As I gathered our team together to prepare for GHFP-II’s Diversity Summit, set for April 29th in Washington, DC, we began by looking at many aspects of this event. What should happen as a result of the meeting? Who would participate? Logistics, format, the need for interactivity and of course goals and outcomes were all on the table. But even before any of those elements could be considered, we had to lay some groundwork. Why were we undertaking this activity in the first place? Why is it important to the program? How does it help support USAID’s initiative to achieve and maintain a more diverse workforce? Great questions, right?
What’s happening outside of global health?
I also wanted to know how this issue plays out in fields other than global health and came across some interesting statistics that show what still needs to be done. In a May 2014 News article, Google revealed that of its 46,170 employees, 70 % are men and 61 % are white. At that time, Blacks made up just 2 % of the workforce and Hispanics just 3 %. I appreciated their transparency but the Internet giant has a long way to go when it comes to inclusion and diversity. But what is Google missing out on with this narrow employee profile? Why should they? And how can they change? Again, more questions than answers.
Essential Global Health skills and diversity go hand in hand
As a Global Health employer, we know that the technical skills in health and science will get you the job, but having a successful global health career requires the ability to collaborate successfully, to operate in a resource constrained environment, be resilient and have a deep appreciation for and understanding of cultural norms, and think creativity. All of these are competencies that are deeply rooted in a successful and diverse workforce.
In business, cultural diversity within an organization is beneficial to the retention of staff as well as their productivity. It is also likely to increase an organization's flexibility and responsiveness to the diversity of its clients, customers and partners in an increasingly globalized world. In an educational context, diversity within schools or universities can enrich the learning process, enabling students to draw on their peers' much wider and more varied experiences. It also better prepares students for the diverse society they’ll participate in beyond the campus.
Digging deeper into the benefits
Here are some specific areas where a more diverse workforce can enhance the Agency’s results in Global Health programming:
Effectiveness: A diverse workforce can lead to increased creativity, more open thinking, and challenging of long held beliefs resulting in fewer blind spots, improved decision making, and ultimately in the achievement of USAID’s mission, vision and results.
Adaptability: In the GH field, the ability to rapidly adapt to new situations is crucial. This capacity can be measured by the range of talent, experience, knowledge, insight, and imagination available in the workforce where conformity to the status quo is not an advantage. In addition to technical abilities, employees are increasingly valued for the unique qualities and perspectives that they can bring to the table.
Relevancy: The Agency can be most effective when members of its workforce have direct exposure to the circumstances and dynamics experienced by the populations it serves. Individuals from families who recently immigrated to the US, for example, may be able to offer deeper insights into the health issues found in their countries of origin and increase credibility for the Agency with their interactions. Individuals from low income, ethnically and culturally diverse communities in the US may be more attuned to the practical realities and motivations of people in urban and rural communities in the developing world. Ultimately, GH professionals who were exposed to academic and work environments with a critical mass of diversity will be more effective.
Appealing to the next generation: Increasing diversity in the US means that our academic institutions have a rich pool of potential talent among people from an array of backgrounds and life experiences. Realizing this potential requires training sites and workplaces that are open to varied cultures, personal attributes, ideas and identities. To retain its status as the premier development organization, USAID is well served by attracting the best available talent, communicating its priorities to academic institutions, and developing strategies to cultivate and retain that talent over time.
Returns on global investment: GH issues have consequences that not only affect the people of developing nations but also directly affect the interests of American citizens. The Agency can be a conduit for a broader cross-section of Americans to have input into issues that affect them.
So what is GHFP-II doing to increase diversity?
One of GHFP-II’s three key result areas is “Diversity increased in the cadre of Global Health professionals.” As an integral part of the program’s mandate, diversity efforts have been woven into the fabric of the program through outreach, recruitment, hiring and intern programs. We employ a variety of approaches that are embedded in the program’s day-to-day activities.
A strategy we’ll explore during the Summit is GHFP-II’s partnering efforts. One of these collaborations is expanding the diversity of individuals and institutions, at the undergraduate level, interested in global health while providing substantive overseas experience. GlobeMed is a GHFP-II complementary partner reaching over 2,000 undergraduates a year through its 46 university-based student-led chapters. Through partnerships with community-based health organizations (CBOs) in developing countries, students learn about on-the-ground health work while providing virtual assistance to the CBO. Each year, 3-5 students from each chapter intern onsite for 3-8 weeks with their partner CBO through GlobeMed’s GROW (Grassroots On-site Work) program. The mutual learning that results strengthens the capacity of both sides. Back on campus, students share their learning with their chapters, equipping them with the firsthand knowledge to be improved advocates for the following year. Here’s a snapshot of how we’re supporting this important work:
The benefits to USAID are far reaching
This partnership with GlobeMed brings more HSIs and HBCUs into the GH community in an active way. It also contributes directly to the USAID FORWARD Talent Management agenda of “support[ing] USAID as home to the most talented, diverse and committed development professionals in the world.” New advocates for the Agency’s GH work are created across a broad spectrum of young Americans and much-needed diversity is added to the potential cadre of future GH professionals available to work on the Agency’s most pressing GH issues. Beyond those positives, it is a cost-effective way for the Agency to gain workforce diversity by working through an established organization with national reach and cohesive influence among its chapter members.
Telling the recruitment story with numbers
GHFP-II has aimed to increase the number of underrepresented groups in its internship program. In Program Year 3, 41 percent of interns would be considered ethnically underrepresented – an increase from 22 percent in Program Year 2. More broadly, Program Year 3’s group was 56 percent non-white, compared to 35 percent in Program Year 2. The end-of-project target of 50 percent has been achieved for non-white groups and nearly reached for underrepresented groups, largely due to continued, targeted outreach and training for hiring managers.
GHFP-II’s recruitment practices and a sophisticated, targeted advertising network are key factors in ensuring that fellowship and internship opportunities are widely known to a diverse audience of qualified professionals and newly emerging professionals. In the third year of the program, an estimated 48 percent of all participants were ethnic minorities (non-white), while 33 percent would be considered ethnically underrepresented. None reported disabilities.
To put these percentages in context, the program successfully recruited for a total of 108 fellowship positions during its first three years and recruited or supported a total of 311 interns during the same period.
When I think about the incredible global health professionals, at all levels that have been a part of this program, I am very much aware of the far-reaching contributions they have made through the years. I am also gratified to know that we are bringing in not only the most technically skilled people available, but also those individuals with skills and experience that can’t be taught in a classroom but add immeasurably to the work. That’s why I’m so excited to be a part of this Diversity Summit. It will bring together senior leaders at USAID, US Government agencies, academia and diversity experts to continue this effort by exploring the impacts, best practices and lessons learned, and the challenges and opportunities afforded by a diverse workforce. As the Summit progresses, I’ll be writing more about what is taking place, so please check back often!
Dr. Sharon Rudy is GHFP-II's Project Director