The Johns Hopkins Diaspora: Where Diversity and Inclusion Thrive

In its first year, the employee resource group has promoted racial justice and inspired change.

Published in Dome - Dome July/August 2020

When the killing of George Floyd ignited global protests against racial injustice, Regina Gail Malloy paid close attention to how Johns Hopkins Medicine was reacting to the uprisings.

She read the all-staff e-mails of support and commitment for the movement from hospital and university leadership. She watched Paul Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, bow his head and take a knee at the White Coats for Black Lives event. And she wondered what role the Hopkins Diaspora could play in the ongoing quest for social justice.

In addition to working as executive assistant to hospital president Redonda Miller, Malloy serves as co-chair of The Hopkins Diaspora, an employee resource group at JHM dedicated to promoting equity and support for more than 12,000 African American/Black employees, as well as for patients and community members.

“The Hopkins Diaspora has made such an incredible impact on our organization that it’s hard to believe that they have been working on behalf of our Black/African American employees, staff and patients for just a year,” says Miller. “Their programs and initiatives have been wide-ranging and have sparked meaningful education, discussion and change across Johns Hopkins.”

Created in August 2019, the 370-member Hopkins Diaspora has held workshops to help community residents learn about financial resources for their medical bills; organized a free legal clinic to provide criminal record expungement services; and hosted “The New Jim Crow,” a panel discussion on mass incarceration. (See a list of Hopkins Diaspora achievements.)

Now, the Black Lives Matter movement has provided an opportunity for candid discussions about institutional practices and policies at Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System.

“There is often a disconnect in terms of what senior leaders believe and what African American employees experience in the workplace,” Malloy says. “I thought we should take a survey to see how Black people who work here actually feel about working here.”

Inspired by the Harvard Business Review article “Is Your Company Actually Fighting Racism or Just Talking About It?”, Malloy set out to initiate a dialogue with senior leaders about systemwide issues in hiring and promoting, professional development, employee retention and accountability. Another consideration: How best to create a culturally sensitive workplace that is inclusive and welcoming.

First, she sent an electronic survey to members of The Hopkins Diaspora and to the university’s Black Faculty and Staff Association asking for their concerns, comments and recommendations on these topics. She received 164 responses.

In July, Malloy moderated a live online “Candid Conversation on Race and Equality” with Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels, Rothman and JHHS President Kevin Sowers to discuss the survey results and address questions that had been submitted. The hour-long discussion, which was not recorded, was observed by 300 pre-registered members of The Hopkins Diaspora and Black Faculty and Staff Association. (Read the summary of survey results and discussion.)

During the event, leaders announced that Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a paid holiday for all university employees — would also become a paid holiday throughout the Johns Hopkins Health System. The effort to make that change had been initiated several months earlier by Inez Stewart, senior vice president of Human Resources for Johns Hopkins Medicine, with the support of all of the hospitals’ leaders.

That change takes effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

An image shows Dome.

Daniels, Rothman and Sowers talked about the importance of having minority representation at the executive levels of JHU, JHM and JHHS and how best to embed institution-wide practices to support diversity in the organization.

One way is to change the job performance evaluation process so that people are not only evaluated for performing well but are also held accountable for how they treat patients, families and each other.

“We must build a work culture in which diversity and inclusion are embedded in all that we do,” Kevin Sowers wrote later in his blog. “We must ensure that we are not only living our values, but also holding each other accountable for doing the same.”

Although 33 percent of those surveyed said they had never faced racism in their departments, 44 percent said they sometimes did; 15 percent said that they often did; and 8 percent responded “always.” Malloy says learning that 67 percent of respondents encountered racism in the workplace underscores the importance of continuing The Hopkins Diaspora’s work.

“Staff voices have power,” she says. “I’m hoping that this experience will encourage staff to continue to talk, to speak up, to ask questions — because our employees are facing issues that we would not know about unless they tell us.”

“This group has already made a positive impact, shining a light on the urgent issues at our institution involving race and equity,” says Rothman. “I look forward to collaborating with them as we work to make progress in this area.”

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