68. Creating an Inclusive Workplace Culture with Dr. Maureen Bell
Welcome to coaching for Latina leaders, the only podcast dedicated to the advancement of Latinas at every level of life with your host, Dr. Vanessa Calderon, a Latina with over 20 years of leadership experience, Harvard grad physician and mother of two.
Hello, my friends, welcome back to the podcast. So today I'm bringing you something that I think is really important for all of us to sort of think about which is creating an inclusive culture in our workspaces and really supporting an environment where people feel comfortable showing up and being their authentic selves. So I'm bringing to you, a friend of mine, who also happens to be an expert in the field. She and I ended up doing a residency at the same facility many, many years ago, way back in Jacoby in the Bronx, shout out to the Bronx, if you're listening from there. We were different years. So she was older than me in residency, but I followed in her footsteps.
She currently serves as a department chair and medical director at Howard University in Washington, DC. And she's also the physician director for diversity, equity, and inclusion for a large national physician organization, which happens to be the same physician organization that I work for. So Dr. Maureen Bell, welcome to the podcast let me bring you on and let's Can we just start by you sharing how you came to this work?
Thank you so much for having me, Vanessa. You know, when I think about my journey to where I am, it wasn't really planned. I knew I wanted to be a physician pretty early on my mom was a nurse worked in a local community hospital. So I knew I knew at six I don't know that I knew, but at six, I decided I wanted to be a doctor. And then I was kind of working towards that. As far as you know, being involved in leadership. I, I think that happened, unintentionally.
Early in my career, as I became a young attending, I became an unintentional mentor to a lot of students, you know, a lot of other minorities who were pursuing different pathways in their lives. And then I realized that that work was actually important. You know, it's a little thing like seeing a unit secretary who worked in the IDI when I was like, What are you doing blah, blah, blah, and to see that person, you know, continue on, go to nursing school, become a nurse director. You know, those are the things that mattered to see, you know, describe who was saying they were considering, you know, doing another career, because they didn't make it through the first rounds of the MCAT. And saying, Hey, you can try again, what do you like, what's your passion? You know, how can you approach it differently? And so, as a young attendant, I became an unintentional mentor. And as I saw people's pathways change, and realize that, you know, the difference it could make, just to have somebody who encouraged you, or who believed in you, or who's willing to be your sponsor, that the difference that could make in terms of people's lives, and just in terms of the numbers of people going into healthcare, doing something different than they thought they'd be able to do, then, you know, that's sparked a passion in me.
And, you know, I kind of changed. I guess I changed gears somewhat like that was an unexpected passion that I developed. I knew I wanted to help people, I wanted to, you know, treat people who were sick, help them to live healthier lives, but as far as being, you know, a mentorship as far as a mentorship role being a sponsor for you know, underrepresented students and an underrepresented population that I think just kind of happened naturally. And, you know, once you started to, to see it and do it, then it really became something that I was more intentional about.
Yeah, that's really beautiful, the entire sort of trajectory of how you naturally came to understand the importance of sponsoring other people and sort of being inspired by their own taking action, right, and what ended up being available or possible for them when they did that. I think that's really really beautiful. And 100% agree with you sponsorship, I think, you know, mentorship, sponsorship, championship, all those things make a huge difference in for me, for example, in my trajectory, but also for the people that we help, you know, it makes a really big difference as a physician, especially a female physician of color, you know, both of us are female physicians of color. There are not a lot of us out there.
And so when we have sort of people that are coming up behind us, so the scribe for example that is interested in going into healthcare, the little things that we do just stopping and asking how's it going? How's your you know? How was your day the letter that they have to write you know, your personal essay going? Do you need you? Would you like me to lay my eyes on it? You know, things like that, like, what makes a world of difference? So let's talk a little bit about the, you know, sort of your, your new sort of foray into DEI work, and not that specifically, but specifically in creating the inclusive culture that you've done. I'm curious about why you at mattered to create an in its kind of obvious, but I'm kind of just wanting to hear your words like why does it matter to create an inclusive culture.
