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Our Q&A with DEIB Specialist, Zina Rodriguez

By designRoom | August 16, 2023

Q&A Sessions with Zina Rodriguez

In preparation for our fireside chat at the Mental Health Marketing Conference (MHM), we’ve spoken with DEIB expert, Zina Rodriguez, to get a primer on DEIB and its current state in behavioral healthcare. Zina is the CEO of Z & D Consulting. With over 20 years of experience in marketing and operations, Zina collaborates with treatment providers on the development of transformational DEIB strategies that align with their mission and values.

dR: Can you break down DEIB for us? What do the letters stand for, and what does each mean to you?

Z: The D is diversity. Then equity, inclusion, and belonging. Diversity is really, for me, about having various lived experiences [in the workplace]. When we think about diversity, we often think of it in the sense of a race construct only. But diversity is the diversity of lived experiences – race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, socioeconomic status, abilities, neurodiversity, body size, languages, geographically or in terms of ability, or how you've been socialized. I believe all of these including the nuances of intersectionality inform diversity. The equity is distinguishing between equality and equity. And it's a big difference.  Giving individuals the same access doesn't always provide equality. So, equity has to consider so many other variables. Here’s one example of equity that is often used to help us visualize the difference between equality and equity and that is the analogy of the bicycle.  Let’s say you wanted everyone to have a bicycle and you gave everyone the same bike, now you have given equal opportunity for everyone to have a bike. However, what wasn’t factored in is the individual needs to be able to effectively ride the bicycle. What if a person is too tall, too short or is differently abled for the bicycle they were given? What if they don’t know how to ride a bike? Then the bicycle wouldn't be of use to them. Equity refers to fairness and justice in distributing resources, providing access, and giving opportunities. It recognizes systemic and structural barriers to ensure fairness.

Inclusion and belonging, to me, are interrelated. Inclusion is about the intention of wanting to include all experiences; and belonging is the impact. You can have inclusion but without intention it can be performative. Belonging is the outcome of intention with inclusion.

"We need to be awake. We need to know what's going on. We need to learn new things."

dR: Why did you choose this profession and why do you stay?

Z: Both from my personal and professional work experiences, I saw disparity not only in the spaces as I was often the only woman of color on leadership teams but also the disparity of who was being served in our settings and the overall lack of culturally responsive care. This became personal for me when I needed to find services for a loved one that would meet the cultural needs of our family.  Even with the vast network I had available to me I could not find an appropriate treatment center where their needs would be met. Not even within the system that I worked for at the time. As a family we had the resources to develop a customized treatment alternative with providers we could trust.  However, not everyone has the privilege of being able to do this. That was the tipping point for me, and I knew I could no longer be complicit. At the beginning of pivoting my services to focus on DEIB, I wanted to focus on creating awareness of the need for developing intentionally, inclusive healing environments. It has not been easy as this work is difficult, and it does take an emotional toll especially in the current socio-political climate when the important work of DEIB has been hijacked to serve an agenda. Awareness is being “woke” and unfortunately that term has been twisted into a negative pejorative. It is being misused and is losing the original intent of what it means to be “woke.”

We need to be awake. We need to know what's going on. We need to learn new things. “Woke” to me is about learning how to constantly evolve. And the work of DEIB has been taken hostage by the discourse and the ether. So, it's a struggle to stay in. But I also know the civil rights movement was a struggle, and if people didn't stay on that path for social justice, we wouldn't have had the progress we've had over the last 50+ years.

dR: How do you measure a company's progress in DEIB? And how do you find evidence that a company has made an impact? 

Z: It's hard to measure. Of course, as a business owner myself, you need to put performance measures in place to see the efficacy of your own efforts. I think there are concrete things you can measure.

  1. Diversity Representation KPIs can include tracking the percentage of diverse individuals within the organization at various levels, departments, or teams.

  2. Employee Engagement KPIs can measure the level of employee satisfaction, inclusion, and sense of belonging through surveys or feedback mechanisms.

  3. Pay Equity KPIs can assess any pay gaps based on demographic factors and track progress in closing those gaps over time.

  4. Promotion and Advancement KPIs can measure the representation and progression of individuals from underrepresented groups in leadership and higher-level positions.

  5. Training and Development KPIs can track employee participation and completion rates in diversity and inclusion training programs.

  6. Supplier Diversity KPIs can measure the percentage of procurement spending directed towards diverse suppliers.

  7. Employee Retention KPIs can assess retention rates for employees from diverse backgrounds compared to the overall employee turnover rate.

  8. Leadership Accountability KPIs can evaluate the performance of leaders in driving diversity and inclusion initiatives within their teams or departments.

  9. Community Engagement KPIs can measure the level of involvement and impact in community outreach programs or partnerships focused on diversity and inclusion.

  10. Employee Feedback KPIs can track employee feedback on diversity and inclusion initiatives, such as through pulse surveys or focus groups.

Overall, I think that success, or how organizations can define if they're doing well, is through momentum and impact. Are you building upon what you're learning? What are you implementing? Is there forward momentum? Is there space to iterate and change? Because everything is not always going to work for every organization the same way. There has to be a willingness to be open to that process of evaluation, and the overall success is [answering the question], “Are you making any impact?”

And impact can be small. It doesn't have to be huge in the beginning. It could be just about having open discussions. To me, it’s successful if organizations are willing to just even dive in and talk about the work. To me, that's the first measure of success.

