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The United States celebrates Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26.
The Providence SoCal Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council chose to interview Chairperson Azizza Barnes about why this day is important.
Barnes discusses how far women have come as they strive for equality, and how far they still have to go.
For nearly 50 years, the United States has celebrated Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26. Officially, the day commemorates the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. But as we observe it, we also call attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality.
At Providence, we believe it’s important to raise awareness about discrimination and social issues. Our SoCal Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council addresses not only women’s issues but also the challenges that arise for other marginalized groups. We sat down with one important female leader within the council — Azizza Barnes (she/her), operations manager for the Institute for Human Caring; chair for the SoCal Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council; and a steering committee member for the SoCal Black Caregiver Resource Group.
Describe your path to your current role and focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Barnes: I studied cultural and biological anthropology in college, which allowed me to learn about cultural differences and challenges in Western medicine. I became a licensed nurse, then earned my master’s degree in public administration with a focus on health administration and organizational leadership.
While my studies taught me about health care policies and how I could transform the profession, my life experiences were even more important in shaping the woman I am today. We have all, at some point in our lives, experienced discrimination, bias, or a lack of love from someone. Sharing those experiences and developing ways to prevent others from having those types of experiences is what makes this work so valuable.
My mother, a Black lesbian, and my stepfather, an immigrant from Peru, have taught me there is no limit to how many barriers one person can face. My hope is that one day, I will no longer need to have an inner voice that protects me from everyday threats that I am told “do not exist.”
What are the benefits to having women in leadership?
Barnes: Young girls felt so much power when Michelle Obama became the first Black First Lady and Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party. These were things I just never thought were possible for me.
Women today are changing perceptions around their commitment to their roles, often balancing both motherhood and “business-hood.” Even though they may not get enough sleep or personal time, they are still getting the job done with smiles on their faces. They are important because they show the world you shouldn’t be afraid of change. There is enough room for everyone who wants to be at the table.
What does being a woman in health care leadership mean to you?
Barnes: During a time when men rule the boardrooms and make up the executive leadership teams at health care organizations, women are pushing to diversify and amplify their voices around the world. We are able to bring new visions, a fresh lens, and a refreshing perspective to what health care leaders should and could be. Women are not better than men, but our communication styles are different. When you have two different ways of doing something and merge them to create an amazing strategic plan, that can be beneficial to any and every organization.
What challenges/cultural barriers are important to overcome in women's equality?
Barnes: Women should have the right not only to choose but also to be heard, trusted, believed, and supported. We are told we are equal, and we have voting rights, employment rights, and equal pay rights. But those are words on a piece of paper. Does the world practice what it preaches of just and fair treatment for all? I think not.
When you think about women's equality and the disparity in pay, what are your thoughts on how we overcome pay disparities?
Barnes: Over the years, women have struggled to earn the same amount of pay as men do for the same job. It’s a two-way street: Women need to take a stance and push to be paid for what they are capable of, rather than just being grateful someone took a chance on them. At the same time, leaders need to develop as unbiased of a pay breakdown as they can.
The real issue, however, is more than just what you see on paper. A woman and man in the same role might be getting paid the same amount for the same title. But she may be taking on eight more projects than he is, she is continuously “volun-told” for various additional assignments, and she has two extra degrees to be at his level. Men are often better at saying “no” and not feeling they will be overlooked for a promotion, whereas a woman who says no to a project may be viewed as uncollaborative or not being a team player.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Barnes: I encourage other women to continue to be great, speak their truth and support everyone. When you are a minority, you face additional hardships and challenges when pushing for your voice to be heard. Never give up!
A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion
Providence SoCal Diversity Equity & Inclusion Council (SoCal DEI) is leading some of our efforts to raise cultural awareness and promote diversity to help build appreciation for cultural traditions. We are also starting conversations to help educate people about different cultures as a way to create a more welcoming, equitable, and inclusive environment. We support diversity education and awareness initiatives, thus deepening our ability to provide compassionate care and honor human dignity.
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