So we've both been doctors for a number of years now. And the world has changed a lot. Since, you know, my first day as a medical student, being a minority medical student in large minority, large majority medical school but, even though I've been practicing for so many years. And even though I work, in what's largely still considered an inner city hospital, almost every week that I work clinical shifts, there is a patient, usually, an older minority patient, who will say to me, I can't believe you're my doctor, because they just haven't had that experience.
You know, so many minority patients have never had a minority physician, as either their primary care physician, your specialty physician, your ED physician, and even less have had like a minority female
physicians, so it's in 2022, I'm still hearing that every week, then that simply means that there aren't enough minority physicians out here, caring for a minority population. You know, the studies have shown us that patients do better when they have a physician they can connect with or you know, the, the care they receive is different. And so when we look at the percentage of minority physicians that we have, especially in emergency medicine, and then we look at the percentage of female emergency physicians, and we look at the percentage in leadership, those are like, the numbers continue to get smaller and smaller.
And so, you know, I realized that we have an opportunity to to do something different. So it became important to me to make it that let us work on, you know, creating a workforce that matches our population. Or at least we can work towards getting closer to that number.
Yeah, absolutely. I think 5% of all practicing physicians are black 5%, of 5% of all practicing physician are Latinos. So if you take half of that, which is usually the makeup of male to female, that means about two and a half percent of all practicing physicians are black females, and two and a half percent of all practicing physicians are Latinas. Yeah. So if you would extrapolate how many of those then become a department chief, Medical Director, the CEO or whatever, as you continue to move up the ladder, numbers are tiny, you know, and there's a lot of obviously systemic and other issues that get in the way of that happening.
But it does make a huge difference for our patients and our colleagues, you know, when we continue to show up when they just see our face, and we speak and it's becoming like, yeah, it's normal, you know, it should be the norm. So how so tell me in your sort of department share hat at your facility? How, what do you do there to create sort of an inclusive culture for the people that you work with for your, you know, physicians, advanced provider scribes.
So first, I think as a leader, you have to be aware that just bringing in diverse people in the door is not enough. You have to make sure when you recruit diverse talent, and you know, you have this diverse group, whether it's physicians, advanced providers, scribes, or nurses, you also have to have them have a sense of belonging. And the only way they're gonna get that is if you truly have an inclusive culture where you seek out the people who have not traditionally been given the opportunities who may not have the confidence because, you know, they've, their voice has often been overlooked.
And so being intentional and making sure everybody has a voice, everyone has a chance to speak. And that we take time to learn about other people and try to have a just culture where we understand that, you know, it's not, it's not enough that you say you're going to recruit diverse candidates, because if they don't feel like they belong, they won't stay, they'll just move on. Because ultimately, everyone wants to feel like they belong, they want to be able to come to work, be their authentic selves, celebrate their cultures celebrate their heritage. So So I think, as a leader, I try to model that by making sure that everyone has a voice, everyone has a chance to speak, in meetings, just not the loudest person, everybody has a voice.
That is so genius. Belonging is the one number one most important thing and I know when I work with all professionals, when they tell me, you know, I want to get over impostor syndrome, that the number one thing that we all need is that sense of belonging. And that starts way before you like sit at the boardroom, you know, or you raise your hand to speak, you have to feel like you belong. And when I've seen really successful, you know, female leaders, for example, it's because they never felt like they didn't belong, or they just let that girl you know, the second that they sat there at that board table, they took, they took a broom, they took up the space, you know, they raised their hand. They spoke and it makes so many people uncomfortable to see like like people do that young person, new people, people that they're not used to, it'll make other people uncomfortable, like, Who does she think she is?
And it's only usually that comes from people's own insecurities that they didn't have the courage to do that themselves. And so I love that you spoke specifically about belonging, I think that that's really beautiful. And I 100% agree with you. Belonging makes all of the difference. So let's say yeah, it's not just about hiring diverse cultures, it's like once you get them in the door, what do you do to retain them? And it sounded like what you did specifically is you create an opportunity for everybody to feel heard, to celebrate everybody's cultures and a sense of belonging, how do you? What do you do specifically to celebrate everybody's cultures?