"Our mental wellness is a foundation for our life."

dR: What does a company's leadership have to do to create that impact and how can they help shift the culture? 

Z: They really have to own it and believe in it. In this work, I think any effort, any mission or vision that an owner or leadership team is trying to move forward, if they don't believe in it, it’s just not going to work. So there has to be complete buy-in.

And because this work is so interpersonal, this work is so much about your personal values, leaders have to be willing to do their own work around it. And if that means if you are uncomfortable starting this work as a leader in a group setting, then get individual support first. There are plenty of resources available now that focus on DEIB Executive coaching services so there's not an excuse not to take this on as a leader, even if you're ambivalent.

dR: We have one specific question for our audience, which is largely behavioral healthcare organizations. Do you have anything to say about why DEIB is so important in behavioral health?

Z: There is an intersection of mental wellness and DEIB. We have huge disparities in healthcare. When you look at the available data in behavioral healthcare that address the disparities, it's glaring. If we, the healers, aren't willing to do our own journey around this work, how can we heal those who are being marginalized and navigating issues like legacy burdens, identity, and racial trauma? How can we address those issues which often get unaddressed in treatment settings? How do we expand services so that they are more inclusive and accessible to underserved communities?

When you talk to people of color and people from marginalized identities, they’ll say, “When I went to treatment, I didn't talk about these issues even though they were important to me.” [Early psychology research] wasn’t based on research for a broader, more diverse population, and we are at a place where we are recognizing this as a field, but we are at the beginning. Our systems are still built based on white, patriarchal modalities.

Mental wellness is a foundation for our life: how we perform at work, how we show up with our friends, with our families. So, if you're dealing with any of these [mental health issues], particularly during this time period, you need people who can support you through that journey.

"Having diverse representation is important."

dR: How can we help organizations with missions that are built on DEIB? How else can it be more explicit in those things and make DEIB work so that it’s more natural? So that it’s endemic, foundational, a part of it from the very beginning.

Z: It's embedding it into everything. One of the things I sometimes work with organizations on is the development of a DEIB plan, a health equity plan, however they're referencing it. And it's often a separate plan. For me, the most effective way to truly embrace DEIB work within an organization is to embed it into every single one of your strategic operational goals. It's embedded into the organizational culture and even down to the language you use. I recently saw a newsletter come out from an organization, and its focus was about best practices in hiring. Yet not one of the bullet points referenced inclusivity and diversity hiring—zero.  So that tells you that DEIB in not embedded in the culture of this organization. If it was, there would not be a communication that goes out on the topic of hiring that didn’t include a statement about diversity and inclusion.

But this is an example of an organization that may be in the precontemplation stage of change in doing their own equity work.  We never want to shame and blame but “call in” so we can do better.

So back to your making DEIB foundational, it’s endemic when DEIB is in the forethought of an organization as a value. So, a consistent question to ask is “Were we inclusive in this?  Is there something we're missing on that issue?” Overtime it should become second nature; it takes time and a lot of commitment. What you want to develop is a team of leadership with a lens for equity.

dR: This is the operationalized piece.

Z: Yes.  It is mission and vision. “Who are we?” “Who do we serve?” And if part of that mission and vision is inclusion then yes, we have to figure out how to operationalize and make it part of the culture to create an inclusive organization. To achieve this having diverse representation is important. For some organizations this may mean engagement with community stakeholders if they don't have current diversity in their leadership. And of course, developing an intentional plan for increasing diversity. That's a baseline starting point along with educating leadership.

"Progress happens slowly, but you just keep lifting yourself up and keep pushing forward and believe that the progress will happen."

dR: You’ve mentioned before that DEIB is generational work. In the time that you've been doing this, have you seen changes in the big picture? Are things getting more inclusive? Are they getting better?

Z: I was in a recent meeting with my mentor, William White, who has been a practitioner of DEIB work for over 30 years and is founder of the National Diversity Collaborative based out of DC. We were sharing the difficulties of doing this work in the current climate and that it sometimes can feel that we are going backwards, and that commitment to inclusion work is waning. We know that there are some organizations committed to the process and doubling down on DEIB efforts and those who either never embraced it to begin with or no longer view it as a priority for various reasons. So, for those of us in the trenches, it’s constantly reminding ourselves of the civil rights movement and reminding ourselves of the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice”. Progress happens slowly, but you just keep lifting yourself up and keep pushing forward and believe that the progress will happen. The reality is that we have a changing demographic in the US and by the year 2044 we will be a majority “minority country”. Consumers, constituents, employees will be more diverse and demand inclusive environments. The need for DEIB work will continue and inclusion work will continue to move forward.

We’ll be talking with Zina in greater depth at our fireside chat at MHM. See you there!

Creating a Culturally Responsive Organization: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging

2:05 PM – 2:45 PM at Mockingbird Theater

MHM Conference

Use our 20% discount - DESIGNROOM (all caps no spaces).

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About dR

At designRoom, we make it our business to find real answers and create custom healthcare brands. We believe effective healthcare branding is grounded in research, directed by insight, and driven by strategy.

We love seeing how strategic branding helps the right clients find the right organizations and receive the right care. That’s been our focus for over a decade. Today designRoom is an award-winning, national branding and design firm, known for helping clients build and promote healthy, sustainable brands. And we are super proud of that.

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