In the last few years, Minnesota has seen a number of prominent killings by police officers and has found itself at the center of national attention on racial disparities. The murder of George Floyd, in particular, caused people to examine how they fit into (or hinder) the goals of a broad social justice movement. Because tragedy doesn’t exist in a vacuum, we asked four of Minnesota’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leaders about how everyday work decisions and company culture can make a better future. Here, we speak with Anjali Bhagra, who leads DEI programming at Mayo Clinic.
Anjali Bhagra originally entered the diversity, equity, and inclusion field after experiencing a lack of resources for parents, particularly women, who worked in medicine. Parental leave was lacking; work evaluations didn’t account for parenting needs. There weren’t lactation rooms or guidelines that supported lactating parents, nor was there round-the-clock daycare. Conversation after conversation, she started to change that.
Now, Bhagra is at the center of Mayo Clinic’s DEI programming as its medical director for the office of equity, inclusion, and diversity.
The world-renowned, Rochester-based clinic is a founding member of the World Economic Forum’s Partnering in Racial Justice in Business initiative, where executives work toward equitable workplaces, and it hosts an annual equity conference. Day to day, its digital Mayo Clinic Platform works on improving the artificial intelligence and algorithms that healthcare professionals use. For example, some healthcare centers used to refer to kidney function calculations that, based on a patient’s race, determined different treatment eligibility. Mayo Clinic is trying to stop practices like that.
“Machine learning and single algorithms do not happen in isolation. It’s a human-enabled technology, and humans will be making those [medical] decisions,” Bhagra explains. “We want to utilize artificial intelligence to mitigate inequities and disparities, [but] we want to be careful because we know there is propensity of introducing bias when we create and work with these algorithms.”
Bhagra also serves as director and board member of the American Medical Women’s Association IGNITE, where she has integrated aspects of equity and inclusion into medical school training, and as a board member of the World India Diabetes Foundation. She even adds to her Mayo Clinic duties as its education chair for integrative medicine, vice chair of faculty development and medical director at the Rochester site, and as a professor.
However, the moments that make everything worth it aren’t associated with a leadership position: It’s the personal experience. It’s the first time a patient received a disposable hijab while undergoing an MRI scan, she says, or the start of Mayo Clinic’s youth education and leadership initiative with the NAACP.
“This work just brings me faith in collective leadership,” Bhagra says. “This is not work that’s done by one person or one team alone, and my goal, our goal, our team’s goal is for us to bring a global environment of empowered belonging. We’re well on our way, but we have a lot to do. We’re not perfect, but we definitely have faith and have the energy.”