ImageChildren playing with blocks in a classroom.Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Building a Sense of Belonging in the Workplace

By: Nicole Capsolas; Danielle Chenard, MPH; and Lauren Dominique

Connecticut Children’s kicked off its first annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Symposium with powerful presentations from Priya Phulwani, MD; Christine Finck, MD, FACS; and Rev. Carolyn Wilkins, MBA, BBA.

In this half-day virtual conference, the topics spanned issues of gender, identity, race, and stereotypes, with a mission to emphasize the importance of building a sense of belonging for all through the promotion of diversity and inclusivity education.

In the following sections, we’ll take a deeper look at some of the major themes presented by Dr. Phulwani, Dr. Finck, and Rev. Wilkins.  

Gender Dysphoria: Understanding Gender Diversity

Presented by Priya Phulwani, MD; Connecticut Children’s, Endocrinology

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. When you hear these three words, do you think of them in terms of gender? More often than not, when we discuss matters of diversity and inclusion, we tend to overlook gender dysphoria.

As the medical director of the Gender Program at Connecticut Children’s, Dr. Phulwani brought this issue to light to define gender dysphoria, discuss how to provide respectful care to gender diverse youth, and share how current practice guidelines can be applied for hormone management.

Dr. Phulwani defines gender dysphoria as significant distress caused by an individual’s strong desire to be of another gender. Gender dysphoria is experienced by people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth, and it might cause people to feel uncomfortable using certain pronouns. That’s why asking patients and colleagues their preferred pronouns is so important – we cannot assume someone identifies as her, him, or they simply by their name, the way they look, or what reproductive organs they have. 

Knowledge of gender dysphoria is critical to the work of clinicians because it can help inform the language that’s used with patients. Dr. Phulwani emphasized that it is an important sign of respect for clinicians to address their patients with appropriate pronouns.

Dr. Phulwani also explained gender identity in conjunction with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA) and the sexual orientations that are commonly brought up during a clinical examination. Just as with pronouns, we cannot assume someone’s sexual orientation based off their gender identity.

Gender diverse youth is a sensitive topic in society with many unanswered questions and biased opinions. Sadly, the attempted suicide rate for people experiencing gender dysphoria is 20%, compared to 1-2% in the general population. This group faces a tremendous amount of stigma and discrimination. We must treat *all* children and families with care and dignity. For this reason, Dr. Phulwani’s presentation focused on how Connecticut Children’s can be a leading resource in our community when it comes to providing youth with respect and support. In addition to helping her patients identify primary care physicians and mental health providers, Dr. Phulwani also provides hormone therapy options and can offer clinical expertise on dosage levels and the timing of when to start patients on hormone therapy.

As Connecticut Children’s continues to grow and evolve, Dr. Puhlwani emphasized that we can provide the best care possible by learning and respecting how our patients identify, connecting them to the resources they need, and supporting their journey.   

Combating Stereotypes as a Mom, Wife, and Surgeon

Presented by Christine Finck, MD, FACS; Connecticut Children’s, Surgeon-in-Chief

Dr. Finck, as the first woman to serve as Surgeon-in-chief at Connecticut Children’s and one of six women surgeon-in-chiefs at 45 children’s hospitals around the country, spoke passionately about the lack of representation of women in her field. She described that this is not for a lack of talent, but rather due to the discouraging stereotypes perpetuated within our society.

Women in most fields, but especially the medical field, are often told they cannot do it all. They can’t possibly be a mother and a surgeon. If they want to be a surgeon, there will have to be sacrifices. This belief that women have to choose between personal fulfillment and professional advancement is largely why women feel discouraged from pursuing clinical careers, said Dr. Finck.

For the women who do choose to pursue a career in the medical field, they are quickly faced with yet another obstacle: the need to prove themselves worthy enough to be there.

Dr. Finck recalled a story from the beginning of her surgical residency when she was pulled aside and told that in order for her to be successful in the program, she needed to be better, stronger, and more present than her male counterparts. Unfortunately, this mentality exists beyond medical school and residency programs, Dr. Finck stated. Even in the workplace, even once a woman lands a job or receives a promotion, they must continuously prove they are worthy of being there.