So is celebrating people's cultures, because the point is, for me, I want everyone to be able to be their authentic self, whatever that means to you. And it does not matter that because you're from a certain culture, then every aspect of that culture, you have to model that behavior. But I think a big part of my role as an inclusive leader is to also call out bad behavior, which means if someone is different, it does not mean that you know, that person is not welcome.
And so I, I think, a big part of having an inclusive environment in the workplace is just having the courage to call out bad behavior, when you see it, it's not enough for to hear somebody whispering, who does, she thinks she is, or he, you have to call it out, you have to call it out, because that's the only way it will change and it will not happen again, or it won't happen to the next, you know, a diverse candidate that walks in the room, right is to just understand that, you know, that kind of behavior is not tolerated, and everyone gets to come here as their authentic self.
And we all have something to learn from other cultures. We have something to learn from different experiences. And just the lens that we use to evaluate candidates that has to change if we're truly going to be on this mission to be more inclusive, is we also have to look at somebody's whole experience. It's not just your CV, you know, you could have great aptitude and you could have great original ideas, but you've just never had a chance. And so your CV may look very different from someone who's, you know, had multiple opportunities prior to this.
Yeah, calling out bad behavior is incredibly important. And it's so hard to do, because nobody wants to start something that's uncomfortable, right? It's like everybody wants to be really nice, create that culture where everybody's happy. And so when you're doing it, how do you do it in a way that's
compassionate and tactful? Because I think that the way it works best when you sort of want to name that bad behavior is yes, number one, having a culture that we don't tolerate it. But also it's like, how do you then hold somebody accountable?
And for me, the way thing About It is hold them accountable in a way that's compassionate. Because, you know, my sense is everybody's trying to do their best, you know, and everyone wants to be a good person. And everybody's a human that also have unconscious biases, you know, that probably led them to say whatever they said or do whatever they're doing. And so how do you do it in a way that's compassionate? Do you have any examples?
So like you, I would like to think that everybody's, you know, has the best of intentions. And, you know, sometimes people aren't intentionally cruel. But a lot of times people are just unintentionally prevail, or you just didn't think through the other side of what you said. You know, and so, I try to, the way I usually try to do it is when I observe situations like this, I kind of flip it, put it on the other foot, right, like, whatever the trade is that you talked about, or whatever the bias is that I observed, then I kind of flip it to the, just flip it back to that person. Okay, how did you feel about that interaction? You know? Just just just general biases that people have, right? It's a busy night, you're like, Oh, I wish we'd have a trauma. And yet, it's a Saturday night, we'll probably have a trauma. But okay, are you would you still wish that you'd have a trauma patient come in if that way your family member? Or what if that was, you know, this colleague that works with us? Oh, that would be really bad.
Okay, so you see how, when we kind of go along these lines without thinking it through how that could be perceived negatively to the person who, um, like their colleagues around us who live and work in this neighborhood. So you saying you wish there'd be a trauma? We're indirectly saying, Okay, we wish, you know, somebody's family or friends would show up here as a trauma patient? That's probably not the best way to say it, or that's probably not the kindest way to say it. So, you know, just to kind of put a different light on it put a different spin, like, look at it from this angle, then, would you still use those words? Or would you still have, you know, the same thought? And, you know, a lot of times it is just that, okay, you just did not think of it from that point of view. But for people who live that experience, it's important to pause and consider how those words may be taken. Because that is their lived experience.
Yes, absolutely. Yeah, I really liked the way you said that. I think for me, what I realize is, when I raise my voice to hold somebody else accountable, what I'm most uncomfortable with isn't for me, holding them accountable. It's what that what's, what might happen after because I know I have a lot of sort of people-pleasing tendencies, and I'm always afraid, what if they get upset? Or what if they get angry?
And so what I'd love to just highlight right now is the way the example you just gave Maureen in holding your colleague or your residents accountable, is doing in a way that's just so kind like offering them a question like, What if it was this person? Would you still feel that way? You know, like, that is just so nice. But also if you if you people pleasing tendencies like I do, and you want to hold somebody accountable, because you know, it's the right thing to do, then just check yourself and say, like, where am I coming from? Because for me, I know that when I'm coming from integrity, and when I'm coming from my larger values, which is creating a more inclusive world, you know, a more equitable and just world, then these small little moments, that might be the only teaching moment that person might get that entire week, you know, so come to it with love. And for me, I always just say, like, I my sense, is, you're doing the best that you can in my head. Anyway, think about that. And I also say, like, I'm doing the best that I can, this might be my one opportunity this week, to create a more equitable and just world.
