Empowering early career professionals on the importance of diversity

At the 2022 Emerging Leaders Symposium opening the fall semester, a diverse group of professionals and panelists shared ideas about shaping the future of academia and the medical sciences. 

The symposium — presented by the UW–Madison Department of Medical Physics and co-sponsored by the Morgridge Institute —  emphasized that a more concerted effort is needed to diversify the medical professions and nurture young talent in the form of postdocs, trainees and graduates to become better leaders. 

Naomi Takahashi, UW Health director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, noted during a workshop panel how important it is to be active when building a more inclusive environment and team. 

“It’s not only the diversity in the room, but how people are celebrated or promoted, how policies are implemented, and how practices are encouraged or discouraged,” she says. 

This conscious effort to diversify must extend into research. Often in medical textbooks and research studies, white men are the primary subjects, making it difficult to understand how illnesses or diseases affect men, women and people of different racial groups differently. 

“There must be recognition that distrust in healthcare is significant in communities of color, and that is real, that is current, and we have significant health inequities when it comes to race,” says Takahashi.

From textbooks to hospital boards, it’s clear that diversity is critical to maintaining patient safety and implementing policies that benefit a wider range of individuals. An element of trust within these spaces must be built, which comes from open communication between researchers and underrepresented communities. 

It’s not only the diversity in the room, but how people are celebrated or promoted, how policies are implemented, and how practices are encouraged or discouraged.

Naomi Takahashi

So how can future leaders foster that trust, both within the workplace and outside of it? 

Beth Meyerand, a Morgridge affiliate and the vice provost for faculty and staff affairs at UW, emphasized during a keynote address the importance of making information accessible and digestible, especially for young professionals in the process of building community relationships.

“A really important skill you need to develop is reformulating the same topic for different professionals and different groups—you can’t just describe your research in the same words in the same way again and again, and expect someone to understand it,” says Meyerand. “You need to think about where they’re coming from.”

At the Morgridge Institute, one effort to diversify and empower the research community and beyond is through an interdisciplinary Postdoctoral Fellowship program

The postdoc trainees have a strong interest in collaborative research and communicating science to society, and work with two mentors—one at Morgridge and one at UW–Madison—with distinctly different disciplines that benefit from the collaborative bridge built through the postdoc fellowship.

Furthermore, Morgridge investigators aim to hire promising postdoctoral candidates from historically marginalized-communities and minority-serving institutions to reflect the multicultural world we live in through their research.

Many speakers at the Emerging Leaders Symposium emphasized that maintaining an environment that fosters diversity is crucial to strong teams. Diverse perspectives lead to more creativity, higher rates of productivity, and overall more impactful research that can aid in patient safety in the medical fields.

“If we can sustain diversity within organizations, we’re going to see over time that people are actually going to be more benefited,” says Takahashi.