Health & Medicine’s Commitment to Living our Values as an Equity Committed Organization – Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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Health & Medicine’s Commitment to Living our Values as an Equity Committed Organization

August 12, 2020 Written By: Ann Duffy, Melissa Martin, and Margie Schaps

Health & Medicine has been focused on and committed to health equity and social justice since its founding in 1981. While semantics have changed over these nearly forty years, our steadfast commitment to these values and our mission to challenge inequities has been solid.

We challenge ourselves to look internally and ask how we are creating policy and practice for our own employees and board members that reflects the values of equity and social justice.

This blog post is intended to start a conversation with you, our community. We invite you to look at what we’ve done to promote internal equity, share your own internal equity practices, and bring to attention anything we may have missed.

We hope this opportunity to share practices and open a discussion on internal equity will allow us to learn from one another.

Internship Equity

Over the last few years, there have been ongoing discussions among Health & Medicine staff about the increasing need for resources to pay interns, and a better alignment of process and outcomes of internship programming with Health & Medicine’s organizational commitment to both health equity and diversity and equity in the health workforce. As part of its work, the organization created an Internship Equity Committee charged with developing a new model for internships in which unpaid intern labor is phased out and replaced with a paid internship model. The committee recognized that by not paying for interns’ contributions to Health & Medicine, the organization’s internship program would reflect and exacerbate inequities in society. Those with independent or family resources are better able to take on an unpaid internship, gaining a significant career advantage over those unable to afford to work for free.

With the cost of higher education and housing skyrocketing over the last few decades, while median wages fall and inequality rises, unpaid internships are out of reach for many otherwise qualified individuals.

Holidays (Juneteenth and Indigenous People’s Day)

Starting in 2018, Health & Medicine designated Juneteenth (June 19), and Indigenous Peoples’ Day (the second Monday of October) as official office holidays.

Juneteenth is a day regarded as the oldest national celebration of African American liberation in the United States. While the official date of the Emancipation Proclamation was 1863, Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the remote territory of Texas over two years later on June 19, 1865. While Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in forty-five states, it rarely gets the recognition of other national celebrations. Honoring this day is an important part of recognizing the role our history plays in shaping public health and health inequities.

The Indigenous Peoples of America have rich cultures and continue to show strength and resilience in the face of adversity and injustice. They have experienced thefts of their lands, languages, property, and lives since the arrival of settlers from Europe. This struggle for justice continues today, and Native People are often at the forefront of movements against inequities. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of Native People and lend our voice in support of all those seeking freedom, sovereignty, and justice.

The definition of health equity that guides our work at Health & Medicine requires that those working to advance equity value all individuals and populations equally and work to recognize and rectify historical injustices. Our decision to celebrate Juneteenth & Indigenous Peoples’ Day honors that work by challenging the sanitized histories that are often taught about the United States and its founding, a history that contributes to health inequities to this day.

In short, we believe that historical context matters to health equity and that celebrating Juneteenth & Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a step towards recognizing the full scope of American history and the unfinished work of advancing justice.

Paid Maternity and Paternity Leave

In 2015, Health & Medicine made a commitment to be a leader in providing adequate paid maternity and paternity leave to employees. The United States lags behind most industrialized countries in recognizing the importance of early parent/infant connection by paying employees to stay home with their new babies. In many US workplaces, employees must use vacation and sick time as their maternity leave. We recognized that this is not only unjust in general, it disproportionately has a negative impact on women employees. Changing this policy would be another way for us to live our values of equity.

Evidence not only suggests that quality bonding in the first stages of life can decrease stress and have a long-term positive effect on the child’s health, decreasing the likelihood of disease, boosting immunity, and improving their emotional well-being.

We went about interviewing other non-profit organizations in the Chicago area about their policies, reading best practice literature and reviewing our financial capacity. What we found in the community was disappointing.

We settled on providing 12 weeks of paid maternity/paternity leave — more than any other local non-profit that we could find. This is not nearly what is provided by many other countries, but it’s progress — for us and for our community. We hope that others will look to Health & Medicine’s policy as they set theirs, and encourage all employers to promote state and federal policy that will adequately support new families.

Job Postings/Hiring Practices

Health & Medicine has adopted several new policies surrounding recruiting and hiring of staff. We recognize that having a diverse workforce is an asset to our organization and the work that we do each day. We learned that many typical hiring and recruiting practices that we and others employed were creating a barrier to potential applicants. Beginning in 2015, we stopped requesting salary history from applicants as research showed that the question contributed to the gender wage gap — an action now enforced by Illinois law for all employers. In addition, we made the decision to post the salary range for all advertised positions. This decision contributes to internal pay equity among staff as well as a level of transparency to the process.

Furthering our commitment to pay equity, Health & Medicine hired a consultant to conduct a salary scan of non-profits with similar budgets in the Chicago area. The information gathered led to a full revision of our salary ranges and staff pay. We have committed to updating the scan regularly, and, assuming our budget allows for it, making only positive adjustments that meet or exceed the average.

Health & Medicine is continually learning best practices for diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring, and follows recommendations of other educators and advocates for social justice. Our interview and selection process for potential employees incorporates these DEI efforts.

In addition, Health & Medicine formed an internal Performance Criteria Committee of junior and senior staff members in 2019 to create recommendations for performance criteria that guides all annual performance and salary reviews. Giving staff a voice in the process allows for a more holistic approach in developing specific criteria and standards for promotion and advancement, and makes the salary determination process both more transparent and less subjective.

Moving Forward

As we move forward with our commitment to internal equity, it is important to revise our personnel policies to ensure that they reflect our core values as an organization. This process will begin this year with the participation of all staff, using recommendations and best practices from other progressive non-profit organizations around the country. In addition, our internal equity committee continues to meet to ensure that we hold ourselves accountable to the policies and practices we have implemented, and to seek additional ways we can advance this work. Lastly, we will be hiring a consultant this year to work with us to ensure that anti-racist theory is embedded in our practice.