HR leader: Diversity, inclusion builds on important work

"It's up to each one of us to step up and do something about it"

Darren Walker near an office window with a rural view

Everyone at Sanford Health plays a part in creating a welcoming culture, according to Sanford Health chief human resources officer Darren Walker.

He says Sanford has made great strides in its work with diversity, equality and inclusion among employees and patients alike. It’s work that’s been ongoing for more than 20 years, even though 2020 has brought heightened awareness to the issue.

“There is certainly much more that can be done, and that is why we need everyone to be part of the movement,” Walker said. “This is a journey that never ends, and we should be asking ourselves every day, ‘How can I be better? How can I show more respect for those I associate with, interact with and encounter?'”

Everyone has a story

Before we make an action plan and effectively create change for the better, Walker said, it’s critical to understand the difference between diversity and inclusion.

“We cannot improve or fix what we don’t understand,” he said.

Diversity is having people from a variety of backgrounds, abilities and identities in the organization. Meanwhile, inclusion is making sure everyone feels they belong no matter who they are or what their role is.

“Whether you’re a patient, visitor, community member, prospective employee or current employee, we hope that we create an environment that engenders a strong connection to anyone empowering them to be their best self and do their best.”

What Sanford has done so far

“Back in the 2000s, Sanford Health — formerly Sioux Valley — participated in a local task force focused on bringing awareness to diversity in our community, and Sanford was an active influencer in that work,” Walker said. “This then prompted us to focus on diversity and inclusion efforts within our own family.”

And so the work began.

Early on, Walker said, there was a focus on regulatory requirements and meeting those expectations. That quickly evolved into needing to do more, which led to forming the volunteer-based diversity councils that continue today.

And it wasn’t solely focused on race. Sanford made strides through work with veterans, culture guides and accessibility for those whose first language isn’t English.

Equal-access work and health care

Sanford Health’s work in diversity, equality and inclusion continues to evolve, Walker said.

With a recent retirement, a new leader within the Office of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion will continue the work the organization began more than two decades ago. To get everyone involved, Sanford Health plans to grow its diversity councils, employee resource groups and multilingual capabilities.

Diversity and Inclusion Councils are employees, leaders and executives serving to connect diversity and inclusion activities to all business goals. Councils are locally based with an all-company council for corporate services. These councils are an extension of the organization’s overall strategy to support these goals.

Employee Resource Groups, or affinity groups, are voluntary, employee-led groups fostering a diverse, inclusive workplace. They also bring together others with shared characteristics, life experiences and/or interests around underrepresented groups. Benefits of these groups include networking, mentorship, skill development, cultural awareness, recruitment, retention and more.

As the organization grows, so does its responsibility to its people and communities, Walker said. Plans include expanding diversity councils to the organization’s 24-state footprint with the Good Samaritan Society, which combined with Sanford Health in 2019.

Looking to an inclusive future

“We are continuing to engage with our councils and learn from our employee resource groups what is important to the people of Sanford,” Walker said. “Additionally, we have begun doing some pulse surveying of our employees to understand what is on their minds and understand perspectives.”

Sanford also continues its long-standing efforts to support causes that promote diversity, inclusion and equality across the communities it serves.

Additionally, the organization is advancing work focused on health disparities among certain populations. It has invested in a portfolio of research focused on identifying and addressing health inequities within the Native American population, among others.

“We are aware and involved,” Walker said. “This is something so important to us and we are passionate about making everyone feel welcomed and respected. This journey evolves over time and we are going to continue to be a partner and collaborator to influence respect and love for everyone.

“Bottom line, we all have an obligation and it’s up to each one of us to step up and do something about it. So we encourage all to say something and do something and because of that we’ll all be better for it.”

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Posted In Community, Company News, Corporate Services & Administration, People & Culture

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