Trudy Sullivan leads Communications and Diversity & Inclusion efforts as a Health Catalyst leadership team member. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and a BA in History from the University of Portland, Oregon.
Sullivan brings experience in B2B, B2C + B2G environments, from innovative high tech companies, including biomedical, semiconductor and aerospace & defense. She spent more than a decade in healthcare, including serving more than one hundred Pacific Northwest hospital customers, as CEO of an American Red Cross blood services region.
Sullivan’s functional experience includes Operations Management; Human Resources; Marketing; Business Development; Strategy; M & A; Investor, Government + Community Relations; and Brand Development.
Connect with Trudy on LinkedIn.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for Learning Insights. Brought to you by TrainingPros. When you have more projects than people, TrainingPros can provide you with the right L&D consultant to start your project with confidence. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:27] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of Learning Insights, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get into it, it’s important to recognize our sponsor, TrainingPros. Without them, we could not be sharing these stories. Today on Learning Insights, we have Trudy Sullivan with Health Catalyst. Welcome, Trudy.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:00:43] Hi, Lee. Thank you for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:45] Well, I’m excited to learn, first of all, what Health Catalyst is up to. How are you serving, folks?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:00:51] Well, we are a leading provider of data and analytics technology and services to health care organizations. We’re committed to being the catalyst for massive measurable data informed health care improvement. So, we work in partnership with our clients to produce improvements in the clinical, financial, and operational realms. And our vision is really to transform care for every single patient on the planet.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:17] And then, you’re a global company?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:01:19] We are a global company, yes. We’ve expanded over the last couple of years. And most recently added folks in the Middle East to those that we are serving.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:30] And what’s your role with the company?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:01:32] I am the Chief Communications and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer. And I love both parts of my job. I have been spending a lot of time, as you might imagine, in 2020 and the early parts of ’21 on equity.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:47] And as the chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, how are you kind of handling that? Because those are some difficult conversations.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:01:57] Yeah. We have been working to ensure that our team members, our clients, and all stakeholders understand that diversity and inclusion is an expansive, not a restrictive proposition. And while embracing it, it’s definitely the right thing to do morally and ethically. We love sharing the business outcomes that are really represented and clear with data. Definitely greater diversity of thought drives greater innovation and competitiveness. So, we try to show up every day aware of our own biases with a commitment and a plan to listen to others whose experiences and perspectives are different from ours. And we get comfortable being uncomfortable, if you will, because we know that its importance, and humility, self-awareness, and a recognition that we don’t understand everything, especially in the context of diversity, will make us better.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:56] Now, from an organizational standpoint, when you kind of go on this journey that you’re on, how do you kind of create that safe space where people can be vulnerable? And the people that are, maybe, in the majority are able to kind of share what they’re experiencing and, maybe, open them up to some empathy that, maybe, they didn’t have previously and to really understand how the minority is feeling about certain issues. It seems like there’s a lot of landmines. How do you navigate that in kind of a safe way that lets everybody be heard?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:03:37] I think it’s a great question, Lee. And this is difficult, but very important work. And we like to start first by giving ourselves and others grace. Grace to learn, to relearn, to unlearn, to forgive, to accept differences. And we have some timeless principles and values and cultural attributes that make some of this work a little bit easier. One thing that we value greatly is humility. And that is, I think, a significant game changer for us if we can humbly approach a conversation with the perspective and the self-awareness that we don’t understand everything. Then, that allows those in the majority and those in underrepresented groups to come together and support one another in meaningful ways.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:04:28] And most importantly, to learn from one another. And it’s that learning that we try to harness to be able to continue to build, and to grow, and to change, and to get folks to a place where, again, that being comfortable with being uncomfortable comes a little bit more naturally. So, we actually work to counter bias with love and kindness. And it’s a four step process, if you will, of respectfully interrupting, questioning, kind of educating, and then having others around you begin to echo. And it’s a wonderful approach because it begins to drive behavioral change and set sort of the tone for people to do, like you said, kind of navigate in somewhat choppy waters.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:15] Now, has this been something that’s part of Health Catalyst’s DNA since the beginning? Or is this an initiative that kind of bubbled up organically during all this recent kind of chaos?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:05:26] Actually, the wonderful thing about Health Catalyst – and I’ve just been there a little more than a-year-and-a-half – is the fact that the whole time the company has been working together – so think about more than a dozen years – this work has been front and center and these timeless principles have been honored. So, when I arrived, we already had four affinity groups. We had an affinity group called Women Empowered or WE. We have an affinity group called Queers and Allies, Q&A for short. We have an affinity group for Veterans and Champions. And then, this year, we did create Shade’s, an affinity group for our team members of color. And those organizations, over the course of many years, have been doing tremendous work. And the company had worked, really, in a diligent and focused way on driving gender improvement. So, while there have been opportunities this year to shift our work from an internal to an external perspective, we’ve made a lot of progress prior to facing the challenges of 2020.