This pressure to perform often results in experiences of imposter syndrome – when someone, despite having worked for their success, cannot believe that they truly earned their accomplishments, and instead feel as though they were just lucky or at the right place and time. Ultimately, this imposter syndrome inevitably gives way to the most common fear among women: they are not good enough.

After sharing these experiences and bringing to light to some of the struggles women face in the workplace, Dr. Finck shared what she believes to be the best gender equality intervention: to focus on the quality of an individual’s talent and potential, and not about how they fit into a certain stereotype.

This intervention can be applied beyond gender to any aspect of our identities: race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexuality, and so on. When we let go of our preconceived notions about people based on who they are, what they look like, or where they are from, we can focus on what truly matters to their career – their talents.

Equally important to this intervention is mentorship and sponsorship. A key resource for those who are underrepresented in their fields are mentors and sponsors who can help them navigate opportunities and advance their careers. Dr. Finck hopes her talk will bring renewed attention to Connecticut Children’s mentorship and sponsorship programs that can specifically empower women through the promotion of their talents and skills.

Embracing Diversity and Inclusivity

Presented by Rev. Carolyn Wilkins, MBA, BBA; Founder of Imagine Consulting; Minister & Spiritual Director of Inspirational Ministries

During a middle school field trip to the United Nations, Rev. Wilkins came to understand the beauty of diversity. “It was like one of those moments in a movie, where the sunbeams light the path. I knew [in that moment] this is what I’m meant to do,” she said.

After establishing herself with a computer science degree, Rev. Wilkins felt a desire for community and personal connection outside of the male-dominated, technical environment. Equality, Equity, and Justice became her life’s journey, and led her to a new spiritual home. She founded the Church of Religious Science where she is a minister who directs interfaith, intercultural humanitarian partnerships, as well as programs for social justice. In all the different facets of her life, Rev. Wilkins has been continuously advocating for peace and nonviolence. Her work builds community through conversations on race, dignity, and inclusiveness.

Rev. Wilkins noted that establishing a diversity and inclusion program starts with developing a clear, detailed definition of what the program should entail. A comprehensive diversity and inclusion training program provides tangible ways to engage in respectful and positive interactions in the workplace. By doing so, this can reduce discrimination and prejudice.  

Rev. Wilkins polled the participants at the session with the question: “What is one step that you can take to promote diversity and inclusivity at Connecticut Children’s?” In response, 57% of those attending stated they would participate in a diversity and inclusivity training program.

This is good news for Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health’s (the Office) Equity Committee, which plans to coordinate activities that raise awareness about inequality, actively promote anti-racism and equity, and influence positive change in the Office and in Connecticut Children’s as a whole.

Continuing Our DE&I Education

As our organization continues on our diversity, equity and inclusion journey, it is vital that we continually recommit ourselves to challenging heteronormative, sexist, and racist policies and practices.

We need to disrupt any denial of the prevalence of unconscious bias and microaggressions and instead be open to learning about how we can play a part to dismantle these beliefs and confront inequitable behaviors, practices, and subtleties when we see them in the workplace. As Dr. Finck said in the closing statements of her presentation, being in a position to tackle inequality or discrimination that you yourself will never experience is the ultimate privilege.

With that privilege, we must step outside our comfort zones and commit to continuous learning and strategizing ways to move forward and create positive change. We can only change the paradigm by talking about it. Access to and the promotion of events like this Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Symposium will be critical to educating team members and opening the door for future conversations on how we can embrace the diversity within our teams and communities, understand one another’s unique experiences and challenges, and treat one another, regardless of differences, with respect.

If you would like to listen to the sessions from our inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Symposium, just click here or look up the Connecticut Children’s Grand Rounds podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher. The event was also video recorded, so you can watch instead.

Nicole Capsolas is a CME Coordinator in the Connecticut Children’s Office of Continuing Medical Education.

Danielle Chenard, MPH is the Research Program Manager within Connecticut Children’s Department of Research Operations & Development.

Lauren Dominique is the Executive Associate in Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.

All three are members of the Office’s Equity Committee.

To sign up to receive E-Updates from Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, click here.

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