Sanford’s new DE&I head leads with passion, purpose

"We have a responsibility to create feelings of belonging in the workplace"

Two Sanford Health employees sit in a modern, homelike studio for an interview. A TV displaying the Sanford Health logo is on a shelf behind them.

Diversity, equity and inclusion — commonly abbreviated DE&I — is not a new focus at Sanford Health but it’s one the organization is committing to strengthen in order to foster a more inclusive culture.

Enter Natasha Smith.

Smith brings to the Sanford Family experience in banking, corporate philanthropy, strategic planning, and commitment to community, relationship building and equity work.

It’s her personal journey that led her to South Dakota.

Who is Natasha Smith?

“I come from a diverse background. My father and my grandmother immigrated here from Mexico so I’m actually from Texas,” Natasha Smith told Sanford Health News. “I made the journey up through the United States in a series of moves and a series of stays in homeless shelters. I understood from a young age, the importance of equitable communities.”

As she explained, her first home in Sioux Falls was the Children’s Inn. She still has a big affinity for the work they do supporting victims of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault.

“My arrival in South Dakota was really unique. It was the first place that I landed that really felt like home.”

She started working at coffee shops and took on entry-level roles before she went back to school and landed a job at a bank call center.

“Because of my prior organization’s commitment to equitable leadership development, I was able to progress in my career. I was given the opportunity to oversee all the philanthropic giving in several states here in the Midwest and really that philanthropic giving was about shifting the organization into a problem-solving space and helping the organization leverage their influence in our region for the greater good of all. We enhanced our partnerships with our Native American tribes. We targeted affordable housing and increasing access and opportunity for folks. That’s really what ignited the passion for equity work.”

“I see myself bringing a lot of those strategic planning skills and leveraging relationship building with leaders; all of those sorts of skills into the head of DE&I here at Sanford.”

What is DE&I?

There are some misconceptions and existing paradigms we all have around diversity, equity and inclusion. Smith encourages us to break down each of the terms for a better understanding.

Diversity

“Diversity is the demographic makeup of your community or your workplace. I think it’s really important to consider that diversity has so many different dimensions. A lot of us automatically go to what we can see like your gender or your race, that sort of thing. But when you think about diversity as an iceberg, there are things on the surface, but underneath the surface is where you’re really getting into what makes us unique. For example, veteran status, disability or able body, our gender identity, sexual orientation. It’s more than just what we see in somebody.”

Equity (vs. equality)

“There’s a lot of misconception around equity. It’s so much more than equality. Equality is equal treatment of all — it’s giving the same to everybody and ensuring that level playing field. Equity goes a little bit deeper than that. It’s ensuring that the policies, procedures, systems are really targeting those who need the support most. Equity is a really key piece of this.”

Inclusion

“Inclusion is really about belonging. We all have all of these different facets or dimensions that make us who we are, and then inclusion is inviting all of those dimensions to be here at the table and bringing your whole self to all of your different roles, whether it’s at work or whether it’s out in your community.”

What’s ahead for DE&I at Sanford Health

Smith’s work will start internally and work its way out.

She is working to form an enterprise strategic plan to strengthen our existing commitment and build new initiatives to support diversity, equity and inclusion in everything we do — in all communities.

“It’s a big body of work but I think it’s important to know this work isn’t new for Sanford Health.”

Thankfully, she said, Sanford’s commitment is strong, so she anticipates a lot of success with future initiatives in the works:

  • Equity in Education Scholarship Program supporting first-generation Americans, first-generation college students and non-traditional students
  • Enhancing translation and interpretation capabilities for employees
  • Mature our DE&I councils within the markets and create employee resources groups

“There’s a lot on the horizon,” Smith said.

Right now, her team under human resources is taking a wide lens approach to strategic planning. They will be leveraging key stakeholders and the most recent employee engagement survey.

Why this work is important to Sanford

Sanford Health has a commitment to its people, patients, residents and communities.

“More and more, we realize that our communities are diversifying in many ways,” Smith said. “We know that as diversity increases … the more we have a responsibility to create those inclusive environments, feelings of belonging in the workplace where people feel like they can show up and they can bring their whole selves to work.”

She says working ensuring representation, creating awareness, driving that inclusivity and feeling of belonging in the workplace increases the team member engagement and the team player mentality.

“I think honing in on that is really the right thing to do and we bring everybody together and let everybody know they have a seat at the table and their voice is heard.”

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Posted In Company News, Corporate Services & Administration, People & Culture, Sanford Stories

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