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:06:26] Externally, we now have a fantastic tool and capability – we call it a Health Equity Guidance Assessment and Solution – that we’re piloting, where we can, with the use of data, help folks zero in on the greatest opportunities for improvement inside hospital and health care systems to drive disparity out of care. And we’re really excited about that. So, we’ve been doing a bit more of that work this year. And I think there’s a greater understanding because of the spotlight that COVID shined for us all on the social and economic indicators of health and the impact that that has had for communities of color from an infection morbidity rate with regard to the pandemic. So, we’ve got our affinity groups working to help us do this important and meaningful work inside and outside the company. And I’m really excited about that.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:19] So, now, this initiative to kind of help others, you know, helping them with their diversity challenges they might be having in their health care organization, is that like you kind of productize something that you were doing internally for yourselves that now you’re offering as a service to your clients? Or that was just part of the offerings that you were offering?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:07:45] Well, we have the capability before. And we all came together differently this year to make sure that more people were aware of the capabilities. And we’ve refined to a degree and productize, if you will, the assessment and the guidance solution. So, the the data and the capability was there. But to your point, we did fine tune it a bit to help in these areas that we see where there’s growing need. And so, we’ve got this cross-functional task team that’s supported by our Shade’s affinity group members, and we’re thinking differently about the way in which we connect and carry out this mission driven work more quickly and more meaningfully. So, that’s been a bigger push for us in the second half of the year, for sure. And we envision the pilot coming to life over the first and second quarter and drawing more people in to continue to transform care for everyone.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:40] Now, do you have any advice for leaders that are thinking about, maybe, starting some sort of affinity group? I know they’re called different things in different organizations, but those kind of groups that are four certain groups of people within your organization. How did you decide on those initial four? Was that just kind of polling and getting a feel for who we have here and then just trying to serve them? Like, how did you decide four, not five or six instead of two? Like, how did that kind of come about? And maybe you can share some tactics for others who want to implement something along those lines.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:09:16] Sure. The affinity groups or some people call them ERG, Employee Resource Groups – to your point, I’ve heard them called a variety of things – have come together organically. And I think that’s where the greatest power lies when folks seeking belonging or affinity come together and gather, get to know one another, and then decide what kind of change or work that they want to do collectively together inside a company. And so, our groups really formed very organically. And this year, there was just a greater impetus on the heels of George Floyd’s murder to push more quickly on the Shades affinity group work. And so, there’s a really beautiful framework that you can use that takes you through the process of supporting the evolution of an affinity group. And I think one of the most important elements of success for those organically grown groups is to have the championship support and visibility that comes from having a leader help them in whatever way they decide will be most useful.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:10:26] So, we’ve applied some best practice techniques there in terms of providing support, providing those champions, providing training to our champions so that they’re helping in the right way. And then, just creating space for voices to be heard and to recognize, and showcase, and shine the spotlight on the work that’s being done so that more people can get involved. Another best practice that we love is ensuring that when the group forms, there’s an opportunity for champions and allies to join, too. And this year, we’ve gotten a little bit more deliberate and intentional around ensuring that our champions understand well it’s beautiful that they show up to help. There may be times when they need to be invited to attend. And there may be times where the group wants to work on things in their own way. And, again, being able to give folks that space, and support, and offer an infrastructure and budget as needed has helped our groups be successful.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:11:27] Supporting initiatives, for example like this year, Shade’s launched a diversity dialogue series. And so, as the champion for the Shades organization, I worked really hard to make sure we would have some budget to support outside speakers. And we’ve had phenomenal folks come in to help us learn and to think about things differently. And the group was really excited about doing it and sponsoring it, but they needed the resources, so I was able to provide that. And thinking about how you approach that, again, with intentionality in mind is really important when you put the affinity groups together.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:12:02] The other thing that we think is important, and we’ll be embarking on this in our journey this year, is finding a way for the affinity groups to come together to create even greater inclusion. And so, we’re creating a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council, and the leader from each one of our affinity groups will join us to help us better understand where we can come together around important topics. So, as an example, this year we’re embracing intersectionality and we want to learn as much as possible there. So, each one of the affinity groups is participating in a panel, and each one is participating in the development of a training curriculum, and has participated in our screening of outside speakers to come in. And so, we’re getting greater, I think, benefit from us coming together than just having groups meet separately. And I think that’s another good best practice to consider as you build your groups.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:57] Now, does it ever kind of leave the four walls of the organization? Is this something that the group can then say, “Okay. I want to affect my community and I want to take the work we’re doing here. And then, I want to help others outside of Health Catalyst.”
