10:49 AM

ID&E Task Force Sets Foundation for a More Diversified Cook Children’s

By Ashley Antle, APR

Cook Children’s new Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Task Force (ID&E) has made a lot of headway since the call for applicants in April. An overwhelming number of employees applied to join the task force, which was narrowed to a group of 14 representing a wide array of diversity dimensions, roles and tenure throughout all Cook Children’s entities.

“Having this task force is nothing short of monumental,” said Wini King, senior vice president and chief communication and ID&E officer. “It’s taken several months to get the right balance of team members representing all parts of the system but we were able to do it. I’m more than grateful that these employees understand the importance of doing this work and how an inclusive environment benefits everyone.”

Shortly after receiving the results of the third-party inclusion, diversity and equity assessment completed last year, Wini and her team knew developing an employee task force would be key to formulating a comprehensive ID&E strategy for Cook Children’s.

“They are laying a foundation that will assist Cook Children’s in its quest for preeminence,” she said. “While Cook Children’s is an incredible place to work and be treated, my hope is that when our employees and our patient families walk through any door of our organization, they will all feel heard, respected, valued and like this is the place where they belong.”

Crucial Conversations

Over the past few months, the task force has spent about 15 hours together pouring through data, sharing workplace experiences, and having hard conversations about diversity within the organization.

As a Black man, some of the stories shared were not unfamiliar to task force member Raymond Turner, yet heartbreaking, nonetheless. Raymond is the Child Life Zone music studio producer and a 6-year veteran of Cook Children’s. At first, he was hesitant to apply for a spot on the task force and spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not his voice could make a real difference. Ultimately, Raymond decided his perspective was worth being heard.

“There were some pretty amazing stories that came out of those sessions,” he said. “Just some things within our Cook Children’s family that we really need to give attention to, and stories that were heartbreaking. Hopefully, we can begin to change that.”

Many of the conversations were eye-opening for Yecenia Escatel Bugarin, Cook Children’s Health Plan clinical outcomes associate and task force member. She’s been with Cook Children’s since early 2020 and applied for the task force thanks to the encouragement of her manager.

“I was kind of blinded when I went in,” Yecenia said. “I’ve never witnessed like any discrimination at Cook Children’s. I never noticed that upper management is not as diverse as you want it to be. So I was like, oh, this is very, very eye-opening because I never noticed.”

That’s the whole purpose of the task force—to shed light on how to build a more diverse, valued and connected workforce where opportunity abounds for everyone.

Laying the Foundation

Raymond says the group dug up hard ground to set the footings for transformation. He knows change won’t happen overnight, but it all starts with bringing the hallway whispers into an open forum.

“I think during the course of mapping all of this we realized that we were just the beginning,” he said. “Whether this changes things over the course of the next 5, 10, 50 years, or the next Centennial when none of us are here, we realized that we were kind of setting the charter for things. Hopefully, it will provide a place for those really crucial conversations.”

The issue of minority representation rose to the surface again and again in task force meetings. In other words, what faces do our patients and families see looking back at them when they visit Cook Children’s, and are those faces representative of the communities we serve?

“Based on our own internal patient demographics and community census data and then comparing that with our own workforce demographics, we can see that our workforce demographics do not mirror the diverse communities that we serve at this time,” said Tracy Vang, Cook Children’s ID&E director. “There are opportunities for us to focus on not just diverse representation within the leadership and nursing, but throughout the whole organization.”

The task force tackled other issues, too, like whether or not everyone has a fair shot at professional growth within the organization, the acceptance of new voices and ideas, and the need to expand recruitment activities to different schools and parts of our service area so that there is a path for diverse students and community members to join Cook Children’s.

These discussions led to the development of an action plan based on six pillars:

  • Accountability and data review
    • Identifying disparities and sharing the responsibility for ID&E goals across all levels of the organization.
  • ID&E training
    • Expanding training for both employees and leaders.
  • Patient care
    • Assuring the patient experience is equitable for all.
  • Recruitment
    • Widening the recruitment net to diverse schools and communities and creating a more transparent and diversified hiring process.
  • Professional Development
    • Providing resources that help all advance within the organization.
  • Feedback
    • Creating a culture where ideas are freely shared and valued.

Under each of these pillars, the task force has proposed and prioritized a number of action items to set change in motion. The plan will be submitted to leadership soon and finalized with their feedback. Then, the process of building a better future for all at Cook Children’s will begin.

“Cook Children’s is an incredible place to work,” Wini said. “But I’m excited about our future and helping our system become an even better place for employees, patients and their families.