Denny Quinones, BSN, RN, CNOR, was just out of high school in 2003 when he joined ChristianaCare as a patient escort, a move he calls “the best decision of my life.” Nineteen years later, he is an assistant nurse manager coordinating orthopaedic, podiatry and ophthalmology cases in the Newark campus operating rooms. As he climbs the health care ladder, Quinones has often thought about how he can continue to grow in his career.
“I aspire to grow into leadership and one day run my own department,” Quinones said. Now, he is closer to his goal.
Earlier this summer, Quinones graduated from LeadershipDNA, a ChristianaCare professional development program designed to support underrepresented populations of caregivers and foster their career development.
A key aspect of this leadership program sets it apart: Each cohort focuses on caregivers from different backgrounds. The cohort — the program’s third — was made up entirely of Hispanic and Latinx caregivers from across the system.
“It creates a psychologically safe place for those with this identity to come and share, learn and grow and find some common things that are threaded together,” said Natalie Torres, director of Inclusion and Diversity for ChristianaCare.
ChristianaCare employees interested in learning more about Leadership DNA can email the program.
For Quinones and the other participants in this cohort of LeadershipDNA, it meant being in a room where the majority of participants also were the first in their family to graduate from college. Most had a parent or family member who was an immigrant and faced challenges because of limited English-speaking skills.
Learning with other colleagues who understood those challenges made it easier to be honest and authentic when interacting with each other, which in turn deepened their level of learning.
“Sharing the commonality allowed the group to let their guard down. Without the commonality, there could be a desire to mask inadequacies you feel you may have,” Quinones said.
ChristianaCare is preparing for its third group of LeadershipDNA participants later this year, aimed at Asian and Pacific Islander caregivers. The first cohort, in 2021, included 18 caregivers at the supervisor and manager level who identify as Black or African American.
Daria Barksdale, MSN, MBA, RN, CCM, was so motivated by her experience with LeadershipDNA that she followed it up with a leadership certificate from the University of Delaware. Part of the inaugural group of caregivers, she credits the passion and enthusiasm of the speakers with encouraging her to explore more leadership opportunities in health care.
“There was something impactful you could take away from every single person who came and spoke to us,” said Barksdale, who is currently serving as the interim director for case management.
“I am trying to further my ‘leadership brand’ and keep that momentum moving forward.”
LeadershipDNA reflects ChristianaCare’s ongoing commitment to growing a broader diversity of talent in people leader roles, Torres said. According to ChristianaCare’s Inclusion and Diversity Scorecard for fiscal year 2021, minorities and people of color made up 15.4% of leaders in the position of director and above. An organizational goal is to grow the percentage of minority leaders 10% by the end of fiscal year 2023, making them at least 17% of the workforce.
‘We can recruit diverse talent, but it’s the culture that retains people. This is a way of shifting the culture and letting people know that we want you, your authenticity, your identity.’
—Natalie Torres, director of Inclusion and Diversity
Programs like LeadershipDNA are one way to achieve that while also shifting the organizational culture to be more inclusive and representative of the patients ChristianaCare serves. They are also part of the reason why for the second consecutive year, Forbes magazine named ChristianaCare in its list of Best Employers for Diversity. ChristianaCare ranked as the No. 2 employer for diversity and inclusion in the health care industry and the No. 40 employer in the nation overall.
“We can recruit diverse talent, but it’s the culture that retains people,” Torres said. “This is a way of shifting the culture and letting people know that we want you, your authenticity, your identity.”
Learning in the moment
During the three-month program, LeadershipDNA participants dig into the facets of leadership with the help of an outside facilitator and presentations from ChristianaCare leaders. They keep a journal, create a personal brand and learn about system strategy. But the real magic happens when members of the group bring their personal experiences to the conversation.
During a presentation on giving feedback by Cindy Goodwin, senior organization and leadership development consultant for Institute for Learning, Leadership and Development (iLead), one participant noted that many Latina women are raised to always apologize, even if they aren’t the ones in the wrong. The participant wondered how this cultural habit might have an impact in a professional setting, especially for a leader interacting with their staff.
“Thank you for putting that in the room. It is not something I would have thought of,” Goodwin said. Gesturing to the group, she asked, “How can you help each other with this experience?”
For Quinones, the biggest impact came from recognizing his own opportunities for improvement after finishing a self-assessment that was part of the LeadershipDNA curriculum. He used the results for self-reflection and introspection and implemented tips suggested by the assessment.
“It was actually really good reflecting on those weaknesses, and then turning them around so they can become strengths,” Quinones said. “I’ve been able to do that, and I’ve seen the progress. Others have noticed that as well.”
‘Bringing us together’
Bringing people together with a shared experience also provides an opportunity to highlight the different challenges that arise through intersectionality, Torres said. Intersectionality acknowledges that people who share an ethnic heritage or lived experience can still face different barriers or levels of inequality based on their gender, social class or other ways of self-identifying.
“One identifier, be it gender, disability, military, or race and ethnicity does not determine someone’s experience in its entirety,” she said.
Participation in LeadershipDNA introduced Steaphine Taggart, MSN, RN, CEN, CPHQ, to a new set of colleagues who continue to cheer on her successes and serve as a sounding board when needed. And it has also helped Taggart, operations director of ChristianaCare’s Hospital Care at Home, make important connections across the system that have strengthened her knowledge base in her current role.
“I’m in the inpatient world and I have met caregivers from the ambulatory side that I wouldn’t have necessarily connected with, ever,” said Taggart, who also credits the program with motivating her to complete her certification as a Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ).
“I think even outside of expanding diversity, this is making a difference in strengthening ChristianaCare as an organization by bringing us together.”