Trudy Sullivan: [00:13:15] Yeah. And that’s another really fantastic best practice for affinity groups and those supporting them to think about. It’s wonderful to come together and to celebrate. Like, we’ve got a big celebration on Monday, obviously, with Martin Luther King Day. But it’s even more important if our affinity groups can sink their teeth into being meaningful brand ambassadors and representatives in the community and driving strategic outcomes where the company needs help.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:13:42] And so, I’ll give you a couple of examples. We love the partnership we have with CCG. So, they host Women of Color STEM, an amazing conference. And then, the Black Engineer of the Year Award Conference, BEYA, which will be held in February. So, our affinity group members have come together to help us from a planning perspective show up and be visible in those settings. So, again, providing the funding, but then a platform for folks from the affinity groups to really strategically impact the outcomes of those efforts is something we’re really focused on. We just had a meeting today about BEYA, and I’m really excited to see what will come out of that job fair experience.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:14:22] And as an example, some of our Shades affinity group members will adjust their schedules so that they can be in the hiring booth talking to potential candidates about opportunities that help Catalyst, which is a great example of the way they’re helping us in 2021. So, I love it when you see the evolution beyond just the gatherings inside the walls to the contributions outside the walls and doors of the company and our affinity groups doing a great job of that.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:52] Now, talk a little bit about how initiatives like yours and this in general can impact hiring. How does this change, maybe, who you look for and giving those folks the opportunity, maybe, casting a wider net and looking in places that, you know, you historically didn’t look for talent?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:15:15] That’s a good question. The reality is, when you start with the data, you’ve just got this beautiful platform of truth. And we believe in looking at the data because it really doesn’t even have an opinion. Beginning to measure what matters using our affinity groups to do that. And make sure you remember that if it matters, you’re always measuring it. It’s the only way we will improve. So, when we look at data, if we see an area where we have imbalance, we work really hard to overcome that imbalance. And if it’s hiring and developing pipeline, there are opportunities for your affinity group members to influence your internship programs, to identify places and spaces where they look to see opportunities, identifying spaces and places where it might be super important to be visible and to be present, like, the two conferences that I mentioned and there are many, many more.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:16:13] But then, actually, being present there and being able to talk to folks about what it means to work for Catalyst, we’re really proud of the fact that we have high levels of engagement. And we’ve won several best place to work awards, I think more than 50 actually. And we most recently were recognized by Glassdoor for those efforts and modern health care, too. And all of our team members help us create those perceptions and build that brand, so having them involved. I had two meetings last week with folks who said, “Hey, have you thought about this platform -” I think it was Jobwell “- for connecting to a more diverse pool of interns?” And we hadn’t thought about it. So, we were really eager to learn more. And then, develop a task team of those folks who brought the idea forward to help us get better in that space.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:17:07] So, through diversity of thought and the participation of the affinity group members, we just become increasingly collaborative, more competitive, and more present in places we wouldn’t know mattered to distinct demographics if we didn’t have the chance to listen and learn from those folks. So, there’s a lot of beautiful synergy that comes from collaborating in that way and getting out of the way and letting folks volunteer and be present in meaningful fashions.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:17:35] And we’re excited about what will come at BEYA. So, for example, they’ve got really cool award categories, and we can’t wait to get there because we’ve got two team members who, for the first time ever, will be recognized at that setting and in that setting. And our team members from the affinity group are helping us think about how we want to show up and celebrate them, too. They’re working on a communication planning. They’re working on pulling leadership in. They’re interviewing and talking to our award winners. So, it’s a really great thing to have the additional support, but more importantly, the additional innovative thinking that comes from the diversity of thought.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:12] And it sounds like those affinity groups really are an engine that really helps in a lot of different areas in the regard of diversity.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:18:21] Yeah. You know, they are the additional arms, legs, brain power that you always wish you had. And they come with just an incredible gift of passion or driving change. And passion around whatever it takes, even if it’s outside work hours, to make a meaningful difference. So, you see the passion, the persistence, really, the patience, even, as we work through the process of realigning resources or supporting one another.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:18:52] For example, our Women Empowered group, in 2020, had to really quickly pivot to make the women’s conference that they hosted, called Reaching New Heights, virtual. You know, that was early on in the pandemic while we were also figuring out what does that look like, what tools are available. And there was such optimism around doing that in such passion around getting it right. It was probably one of the best women’s conferences I’ve ever attended.