Increasing DEI Is a Team Effort

How one pharmacy is transforming its workplace.


Julia Gilbertson and Ellina Seckel
Julia Gilbertson and Ellina Seckel

More and more organizations and professions are taking on the task of increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, and pharmacy is no exception.

The on-demand session, “Integration and Advancement of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Pharmacy Workplace,” gave attendees a first-hand account of how one hospital system transformed its workplace in pursuit of that goal. 

Julia Gilbertson, PGY2 health-system pharmacy administration and leadership resident, and Ellina Seckel, associate chief of pharmacy, ambulatory and specialty care, both at William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, shared the story of how — and more importantly, why — the VA system in Madison took on this project.

“What I didn’t realize until far into my journey was not only the impact this work would have on our department, but the impact that it would have on me as a person,” Gilbertson said. “There were so many times throughout this journey when I felt like I didn’t know enough about a topic to speak up about it or didn’t know the right things to say in the right moments. But what I learned is having the courage to say that we don’t know enough and then making that commitment to learn more is really what’s most important.”

Seckel added that she, too, learned a lot about herself and her role in the system as the project progressed.

“As two white women, it’s important to acknowledge that our identities may limit our ability to have perspective when we’re advocating for those whose voices need to be heard most,” she said. “So we really worked to ensure that, as we walk alongside everyone doing this work together, we elevate, follow, and lead the voices that are most impacted and that should be driving and being leaders in this arena.”

Seckel said the Madison VA pharmacy had been having discussions in this area for some time, but last year’s high-profile stories of violence against people of color and the protests that followed brought the need for a project to address the issues in the workplace into sharp focus. 

“While there had been some degree of self-education already occurring in the personal lives of our management team,” she said, “there became a more intentional focus on education and discussion surrounding racism and other forms of discrimination at work.”

Gilbertson said they relied on numerous articles as well as recommendations from the ASHP Racial Diversity Task Force in coming up with their plan of action. That plan included three main goals:

  • Increasing equitable opportunities for diverse representation in the pharmacy workforce
  • Fostering self-development and awareness to contribute to a culture of inclusion
  • Making changes to pharmacy systems, policies, and procedures for sustainable integration and advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusion

To achieve those goals, the Madison VA took numerous steps including integrating a point-based job application screening process that emphasized the importance of DEI, adding DEI-focused questions to the interview process, and incorporating a DEI statement into its recruitment materials.

While the end goal is important, Seckel said it is equally important as the process moves along to know why you are doing it.

“One of the practices at our site that has helped us connecting together is sharing our why,” she said. “We found that when talking about diversity, equity and inclusion at work, it has been immensely helpful to be transparent about our why. It has represented a way to connect to everyone regardless of what our histories or backgrounds might be.”

Supplemental reading on the integration of DEI in the workplace may be found in these AJHP advance access articles: Organizational commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion: A strategic path forward and Gender inequity and sexual harassment in the pharmacy profession: Evidence and call to action.