Profiles in Change: Emerging Black Leaders and Influencers in Healthcare—Delinah Hailey

Delinah Hailey
Delinah Hailey

Meet @Delinah Hailey, Health Catalyst’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Team Lead. She’s the first leader I am introducing in my ongoing Profiles in Change: Emerging Black Leaders and Influencers in Healthcare series, which focuses on my heroes that are driving meaningful improvements and creating firsts, particularly in overcoming the longstanding inequities in our healthcare organizations, companies, institutions and communities. Delinah co-founded Shades, Health Catalyst’s affinity group for team members of color, is an advocate, activist, and leader in many organizations in her hometown and at her university. During the past year, she’s driven progress in representation, by leading progressive recruitment and pipeline development efforts; increased inclusion, through innovative, provocative training; and enhanced a greater sense of belonging, in part through her educating champions and allies about the importance of boundaries for underrepresented team members: All her achievements have occurred while being enrolled full time at Yale University.

Tell us a little about you and yourself (hometown, major, family, cultural experiences).

I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, as the daughter of immigrants. I’m the second oldest of four siblings, I’m half Eritrean and half Tigaru, Ethiopian, and I grew up in a very large, loud, and loving family – one full of incredibly strong matriarchs who are my absolute idols. Growing up in Texas, I navigated being a Black woman in many predominantly white spaces and dove into Black literature, art, music, poetry, and history as tools of self-empowerment and self-education in a setting where my experiences with manifestations of racism and misogynoir were vividly present and woven into my day to day life. I’m currently on track to complete my major in the Ethics, Politics and Economics program at Yale University.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing DEI practitioners in 2021?

I personally believe that the biggest challenge ahead around DEI is authenticity. As a result of America’s and the world’s reckoning with racial injustice in 2020, there have been surges of public commitment to advancing racial justice and to DEI more generally across corporate America, institutions, and communities. In 2021 and beyond, the results of what these institutions and organizations publicly declared will reveal the reality of the authenticity of their commitments. Assessing authenticity requires some key reflections: Who is being centered by your initiatives and policies? What systemic changes are you truly progressing towards?  DEI practitioners are the link between the internal and external commitments of organizations, and I believe that in their role, committing to such a standard of authenticity is vital for true progress.

What excites you most about the new administration and its potential impact on healthcare?

I’m glad to see that the Biden administration has rightfully committed to making racial equity a central issue of providing and expanding healthcare—particularly amidst the current global pandemic—and hope that this commitment will drive change for more equitable care both in the private and public sectors.

You are a founding member of Shades, Health Catalyst’s affinity group for team members of colors, which launched in the middle of 2020 and is already contributing to strategic, customer-facing priorities for the company.  What tips for a successful launch might you share for those organizing their affinity groups?

We were really lucky to have strong executive support through our formation and our initiatives at all stages of our development. Something that was particularly helpful in launching and rapidly growing the new affinity group that I would suggest doing is utilizing publicly available information on best practices and information based on research around the functions and organizations of employee resource groups.

Shades is led by what we lovingly call an “egalitarian cohort” of three Black women rather than a single leader. Are there insights you might provide around this model and how it has contributed to early successes?

I think that this diverse representation at the leadership level of Shades created an empowering structure where the least represented membership in the company were able to feel empowered and centered in efforts to drive equitable change and create safe spaces for fellow team members of color. I believe this dynamic of centering and elevating the voices of who you seek to serve is essential for all affinity groups.

You’ve been collaborating cross functionally with a team focused on designing an increasingly diverse remote internship program and recruiting strategies? Is there a proverbial “silver bullet” for others to consider that you’ve discovered along the way?

I don’t know that there are any fail-safe and totally transferable exact solutions for success in these efforts, but I definitely have seen the success of collaborating early on with affinity groups and affinity leadership in recruitment and diversification efforts, and I believe this is a crucial component of achieving success.

Do you have a mentor in healthcare or someone who inspires you? If yes, who and why?

Not that I can think of in healthcare specifically, but I definitely have incredible mentors in my mother, teachers, professors and my supervisor, Trudy Sullivan.

Inequity in healthcare has been a long-standing challenge. If you could wave a magic wand and design a solution for overcoming these disparities, what features might that solution include?

I’m definitely not qualified to answer this question at all. However, I would hope that solutions would center around both data and historical/cultural components and contexts which are relevant to conversations and policies around equity in order to truly serve the communities most needing support and a more just solution.

We greatly admire the director of the Center for Community Engagement and Health Equity, and the founding director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center (ERIC) at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith. She is also leading President Biden’s Health Equity Task Force. We are encouraged by her research focused on promoting health and healthcare equity for structurally marginalized populations with an emphasis on centering community engagement, supporting healthcare workforce diversity and development, developing patient reported measurements of healthcare quality, and identifying regional strategies to reduce the global burden of non-communicable diseases. Do you ever run into Dr. Nunez Smith on campus? Will you have her for any classes?

I have not; we definitely are getting way less in person interaction with professors since classes are online due to COVID-19, even though most students are on campus. Also, I’m not a medical student so I probably won’t ever be taking one of her classes, but our professors are pretty good at responding to student engagement and outreach for different student clubs/group events, and I expect she’ll be in high demand if she isn’t already.

As you manage your Yale coursework and class load, club and community work and Health Catalyst internship, are there thoughts about striking a balance that you might share with other working students?

I definitely think that I am extremely lucky, as Health Catalyst has been incredibly flexible and understanding with the challenges of maintaining this balance, and I feel privileged to be in this position, but I will say to working students: I get it. I think there is a bit of an odd culture at my school—and I think it exists well beyond Yale—where everyone takes up a large load of responsibilities then acts like they aren’t struggling at times with this balance. I think underrepresented students of color especially deal with this as there is an unspoken pressure on ourselves that we can’t afford to mess up, or not be perfectly successful in this balance, or that we can’t admit when we are struggling because that would make us ungrateful for what we worked so hard towards. I definitely want to acknowledge and highlight that there is an incredible great dimension of privilege in my situation—I have health care, no one relies on me to survive, I go to a very privileged school, my needs are completely met, I am not working for survival, and I have access and time to be able to commit to clubs and community work—and I cannot imagine the compounded difficulties when any or all of these privileges are not the case for working students. But I would just say to any fellow working students that I validate your experiences however they affect you, and that I think it’s important to lean on your support system of friends, family or mentors that are available to you and lean on the support of the communities you belong to when this balance is especially difficult.

If you could host a Zoom call with three influential Black leaders, living or passed away, who would you invite? What do you think you’d spend most of the time discussing?

Angela Davis, Ava DuVernay, and Patrice Cullors (my heroes). I think we’d spend most of the time discussing Black women, Black resistance and intersectionality in evolution across modern and previous time periods and across the Diaspora.

Two Health Catalyst Team Members Recognized at Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) Conference

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