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Three Black health care diversity officers. One united goal

June 17, 2021, 11:07 PM UTC

Happy Thursday, readers.

I had the opportunity to speak with three extraordinary individuals over this past week. And all of them are Black executives tasked with the not-so-simple task of getting major health care organizations to better tackle medical inequity.

As Juneteenth, now a federal holiday, approaches, and the COVID pandemic continues to afflict communities of color at disproportionate rates relative to other demographics, these leaders’ roles are particularly important. While playing up diversity, equity, and inclusion is a common trend among corporations in the wake of social injustices such as the murder of George Floyd, these three individuals (respectively, the incoming diversity chief for Pfizer, the newly minted head of all things DEI at insurance and over health care giant UnitedHealth, and a longtime veteran of the sprawling Kaiser Permanente health system) have a special role to play in improving the health and safety of Black communities.

“It’s really about, how do you bring it to the next level? How do you get to the next evolution of diversity, equity, and inclusion, how do you ensure that you have representation throughout the organization on all levels and also ensure that your strategic objectives are all met?” says Ramcess Jean-Louis, who led diversity and equity strategies at Verizon Media and is now moving over to Pfizer. One of his biggest motivating factors in taking on the role is building trust within the health care system to address health disparities.

That was a common theme in the conversations I had with all three of these executives. Joy Fitzgerald, who just began her role at UnitedHealth but has also served in similar positions at Eli Lilly, wants to leverage the breadth of her experience and the data-gathering power of a health care titan with UnitedHealth’s reach in order to home in on weak links in the medical supply chain.

“I’ve seen the drug side, I’ve been a patient advocate, a trainer and led workstreams around trying to provide medical services,” she says. “But now I get an opportunity to work for an organization that is uniquely positioned to help advance our mission of making health care work for everyone.”

And Ronald Copeland of Kaiser Permanente? Well, he’s been around the block as a physician and 33-year veteran of the organization. And he’s still not done evolving its strategy to make tangible changes in underserved communities.

“I rewrote our strategy with an emphasis on, yes, we need to continue and honor the legacy and the improvement and diversity and representation,” he tells Fortune. “But we also need to go through a learning journey to really understand how we aspire to be inclusive. What does that really look like? How do you measure that?”

Make sure to look to for the full interviews with these leaders tomorrow, and how they plan to make diversity and equity much more than a buzzword or PR stunt.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you again next Thursday.

Sy Mukherjee


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