The Real Change Is The Journey We Choose To Take Together

by Felisa Schneider, Chief Operating Officer, The Carol Emmott Foundation

The last thing I expected would energize my commitment to our work in gender equity in healthcare leadership was a podcast on Criminal by Voxmedia Podcast Network. I was on a late-night flight, clicking on random downloads, when I found myself listening to an inspirational talk by Dr. Dudley Flood.

Dr. Flood was a key figure in desegregating the North Carolina school system. He shared his experiences of blatant racism and untenable situations with the wisdom that extraordinary circumstances generate. I have read and heard numerous accounts of injustice, but what struck me about this story was his thoughtful perspective, his innate understanding of “the human condition,” of the good and the bad. There was a steady focus on the hope of a better future. There was a focus on – and belief of – the ability of people to connect and truly listen to understand. And there was the perspective that humanity can be ignorant, cruel, and confusing, and yet we are all still human.

I am often asked why I do the work I do. Why continue to push against an overpowering system that perpetuates biases which are incorporated into its scaffolding? Why fight for equal pay when it is not something that will come to fruition in my lifetime? Why spend time solving issues that are seemingly unresolvable? Although we can envision what a just world could look like, do we really believe there will be a time in history when all issues are solved? When biases are acknowledged and dealt with, and all humans treat each other as equals? That the system is fixed to the extent that organizations like ours are no longer needed?

No, I do not believe that a specific moment in time will come when all wrongs are righted. But if it does, I certainly do not believe that moment will stay in place forever. And this is where being okay with being human plays a role. Humans are complicated and messy. We disagree. We have opinions and biases formed by our personal experiences, our predispositions, our family lives, our education, our religion, our society. We have strong, profound feelings that drive our values. When there is more than one human in a room, the politics of maneuvering and working with another being always come into play.

I am not tied to an imagined perfect outcome of an equitable, utopic world. Rather, I am tied to the process of continuously instilling hope that we are making our way toward a better world. Hope is key to continuing the pursuit of betterment of any type. I believe in the process itself of bringing together community, the power of connection and listening, and the ability of humans to touch other humans’ lives. And I experience through our work daily the strides we are making toward a world of equal opportunity and access. I see our Fellows using their influence to make noticeable differences. I see top leadership at incredible health institutions invested in making their organizations better for all humans. I see the success of my work at the Foundation through them. And I see their successes throughout the process of this journey that we are all taking. I am motivated by the understanding that if we can affect change in gender equity in the top leadership of an industry that represents 18% of the US economy, we will see real transformation that will have a ripple effect throughout our world.

We are currently interviewing the nominees for the Fellowship Class of 2024. I have participated in almost every interview since we started seven years ago. I marvel at the constant themes we see around the need for increased access, inclusion, improving patients’ lives, women’s rights, and more. I do not think there is one blueprint that any one of us believes will lead to the creation of a flawless system. It is instead the continued process of striving to make the world a better place that spurs them on and drives my work. It is living the process itself and connecting with others that create the constructive changes we seek. Dr. Flood’s work was successful because he brought together people with divergent thinking and ensured they felt heard. He created a new sense of community that could work together toward building a better future.

And so, we continue to do what we do best. We build community, and we listen to understand. We work together to find solutions and inspire others to create positive change. We acknowledge our humanity and our flaws. At the same time, we continue to feel hope. And we celebrate the successes, big and small, along the way.