not just understanding the individual at present but understanding as much as possible about the individual’s lifelong context and that of groups with which they identify. This gives me a clearer perspective to make informed recommendations for what they might do next and how a certain situation might resolve. It also gives me language to think about how some of my self-expression precisely overlaps with (or fails to overlap with) others’ experiences. An excellent example is my efforts to test some gender boundaries in style that make me feel fulfilled that overlap with—but are a fraction of—what trans individuals struggle with each day.
Implications for Health Services Research
Health services researchers studying diverse populations have the opportunity to listen to stories with compassionate or radical empathy either as part of qualitative data gathering or alongside quantitative data analysis to contextualize the interpretation of findings and recommendations.