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:19:18] And we all learned from that. Like, we all thought differently about Zoom breakout rooms. And how do you present and still get engagement, and how much time should we spend presenting versus actually allowing people to talk, and is chat functionality better than open mics. But we learned through that affinity group’s efforts and their successes. And it was a beautiful sight to behold and I can’t wait for their next one. But, again, I think we probably wouldn’t have done as great of a job if we hadn’t had those volunteers and all the extra energy and the dedication of time that they committed to that effort. We wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without them. And they own it. It’s really their celebration and their conference.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:02] Now, has that kind of leadership within those affinity groups translated to, maybe, career advancement opportunities, because these folks are getting seen by people higher up that, maybe, they’re getting exposure to folks that they hadn’t seen before and they’re getting to see them achieve things and make things happen? And so, they’re seen in a different way, maybe, than they are in their normal job. So, has that translated to any kind of job advancement because of their leadership in these affinity groups?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:20:31] Yeah. I think that happens relatively often in affinity group environments. And as you look at the pipeline and developing your high potential pool of talent, your high potential pool of diverse talent, and you look at succession planning, your spot on in thinking that these leadership opportunities that present themselves, that maybe the day jobs wouldn’t provide or the stretch assignments the affinity group activities create, do translate into greater visibility for those folks doing the work. And greater opportunities because they expand the network of who they know and who knows them in unique and meaningful ways built specifically on the contributions they’ve delivered in certain areas.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:21:18] And, definitely, we’ve got this incredible egalitarian cohort of leaders for women leading us in our Shade’s activities. And the work that they’re doing definitely transcends what’s happening in our meetings. So, for example, one of our leaders was relatively new to us via acquisition. And had great ideas about how to showcase the health equity assessment tool to our new clients that we gained via the acquisition. And she organized several different meetings with several different leaders inside the company that she guaranteed would have taken her longer to meet and would have taken them longer to get a chance to see how phenomenal she is if she hadn’t embraced the role as a contributing member on the leadership team side of the affinity group. And then, just found the space for her voice to be heard around these innovative ideas. So, there’s definitely a path there for promotion for folks and just a great opportunity to build new skills that your day job doesn’t allow you to do. So, I love the diversity ecosystem for that reason as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:26] Now, this must be really rewarding work for you, and the passion in your voice kind of gives it away how important it is to you. What’s the hard part? What are some of the challenges when you’re implementing one of these programs?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:22:39] Oh, you know, I am super passionate about this work. And it can be challenging. And I am grateful that I have a really good leader, who’s our CEO, is such a servant oriented leader and so mission driven. That, you know, every day he helps all of us, I think, be mindful that if we can ground ourself and our timeless principles and remember to openly listen to others, and to be respectful, and to just cherish the value of what each one of us bring each day, it gets easier. And, again, that grace and discernment that we talked about earlier is so important.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:23:22] But I try to back up and look at how much you can achieve before you see, maybe, the measurable outcomes you’re looking for. So, there’s a lot of tactical activity that can distract you. But, again, if you go back to the data and look at where you’re making improvements, that’s what really inspires me and keeps me positive. And when I see that there are more people who understand why diversity thought matters and understand that inclusion is beneficial to everybody, that is really inspiring and it gives me a lot of hope.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:24:03] And the change that we’re making, I think, at the corporate level, and so many companies have done really great work on an accelerated basis this year. That’s just a wonderful foundation for us to think about, because the companies that we’re all part of make up the foundation of our economy and what our nation thinks about. And so, I get pretty inspired because I believe that our best practices and our results can help us drive change at that broader level, too.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:24:33] And everyday just role modeling why you might have a different opinion. I mean, look at all the things that there are to be polarized and divisive about today. If you can shift that and think of it as a challenge, like how can I come together with somebody and learn from them in a way that will be useful. Whether it’s, should my 82 year old father get a vaccination and my discussion with my two sisters all varying opinions, right? If you apply these practices and principles, it’s really beautiful to see what comes from it.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:25:04] And so, I try to stay positive and focused on all that we’re achieving because it wasn’t that long ago for me in my career where I really felt isolated as the only woman in most settings. And oftentimes was left out and sometimes excluded or talked over. And when I see how far we’ve come, just in most companies and in most settings, I just get really excited about what’s around that next corner. So, I’m glad to see more and more people learning.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:25:34] And I think you’ve probably seen the data point, too, around hiring for chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officers. It’s from C-suite growth, 84 percent higher than any other position being filled at the C-suite level is the chief diversity and equity officer position. Like, how exciting is that, right? When you talk about learning and growing together and driving change, there’s so many of us investing because we know there’s an opportunity to get better. And that alone gives me such optimism and hope.
