For the Record with James Burroughs, VP, Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, Children’s Minnesota – Medical Alley Association

For the Record with James Burroughs, VP, Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, Children’s Minnesota

James Burroughs joined Children’s Minnesota as the first chief equity and inclusion officer in January 2019, and is now vice president and chief equity and inclusion officer, responsible for advancing equity and inclusion in all parts of the organization. James’ key focus areas include patient quality initiatives, employee recruitment and retention strategies, and organizational culture. His work also focuses on increasing financial investment and spend with diverse businesses and supporting initiatives that address the social determinants of health for patients and families.

Give us Children’s Minnesota’s elevator pitch.

Children’s Minnesota is the seventh largest pediatric health system in the United States and the only health system in Minnesota to provide care exclusively to children, from before birth through young adulthood. As the kid experts, Children’s Minnesota has a mission to champion the health needs of all children and families. That means providing high quality, equitable care to our patient families, and leveraging our voice to advocate and champion health initiatives that benefit all children.

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

At Children’s Minnesota, we want everyone who engages with us — patients, families, employees, vendors and community partners — 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. Having this culture brings about better communication, improves access to care, cultivates deeper patient satisfaction, reduces health disparities and creates an engaging place to work.

You’ve said that the majority of patients at Children’s Minnesota come from diverse communities. How does that impact your team’s internal DE&I efforts?

Our vision at Children’s Minnesota is to be every family’s essential partner in raising healthier children. In order to fulfill that vision and our commitment to our patients and families, DE&I needs to be at the heart of everything we do. From the moment a family sets foot in one of our hospitals or clinics to paying the bill, families deserve to feel respected every step of the way.  To achieve this, we want to create an inclusive, safe environment where everyone has an exceptional experience. We are starting this effort by addressing the disparities that exist in our own hospitals and clinics — and then are working to close those gaps in our employee base, our health care professional base, our vendor mixes and our leadership structure.

What progress in the DE&I space have you seen from Children’s Minnesota and what is on the horizon?

We are making great progress in our DE&I goals. The makeup of our executive leadership team went from zero percent people of color to 33 percent in two years. Children’s Minnesota President and CEO, Dr. Marc Gorelick, has joined more than 750 CEOs from across the country in a pledge to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace and share best practices as part of the CEO Action Network.

On the horizon, we are looking at ways to diversify our staff. 54 percent of Children’s Minnesota inpatients are children of color, yet 24 percent of employees are people of color. Our goal is to get that figure to 34 percent to better meet the needs of our patient families. In addition, we’re aiming to have 20 percent people of color in leadership roles, currently we’re at just shy of 16 percent. Children’s Minnesota is also committed to investing in the communities we serve. We’re focusing on a supplier diversity strategy that identifies diverse businesses and creates opportunities for those companies to work with us.  

What advice would you give other organizations that might just be starting their DE&I journey?

My first piece of advice is to recruit and hire an executive-level leader of DE&I to lead the work. It’s important that DE&I be prioritized just like finance and operations. Then, invest in the resources in order for the work to be done. It’s not enough to say that Human Relations will handle it, or marketing will handle it. It’s creating a separate budget for DE&I work. Finally, develop metrics for accountability—What measures will the organization use to determine success?

What does leadership look like to you?

A good leader has a high degree of integrity and honesty. He or she does what they say they’re going to do and they’re not afraid to voice disappointments. You can tell a good leader when their teammates follow them willingly, rather than being forced. They are able to engage the strengths and skills of the individuals on the team to get maximum, high-quality results. If results are not met, good leader reinforce and reengage to support the development of their team so that they can achieve those results in the future—rather than tossing them off the ship.

What is the best advice you have received in your career? What is the worst?

What gets measured, gets done is the best advice I’ve received. You can have many goals, but if you’re not measuring the success, it doesn’t get done. I’ve heard that advice many times in different places, but the one leader I had that enforced it tremendously was Gov. Mark Dayton.

I tend to forget the worst advice—in one ear, out the other.

What have been the most rewarding moments in your career?

There are three that stand out. First, when I moved to Minnesota as a federal law clerk in 1992, I didn’t see other people of color around me. That drove me to start a minority clerkship program that lead to more law students of color applying for, and receiving, federal clerk jobs.

Second, when I was working in a large law firm there was some resistance to hiring lawyers of color because people were afraid they would not do high-quality work. I pushed against that and partnered with an organization that focused on hiring, training and developing lawyers of color at large firms. We were very successful in supporting each other. This was important to me because it’s another time when people said we could not do it, but we kept pushing and got the people in there to change.

The third most rewarding moment is making my mom proud. I appreciate and value the awards I’ve received, but I’m happy those accolades make her proud and realize that she did a good job investing her time, energy and effort in me.

What is one personal goal for the upcoming year.

Learn how to take time off and relax. I don’t do that well.

How do you relax/decompress?

I enjoy playing golf, listening to audiobooks and going to watch live sports like football, basketball and baseball.

What do you enjoy most about the Medical Alley community?

The ability to connect and collaborate with all the great companies in Medical Alley—companies in the nonprofit sector, medical device makers, health insurance providers. I appreciate that all those companies are committed to doing the work to pursue and support diversity, equity and inclusion inside and out. All of us can learn from one another to better meet the needs of the communities we serve.

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