Take 5 with UPMC’s Candi Castleberry-Singleton: Inclusion Is More than a Job; It’s a Calling

Candi Castleberry-Singleton is Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), an $8 billion, 20-hospital global health system. In 2008, she launched the Center for Inclusion in Health Care at UPMC.

Candi has enjoyed tremendous success coaching executives and building sustainable inclusion practices at Motorola, where she was Vice President of Global Inclusion and Diversity, and at Sun Microsystems, where she headed the Global Inclusion Center of Expertise. Candi’s influence extends beyond the workplace. She’s been named as one of the 25 Influential Black Women by The Network Journal, Top 100 African Americans in Corporate America by Savoy Professional Magazine, and a Woman of Humility by Point Park University in Pittsburgh. Candi has also been recognized as one of the 50 Women of Excellence by The New Pittsburgh Courier and as a Top 50 under 50 Executive Leader by Diversity MBA Magazine.

Candi and my paths crisscross a lot whether at airports and in planes on the way to a conference, or while I’m getting miked backstage as she’s wrapping up a keynote and vice versa. We recently connected while we were both in Charlotte to deliver keynote addresses at the Carolinas HealthCare System 8th Annual Diversity Symposium. As we caught up, Candi agreed to a Take Five interview on diversity at UPMC and the health care system at large, as well as her own journey in building a personally meaningful career.

Take 1: UPMC is a remarkable institution—at the cutting edge of innovative health treatment interventions, highly committed to serving the local community, and wanting to be known for its diversity. You are UPMC’s first Chief Diversity Officer. How are you leading efforts to make UPMC as well known for diversity as it is for excellent health care in your community?

We began by defining diversity and inclusion. History has shown that diversity for its own sake isn’t the surest path to inclusion. However, inclusion can lead to diversity. We created a strategy based on inclusion, and it begins with the core belief that everyone deserves dignity and respect. This belief focuses our effort on a person’s behavior. Dignity and respect begins with the premise that opportunities for inclusion exist in every interaction throughout the day.

In October 2008, we launched the Center for Inclusion and the Dignity & Respect Campaign. The campaign is integrated into all aspects of how we do business at UPMC, including how we treat each other in the workplace, how we treat the patients and families who come to our hospitals, as well as our interaction with our many business and community partners. This integration led by the Center for Inclusion enables UPMC to create sustainable business practices focused on inclusion instead of building programmatic efforts that can come to end during tough economic times or a change in diversity leadership.

The 30 Tips of Dignity & Respect serve as the foundation of the Campaign, as well as a daily reminder for our employees and community to be mindful of their daily interactions. “Say hello; Say thank you; Find Common; or something as simple as Smile.” Anyone can adopt them. As employees and patients walk into our facilities, they will see a suggestion from the 30 Tips on posters, video monitors, email signatures, to name a few. In many ways, the Dignity & Respect Campaign is very much like choosing a healthy lifestyle. We know that we should drink more water, exercise and eat more green leafy vegetables; but we still choose to eat a cheeseburger or skip going to the gym. Likewise, we can choose to treat others with dignity and respect or not.

Take 2: I’ve read and heard this Dignity and Respect initiative you started at UPMC was so successful that it was recently launched as a major citywide campaign in Pittsburgh and that it could spread to other cities. As I witness its spread, it’s as if you are trying to instigate random acts of dignity and respect coast-to-coast. What is this campaign about, and what do you envision it accomplishing?

Imagine a world where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. This is such a basic concept and it’s why others have joined UPMC on this journey. We’re expanding the Dignity & Respect Campaign into the Pittsburgh public schools and school districts in Washington and Venango Counties, to promote positive behavior and stand against bullying.

Along with the culture of inclusion that we are creating at UPMC, the Campaign promotes community unity. The Dignity & Respect Campaign is one way for other organizations to have a positive impact on their communities, wherever they are. We’ve created a national advisory committee to help determine what’s next for the Dignity & Respect Campaign and how to share it across the country.

I like that concept of instigating random acts of dignity and respect. I think, based on this conversation, we should create a page on the website to gather stories of these random acts from others about the impact of the Dignity & Respect Campaign. As the campaign sweeps across a school system or a city, those stories could be one of the external measures of the Campaign’s impact.

