Jeanetta Darno began her job as chief diversity and inclusion officer at Cincinnati’s UC Health in January 2020. The role was new to the health system, which is affiliated with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, but the work wasn’t new to Darno, who began leading diversity and inclusion efforts more than 20 years ago.
After a career in the Army, where she rose to the rank of captain, Darno took a job as an HR manager for the logistics division of a large retailer. Soon, she faced a challenge—one that would show how recruiting with diversity in mind could solve a business problem.
Darno explains that the retail employer was planning significant growth in its distribution centers, which were predominately staffed with men and typically located in small towns, where the usual applicant pool was limited.
“If we wanted to reach our business plans to add three to five new distribution centers to our systems over the next several years, we had to get, keep, and grow talent differently,” Darno says. “I began to co-create solutions with the field locations specific to their market, which included veteran, female, and minority recruitment and retention programs. It was a success.”
That success led to Darno getting a promotion that allowed her to create the logistics recruiting function for the division, which, at the time, had 50,000 associates.
“Back then, there weren’t chief diversity officer roles like what we have today,” Darno says. But through her work as an HR executive, she continued to grow in her competency for leading diversity work, including talent management, culture, and engagement. She eventually stepped into working as a full-time diversity leader.
Before Darno joined UC Health early last year, the organization had made award-winning progress with its supplier diversity efforts and had opportunities to make similar progress across other key areas of the organization, she says. So, creating the chief diversity and inclusion officer position was the appropriate next step. She reports directly to the CEO.
Darno’s first year on the job has been a whirlwind for the organization. In addition to launching the new role, UC Health has faced both the pandemic and heightened racial conversations and protests, but “through it all we have continued our commitment to advance our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.”
When Darno began the job at UC Health, she started a high-level cultural assessment to determine where the organization had success and where it needed alignment or improvement.
“As a result of the assessment, we aligned on four strategic areas of focus: inclusive culture, health equity, diverse workforce, and economic impact,” Darno says. “We ensured leadership alignment at the most senior level, up to and including our board of directors.”
With the senior leaders on board, Darno began engaging the midlevel managers. Upon completion of the presentation of the four areas of focus, more than 85% of the midlevel managers shared that they understood they have a role to play in leading the organization’s efforts.
“As my team grows, we are thoughtfully planning multiple projects and programs to further develop our employees as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Darno says.
Providing a Bridge
For UC Health to stand out in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) area, Darno says her goal is to ensure the organization achieves “data-driven, systemic, and sustainable change that contributes to our business goals and positive patient outcomes.”
“In order to accomplish that, we have to have a solid foundation of awareness, desire to make change, and alignment and accountability at the senior leadership level,” Darno says. “I want leaders to see my office as a resource to provide framework, tools, and help co-create their action plans, experiments, and interventions to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion is the bridge between employee engagement, patient experience, and community impact.”
The organization’s actions have led to success stories, as well as lessons learned. “Although this year has been a challenge to say the least, despite a pandemic, heightened conversation on race, health disparities, and social justice, I completed key steps to keep the company aligned with DEI strategic plans,” Darno says. “A key component of that is the buy-in from our executive leadership team and senior vice presidents throughout the health care system.”
Each executive leadership team member is “leading from the front by sponsoring one of our four diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic areas of focus: inclusive culture, health equity, diverse workforce, and economic impact,” Darno says.
Visionary, Confidant … Even a Firefighter
Her year at UC Health, as well as her previous DEI work, has given Darno the experience necessary to offer advice to others in the field. “It is critically important to ensure you have clear alignment around the scope of your work and the appropriate resources—budget, headcount, and scope of responsibility—to make meaningful sustainable impact,” she says.
“Don’t be afraid to lead authentically and boldly from the front or through influencing others,” Darno says. “Communicate often and celebrate progress along the way. In this role you are a firefighter, visionary, confidant, co-creator, and operator.”