Diversity Month Spotlight on Ph.D. Student Diane McDaniel

Diane McDaniel, a Ph.D. student in Interdisciplinary Studies at Union Institute & University, has been named a 2021 Top 100 Diversity Officer by the National Diversity Council. Recognized for her leadership and counsel to advance diversity and inclusion initiatives, Diane provides innovative solutions to advocate for diverse talent in the workplace.

Diane is the Inaugural Vice President, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer for Community Health Network, a health network with more than 16,000 employees and a $10 million budget, headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Forbes 2021 edition of America’s Best Large Employers named Community Health Network as one of the best healthcare systems to work, serve, and thrive.

“The role of Chief Diversity Officer and the scope of responsibilities may slightly vary within work sectors; however, the common thread that binds sectors is a commitment to advance humanity’s cultural awareness development. Celebrating humanity, listening, debriefing and understanding differences is a significant segment of the work,” McDaniel said. “Organizations placing their people as “first priority” generally identified Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) as a strategic goal in their operational plan. Just maybe, with my transition to healthcare coupled with my Ph.D. courses, a glimpse of hope is occurring regarding research content around DEI and healthcare disparities. The opportunity to make a difference in health care and cultivate a climate of belonging is a very special place to be.”

Why are diversity, equity, and inclusion so important to her?

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion reflect humanity’s ongoing and heighten societal struggle. An organization must first want to do the work. It starts with leadership. Leadership sends a message that this work is important, externally and internally, but must commit to the work. Each organization has its own culture and must answer and define what’s meant by the term diversity. Why is diversity, equity and inclusion important to the organization? How is equity reflected when serving patients, students, and staff? How are we inclusive?”

Currently, she is working with the Community Health Network CEO and Executive Leadership Team to determine where the organization is with current and past DEI efforts.

“We have invited an external consultant in to look at DEI efforts and access our readiness for present-day and future development. I am leading this initiative and will utilize the findings to create a Diversity Strategy Plan for the organization. The plan will benchmark the organization’s past/current efforts and provide a roadmap for future work. Definitely an investment in time, a marathon; however, the work is rewarding,” McDaniel notes.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are paramount to this organization’s goals. Every segment of the business will have a plan. I serve as the chairperson for the networks (RASE) Racial and Social Equity Steering Committee, and oversee strategic initiatives created by sub-committees to problem solve equity issues, and to achieve healthcare outcomes built on employee and patient trust,” McDaniel said.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, McDaniel went through a unique interviewing process.

“This is a new and innovative position for the organization, I was hired sight unseen in late 2020 because of the pandemic. I interviewed virtually and was vetted by numerous leaders, directors and managers – all virtually.”

Diane said she started preparing for this field of work as a child. “My father was a Baptist minister, my mother was a pillar of the church and community. I grew up watching them treat each other and the communities they served with love, trust and respect.

My first job was in high school with the Bell system, now AT&T. AT&T was a trailblazer in the work of DEI; in addition, a place that promotes and values people development through training mentoring and sponsorship programs. During my work history with AT&T, I worked in customer service, human resources, marketing and network services,” McDaniel said.

After 30+ years in the corporate sector, she joined Indiana Wesleyan University, serving as Director of Faculty Recruitment, Associate Vice President of Human Resources, and Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion. She was responsible for developing the university’s diversity strategic plan framework, and for identifying institutional priorities, programs, and initiatives to advance inclusive excellence learning for faculty, staff and student groups.

Why did she choose Union for her Ph.D.?

“A peer recommended I look at Union because of its curriculum and program emphasis on social justice,” McDaniel said. “I had researched many Ph.D. programs, and the emphasis and concentration on social justice was not there. I made the call, and enrollment counselor Weston Atchison spent time with me going through my work background and experience. He suggested I consider a concentration in ethical and creative leadership. That’s when I knew Union was a match for me…and I was hooked! My classes have helped me dive deep into my interest, better understand my journey and possibly answer my calling. Yet a bit fuzzy on a dissertation topic, but certain DEI, Leadership and Healthcare Disparities will show up somewhere in my final content.”

Diane is grateful to be in position to make a difference. “I am honored to be doing this work and I believe it is my calling. My reward is helping people reach their potential. I have a love of people and I am sharing that love and acquired knowledge to help build a better society…. humanity.”

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