Lee Kantor: [00:26:02] So, before we wrap, any last piece of advice for that CEO out there that hasn’t pulled the trigger and hired their diversity, equity, and inclusion lead yet? What should they be thinking and why should they do it right away?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:26:17] I think, again, if CEOs remember how incredibly expansive diversity, and equity, and inclusion is and embrace that it’s the right thing to do on so many levels. If they find a wonderful partner and achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, and they show up every day just with an awareness of their own bias and a desire to learn and to grow, to relearn, to unlearn, and to do better, the outcomes that they’ll achieve from a business perspective, culturally and operationally and from a financial perspective, will be so motivational that I’m confident they’ll continue to invest not just in that leaderships or that leaders capability, but in the function of diversity, equity, and inclusion, too. I just think, you know, again, just taking that first step, looking at the data and seeing where it’s best to start, finding a good partner, moving out, it’s one step at a time. And, you know, you can walk or as some folks say – what is it? – crawl, walk, run, and really actually move pretty quickly in today’s environment to drive meaningful change.
Lee Kantor: [00:27:31] Well, thank you so much for sharing your story today. What do you need more of? How can we help you? Are you looking for more talent? What do you need? How can we help?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:27:42] Yeah. We’d love to have folks take a look at our website. We do have some open positions and we’re looking for diverse slates of candidates. We love to be able to continue to learn what best practices are helping others. And we’d love to learn more about the ways people are overcoming disparity and care just because I think that that’s going to be an issue of importance for all of us as we continue to learn and and move through the second wave of COVID. So, any thoughts and ideas in that space or different ways to look at what we might be doing from an equity assessment and partnership perspective would be really meaningful.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:28:25] And, again, we love to learn, that’s one of our other commitments. We’re dedicated to continuous learning. So, you know, any areas that will make us more innovative and supportive as we try to drive the transformation of health care for every patient on the planet, we definitely want to learn, and want to partner, and want to continue to embrace what will make us better.
Lee Kantor: [00:28:49] And that website is healthcatalyst.com, right?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:28:52] Yes, correct. Thank you.
Lee Kantor: [00:28:54] And then, if somebody wants to connect with you directly, LinkedIn under your name, Trudy Sullivan, is probably an easy way to get a hold of you?
Trudy Sullivan: [00:29:02] Yeah. That’s a great way to get a hold of me. And I do try to respond. And I’ve learned so much from connections over the last year. There’s a lot of incredible work going on in this practice. And I’ve been doing this for a long time, a couple of decades, actually. And like I said, we’ve seen so many gains. But the technology, and the thinking, and the innovation that’s out there now, every day, I probably get a new note from somebody and I think, “Wow. I had no idea.” Like, you know, the gender decoding of job descriptions, just all kinds of things that are hot and evolving, I love to learn more and really embrace and welcome when people reach out to me.
Lee Kantor: [00:29:39] Well, thank you again, Trudy, for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Trudy Sullivan: [00:29:44] Thank you, Lee. And I appreciate being a part of the discussion and of the show.
Lee Kantor: [00:29:48] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on Learning Insights. And remember, this work could not be done without our friends at TrainingPros. Please support them so we can continue to share these important stories.
Outro: [00:30:01] Thank you for listening. For more information about TrainingPros, visit their website at training-pros.com.
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