So nurse XYZ, like so. Yeah, maybe that person comes for all of the time, but we have no idea what happens after they leave where they go, where they get districts who do they have a home, you know, do they have access to food, we have no idea what's going on in their brain, what happened in their childhood, there's so many other unexplained factors. And so we get to also have compassion for the people we care for. You know, one of the other things you mentioned was when you talked about calling out bad behavior in my head where I went with that is, how do you create an inclusive and compassionate culture where you also hold your workforce accountable to doing the work that we need them to do?
Because you know, some of the stuff that we do, especially as leaders is, you recruit folks, and you do everything you can to retain them and then sometimes You know, people need to be held accountable for, for example, showing up late all the time, not doing the things that they're supposed to do, like all of those types of things. So when you think about creating an inclusive and compassionate workforce, how do you also do it in a way that holds people accountable to the work that they're supposed to do?
So again, I honestly tried to look at it from the other side, right. And a lot of times people are in their own world, you know, you're thinking about your situation, you're thinking that, you know, you have this going on. But the flip side is, okay, if you're persistently late, that means your colleagues persistently cannot get up on time. And we have no clue what the demands on other people's time are. Right? One person being late can change the whole tone of a shift, because the care that should be delivered cannot be delivered in a timely manner, how does that impact the whole team? You know, I always try to bring it back to Okay.
Not just what the expectation is, in terms of, of behavior, but how you play a part in a team, and how your presence or absence or being disengaged, how that impacts the team, how it impacts the care we can deliver, as a team as a department? How does that impact the patient, the person on the other end who is solely dependent on us for care? So I try to bring it back to okay, what is your why, why did you choose to do this? And, you know, your the behavior that you're modeling Now, does that fit with your why?
You know, people can get it's been a rough I can't believe I'm about to say this, but it's been a rough two and a half, almost you I mean, we're going into approaching three years with COVID. I mean, it's been, it's been difficult on a lot of healthcare providers difficult on a lot of frontline providers. But I try to get back to what is your why, why did you want to do this work? Why did you want to work with this patient population, I get that, like, you know, with the last couple of years, a lot of that has been forgotten, and it got eroded. Because it was, you know, day after day after day after day, but just trying to reconnect with your Why yes, we're all going to have moments when we're not our ideal selves. But I think sometimes if you can just take a pause, during that difficult patient encounter that difficult shift, and take a pause and just try to remember what is my why? And is my behavior right now modeling that way?
Yes, that's a great question to reflect back to the person I've learned. Um, you know, I was a department chief and Medical Director for close to a decade and I've learned in, you know, in that work, plus, you know, the 20 years of leadership experience that I have, that one of my deepest, deepest values is compassion. And it's having compassion for others, the people that I sort of lead the patients that we serve, and myself, and I've learned to hold this balance of, like, being compassionate with the people that I lead, and holding the balance holding them accountable. Because I remember when I was first starting to lead, I was such a compassionate person that I wanted to continue to better understand why this person was always late. Why was this person always late. And the truth is that I can have as much compassion for them as my heart can extend out.
And also, my role is to make sure that they can still do the job, you know, I can have compassion for them that if they can't do the job that we need them to do with these expectations. Like that's their choice, you know, their choices, perhaps they can't do this job anymore. I give them I give them as much compassion and as much support as possible. And also, they have parameters, we have things that, you know, we need to get done. And I think that still creates a really beautiful, inclusive, compassionate culture, while at the same time serving the needs of the entire department. Because, you know, when I think about inclusive leadership, for me, it's 100%. Absolutely. What you mentioned about making sure everybody's heard and that they feel respected and that they have a sense of belonging.
