Beyond words: Children’s Minnesota doubles down on measurable efforts to advance equity and inclusion

James Burroughs, II

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The history of the U.S. is riddled with racism and discrimination. That racism has seeped into every field and industry, including health care, resulting in deep mistrust among Black, Indigenous, Latino and Asian people. 

James C. Burroughs II, vice president and chief equity and inclusion officer at Children’s Minnesota, has been a prominent figure in the equity world for more than three decades for his efforts to rebuild that trust by dismantling structural racism where he sees it. 

He was the first chief equity and inclusion officer to serve the state of Minnesota, and then moved to the first such role at the largest pediatric health care institution in the state. 

This year marks Burroughs’ third anniversary at Children’s Minnesota. In that time, the organization has made progress on its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. But Burroughs knows there’s more to be done. His chief priority now is addressing health disparities, inside and out, for the wellbeing of Minnesota’s children. 

What motivated you to work towards equity in health care?

JB: Since she was born, my daughter has had sickle cell disease and has been a patient at Children’s Minnesota. I want to ensure that she and other children of color receive equitable care. That means seeing herself in the team that takes care of her. 

It also means care teams that address and understand her health needs from a culturally aware and competent viewpoint. I also believed that we can better address the numerous racial disparities in Minnesota if we address the health and wellness of kids.

What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean at Children’s Minnesota?

JB: As one of the largest pediatric health care systems in the country, Children’s Minnesota embraces its role as the kid experts in addressing the disparities in our care to build a better future for all children. Nearly half of our patients and families are people of color. They deserve to feel valued, respected and supported. That means having a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture that reflects the rich backgrounds of the communities we serve. 

Diversity is simply how we are different and how we are alike. Equity is providing each employee, patient, family, vendor, and community member with the services they need to be successful and receive the highest level of quality care. Inclusion is how we make sure people can be their full selves at work.

Children’s Minnesota’s journey began in 2016 when we became the first health system in Minnesota to explicitly name structural racism as a priority health issue. 

Since then, Dr. Marc Gorelick, our president and CEO, has joined the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge and hired me as the system’s first chief equity and inclusion officer. After the killing of George Floyd, Dr. Gorelick spearheaded a statement against racism and then we became a founding member of the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity.

How is Children’s Minnesota engaging in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts?

JB: Our vision at Children’s Minnesota is to be every family’s essential partner in raising healthier children. In order to fulfill that vision, DEI needs to be at the heart of everything we do.

To address the diversity gaps in our employee base, we’ve established relationships with local programs and universities to offer internship opportunities, creating a pipeline for racially and LGBTQ diverse employees. 

In addition, we’re committed to investing in the communities we serve. We’re focusing on a supplier diversity strategy that identifies diverse businesses and creates opportunities for them to work with us.

To address COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on people of color, Children’s Minnesota partnered with our community in various discussions to help communities learn more about the vaccine. We also regularly collaborate on vaccination events to bring immunity to the community.

What progress has been made since you arrived at Children’s Minnesota?

JB: Our intentional efforts to diversify our workforce at all levels of the organization to reflect the rich diversity of our patients has yielded significant results. The racial diversity of our staff went from 19% in 2019 to 24% today. Out of the more than 800 people we recently hired, 43% are people of color. In only two years, the makeup of our executive leadership team went from 0 people of color to 33%.

What’s on the horizon for DEI at Children’s Minnesota?

JB: We need to continue to find ways to invest money in communities of color, in the people and businesses located in the same neighborhoods as our hospitals and clinics.

The best advice I ever received was, ‘what gets measured, gets done.’ That is why we will continue to hold ourselves accountable because it is essential to caring for the most amazing people on earth—kids.

James C. Burroughs II is vice president and chief equity and inclusion officer at Children’s Minnesota.

Visit childrensmn.org/about-us to learn more about the mission, vision and values at Children’s Minnesota.