Providence social justice committee addresses systemic racism

October 7, 2021 Simona Trakiyska

Human crowd gathered to form the words social justice


In this article:

  • Providence caregivers Erik Wexler, Azizza Barnes and Dr. Josh Luke discuss what diversity, equity and inclusion look like at Providence. 
  • Healthcare must make structural changes to address persistent inequalities. 
  • Current DEI initiatives are organized around Providence's mission to care for all people.

For many years the science of well-being, specifically in relation to employee engagement and organizational health, was viewed as a multi-dimensional sphere (e.g., a superficial concept). Psychologists, HR specialists, industrial organizational behavior specialists and scientists have spent years studying well-being in the workplace and its impact on business results. Synthesis of research findings over the past few decades has led to a few important discoveries:

  • Corporate culture of well-being means having the right practices and policies to ensure the embracing of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), where employees feel heard, safe and that they belong; and
  • Individual differences, personality traits, competencies, emotional intelligence, cognitive abilities and styles all contribute to the formation of organizational identity.

Employees must come first. Providence’s leadership approach, hiring practices and DEI objectives have allowed for the formation of a cohesive work environment comprised of thousands of caregivers across seven states . Now, with the help of the DEI Council, employees are encouraged to have meaningful conversations, knowing that sharing different experiences and perspectives can lead to the accumulation and deconstruction of complex information.

For example, when we mindfully digest food it benefits our digestive system; equally, when we mindfully digest thoughts, we enhance our understanding of other viewpoints. Active listening and mindfulness can help us expand our understanding of systematic racism, reframe our personal approach to social issues and reform our overall behavior.  

Providence DEI Council addressing social justice issues

A key initiative is being driven by the Providence Southern California (SoCal) DEI Council group, urgently aiming to raise individual and collective awareness on the topics of marginalization, discrimination and social issues. The SoCal DEI Council, for the 2021–2022 year, has committed to over 1,000+ hours of time invested, 20 goals and 10 metrics, 40 events and 300+ communications. And the council supports the continuous growth of colleague resource groups (CRGs) and Councils in our region.

"Everyone should make a personal commitment to make sure that we change our world. I am not going to let one day pass by without an effort towards that end.” – Erik Wexler, President of Providence Southern Operations

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council in Southern California is focused on cultivating and promoting a culturally appropriate and safe environment, raising awareness and continually educating while also explaining the importance of why it matters. Providence as an organization aims to demonstrate its commitment to equity, where each individual regardless of their differences, such as gender, race or beliefs, has access to the same professional opportunity. Inclusion for us means competence on a multicultural level; this goes beyond Providence as an organization – we care for all people, regardless of their socioeconomic status, and with compassion related to the uniqueness of each patient.

Current and future DEI initiatives are and will continue to be organized on the foundation of Providence’s mission and core system strategy.

How healthcare must evolve to address systemic inequalities

One of Providence’s partners, Dr. Josh Luke, is a champion for healthcare transformation and building a culture of accountability. Part of the healthcare evolution involves making structural and significant changes to address persistent inequalities and systemic racism. This is where the work of Providence’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity / Social Justice Committee comes in; an effort being led by Erik Wexler, President, Operations and Strategy, Providence South and Azizza Barnes, Chairperson for Regional Diversity & Inclusion Council at Providence, Southern California.

In a two-part series of virtual interviews, Erik Wexler, Azizza Barnes and Dr. Josh Luke discuss the Providence commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Below is a selection of videos to gain deeper insights on how Providence leaders think and their promise to proactively continue to address social justice issues.

Introduction to the Providence social justice committee

Erik Wexler and Azizza Barnes provide the background as to how and why the council was brought about in 2020, amidst the pandemic and environment of social unrest experienced across the nation.


How the Providence mission intersects with the committee’s work

In alignment with the Providence mission statement, the Diversity & Inclusion Council commits to take action in support of all those who are vulnerable. Watch to learn how these actions have been realized so far.

“We promote change, which is aimed to awaken multicultural competence and understanding. Treat me how I want to be treated. Not how you want to treat me.” – Azizza Barnes

Social justice committee accomplishments and success stories

The purpose of the Diversity & Inclusion Council is to ensure a discrimination-free environment, diversify caregivers and leaders, and to drive policy, learning opportunities and cultural competency that will provide an inclusive community for all caregivers. Listen as Azizza Barnes describes a few of the most outstanding accomplishments during the course of the first year.

Despite some hesitancy, Azizza notes that one of the biggest accomplishments is turning that hesitancy around and building a trusting environment where caregivers feel heard and supported.

“Part of the healing process is to listen to what people have suffered through.” – Erik Wexler

Social justice committee part II

Prior to the release of the interviews in part I of this series, the one-year anniversary of the George Floyd tragedy passed. In this interview, Erik Wexler recognizes the effect on society and outlines how Providence is taking an active stance in responding to the need for continued focus on eliminating discrimination in the workplace.

"Who are we as human beings? If you just take a step back and say: what do I expect of myself? I expect human dignity. I expect compassion. I really want love and health. Well, at Providence it’s our responsibility to make sure that happens for every human being that lives in our community,” explains Erik. 


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