Take 3: In conversations we have had, you have made it clear that UMPC sees getting diversity right essential to continuing to deliver excellent health care. Can you discuss a specific example of how diversity and health care are connected?

Our strategy examines how we integrate diversity and inclusion into the daily, routine practices at UPMC. If we look at health literacy, as an example, people often think of it as the ability to read and write. Instead, it is more about our patients’ ability to understand what is happening in a medical setting and to follow medical instructions. We are integrating the process of teach back for our medical staff training. Rather than assuming that a patient has heard and understood all that has been said, our clinical staff will ask the patient to repeat what was heard. This may take an additional two or three minutes during an exam, but we will know if the patient understood his or her instructions. This is critical for both doctors and patients whose dominant language is something other than English, but also very helpful for English-speaking and elderly patients.

Imagine if a patient’s primary language is Spanish, and the physician prescribes a particular medication to be taken once per day. The patient heard “once a day,” but reads on the prescription slip “once,” which in Spanish means eleven. So instead of taking 1 pill takes 11! With the teach back process, a serious problem can be prevented. UPMC is integrating teach back into our regular clinical training. This can be more powerful than simply mandating a class on cultural competency and, in many cases, enable us to save a life or change a life simply through this two-way conversation. Ultimately, this process will lead to better relationship with our patients.

Take 4: There’s been lot of energy spent in recent years examining disparities in the quality of health care delivered to different demographic groups. What are the root causes of these disparities, and what can different segments of the health care industry do to eliminate them?

There are still biases and stereotypes that influence the way people deliver care. However, the issue is much more complicated. Several health disparity reports indicate that this problem is not unique to any one demographic group, because even physicians who share the same race or ethnicity as their patients, for example, also contribute to the disparities in care.

The health care industry must do two things. First, we have to help the community understand what to expect from their health care providers. Patients will have to possess some fundamental knowledge of the medical experience in order to understand all that is supposed to happen: when and how to ask questions about their diagnoses, the tests needed, and medications prescribed. This education needs to encompass the family. As our population ages, simply educating the patient may not be enough because, in many cases, a patient’s health is a family matter.

Second, as an industry we have to understand the impact that technology will have on doctor/patient communications. I’m not sure this issue is on anyone’s radar. As health care organizations adopt more technology, it will exacerbate the challenges that patients face in communicating with medical providers. Particularly for people who left the workforce before electronic and mobile technology was so commonplace. Imagine telling a senior citizen, who does not regularly use a computer to go online to get their test results. The patient is probably overwhelmed by taking medical tests, and now has to navigate the use of unfamiliar technology to access the results. The health care industry will have to address this situation.

Take 5: You are well known for having left your mark at Sun Microsystems and at Motorola. As a person who believes in giving back, becoming CDO at UPMC seems like career best, bringing together your desire to reach out to your local community, to use your expertise in negotiating faith issues in the workplace, and to capitalize on your background in marketing. What does this position mean for you personally?

A long time ago, I realized that diversity training often makes people feel guilty or like they didn’t do something right. My goal is to make others feel empowered, not guilty. UPMC has given me an opportunity to do a job that I love in a city that is embracing this concept of dignity and respect. This campaign is not only relevant to UPMC and the city of Pittsburgh, but to anyone who supports diversity and inclusion. The thing that I love about focusing on dignity and respect is that it’s a choice that people can make every day. It’s not a class that you take; it’s a decision you make.

This position and the job that I have today has given me the opportunity to create something that can last beyond the existence of UPMC. If we embrace this concept, it would surely change people’s interactions with one another. If we treat each other with dignity and respect, if we are being culturally competent, it would eliminate so many of the issues that exist in the schoolhouse, in the workplace, and in our daily interactions in the community. I believe in this work at the core of who I am. This is what I am supposed to be doing, and I am grateful for the opportunity.

Click here to read Candi’s expanded answer to this question.


Andrés Tapia is a Senior Partner at Korn/Ferry International, a premier global provider of talent management solutions. Previously he served as President of Diversity Best Practices, the preeminent diversity and inclusion thinktank and consultancy. Prior to Diversity Best Practices, he served as Hewitt’s Chief Diversity Officer and Emerging Workforce Solutions Leader. As a published writer and prominent speaker, Andrés offers thought-provoking views about diversity’s impact around the world. He is the author of The Inclusion Paradox – 2nd Edition: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity. Find his bio here.


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