Health Equity Circles Promote Racial Healing and Understanding in the Workplace

November 07, 2022 | Tamira Moon

A diverse group of young adults seated in a line of chairs chats happilyIn a message from earlier this year, ASTHO shared how health equity has been—and continues to be—incorporated into its plans, policies, and procedures. Indeed, ASTHO’s strategic plan, project work, and internal communications, are being viewed and operationalized through an equity lens. With so many health agencies at all levels of government recognizing and declaring racism as a public health emergency, it’s incumbent upon us to build diversity, equity, and inclusion into all that we do. At ASTHO, that has involved a collaborative effort with executive leadership, human resources, and the Health Equity and Diversity Initiatives (HEDI) team.

With respect to taking an inward focus, ASTHO has embraced the Health Equity Circle (HEC) as a critical means to provide safe spaces for staff to virtually convene for crucial conversations related to race and racial equity. The purpose? To create an internal culture that promotes a just and ethical place to work. Internal Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) work aligns with ASTHO’s commitment to the health and racial equity goals outlined in the 2022-24 strategic plan.

The HEC is a staff-led informal platform to support ASTHO’s values of applying fair and equitable practices while fostering an environment where staff belong, feel safe to engage, and free to express ideas and perspectives. HECs demonstrate ASTHO’s intentional effort to uplift equity in a “One ASTHO” spirit.

By the end of October, the HEDI team will have held three circles—45-minute discussions that inspire staff to exchange ideas to personally and/or professionally move from discussion to action. Since its launch, ASTHO has welcomed all staff to remove their titles and have an equitable seat and voice at the table. Guidelines for engagement ensure a judge-free atmosphere that allows staff the freedom to share, to be honest, to be vulnerable, and to be heard.

It is a privilege to be entrusted with the task of executing HECs. With rare exception, it is both difficult and uncomfortable to discuss race and the manifestation of racism on health, and wellbeing in any environment—especially at work among your colleagues. It is encouraging to see the hunger and enthusiasm that staff bring to discussions, and it is clear there is an appetite for these kinds of efforts within ASTHO.

Just as ASTHO models the way for public health organizations and provides technical assistance to support our members, we intend to create a blueprint so others can utilize and host their own crucial conversations focused on race and racial equity.

ASTHO staff have embraced and been strong supporters of HECs. Despite their busy workdays, staff take the time to pause, join, and actively engage in meaningful discussions about race with their colleagues. I have gotten feedback from participants about why it’s important for staff to have a safe space and why should others join the crucial conversations?

One person’s reply both resonates and captures what so many attendees are feeling about equity in the workplace, and in our work:

“The first word that popped into my head when you asked this question was accountability. It's important…so we can explore topics from a health equity lens…and hold ourselves and others accountable to do this work. One of my favorite parts of the Health Equity Circle is that we give each other grace to reflect from a personal and professional standpoint. For folks that aren't directly involved in health equity projects, it’s an opportunity to see how health equity can and should be incorporated into our work and in our daily lives. This group reminds me that ASTHO is committed to operating through the lens of health equity. And it empowers me because we can explore topics and issues that, while uncomfortable, are critical for us to move forward.”