And I would just add to that, making sure that I'm showing up with a compassionate eye, right. It's like, How can I see these people for the humans that they are for the human experience that they bring, and at the same time, as a leader, it's like, and continue to, you know, steer the ship in the direction that we need to go with all of these moving parts. I think that's one of the most beautiful and complex sort of areas of a leader that we have to navigate, right? It's like, you create this beautiful culture, but you also have to steer the ship. And I think you do that. So well, I have to say, I remember talking to you, at a retreat that we had when you were telling me how you had a conversation about finances at your site, and how you let everybody speak. And even though you didn't think it was necessarily the best thing you hold you held, you know, you have a democracy at your site, everybody gets to vote, and you make a decision with the partners with everybody's sort of thoughts in mind. And I just thought that that was so like, well, sort of done, because it's exactly what you preach, right? It's inclusion, it's letting everybody speak.
And knowing that their opinions matter so much that even if they disagree with your own, if it's the majority, and if you know, it's not going to necessarily be detrimental to the site, but it's what everybody else wants, then that's what you get to do to move the site forward. So just want to highlight that because I do think you do an amazing job of doing both, which is creating that culture, but also steering the ship and moving in the right direction, which is why we're so excited when I saw that you became the, you know, the physician, director of the dei, our diversity, equity inclusion work. And anyway, that's my, that's my rant on all the things I love about Dr. Maureen.
Thank you. Yeah, like, as a leader, to be honest, I really feel like And part of people having the tools is that you need to know what is expected of you. It's not fair for me as a leader, to expect you to show up and just know intuitively what is expected. And then when you don't feel those expectations. You know, you're left, we're both left feeling like you haven't done a good job. If I have not, if I haven't given you the tools, I haven't made it clear what the expectations are of your role. And so part of that is just making that clear. So everyone, different people will need different things in order to achieve those things. But it also has to be clear what the expectation is, you know, what success looks like for your individual role? What are the expected expectations of your individual role?
Yes, absolutely. So I think you've done an incredible job of sort of sharing with everybody how to create an inclusive culture as a leader. And I think we even took it down a notch and talked about how to do that as an about how to do that as if you're just sort of an employee in that workspace, which is how you know, compassionately, lovingly, kindly hold other people accountable. Because ultimately, the culture that we create right is one of inclusivity, which on the other side is accountability, right? It's like, the antidote to racism is anti-racism.
So the antidote to having these sort of toxic workplace cultures is anti toxicity, which is what is like inclusion and belonging, and all those types of things. And it can't just come from one person, right? It can't just come from you from the leader, it has to come from everybody that we bring in. So it's giving them the tools and their sense of psychological safety to say it's safe for you to you know, stop people, when they say things like this, it's safe for you to you know, now we don't say call out anymore, I guess people are saying calling in, but it's safe for you to call them in and say like, Hey, you know, this is what people might think when you say things like that, or this is how I took it, you know? So I just thought that that was really beautiful. We are getting close to time. But I'm curious if you have any last words for our listeners?
Well, last words, here's the thing that I mean, I don't think that there's any, I don't think that there's any one guideline that I can give. That will make being an inclusive leader easier. But the one thing that I think has helped me is to remember your why and act from that place every day. Right? When we forget about what is important and what we're trying to achieve, and we react just to situations without taking a pause. That's when our biases get in the way. And that's when we're not our best selves. So, you know, my advice would be slow down, be intentional. And remember the mission you're on and try to stay true to that mission. I think those are probably the first two steps if you just slow down stay true to what your passion your mission is, in terms of being an inclusive leader. That will always guide you towards the right path.
Wow, I think that's the perfect place to end this episode. With those last three sort of reminders, slow down, be intentional, and stay true to your mission. I think that that's really beautiful. So thank you again so much, Dr. Maureen bell for joining us all the way from Washington, DC. I hope all of you listening. Were able to get some really fantastic tidbits from today. And Dr. Maureen bel thank you again, we will sign off adios everyone until next week.
Hey, if you love what you're learning, then you've got to check out my free Ultimate Guide to stop people pleasing, where I teach you a simple five step process to stop saying yes. When you really want to say No, you'll be so glad that you did. There's a link to the guide in the show notes. I'll see you next time.