By Chery Manon, Senior Communications Manager, Association of Maternal & Child Health (AMCHP)
In May, maternal and child health (MCH) leaders across the United States gathered for the 2023 AMCHP Annual Conference, virtually and in person, in New Orleans, to discuss ways we can cultivate diverse leaders in the MCH field. Various inspiring plenary sessions, workshops, skill-building sessions, roundtable discussions, and poster sessions, speakers, and attendees focused on this theme.
And like every year, this conference theme and focus originated from key current challenges faced by the MCH community, articulated in the following sentiments by a variety of leaders in the field and AMCHP staff members.
“An overwhelming number of public health workers are exhausted from the pandemic, and, in many cases, leaders are burned out and have been operating in survival mode. There have been very few moments to pause and reflect on professional development and growth, to intentionally connect with mentors, and to think about investments in leaders at all levels.”
— Caroline Stampfel, Chief Strategy and Program Officer, AMCHP
“We need to continually invest in our workforce…. We need to diversify our workforce at every level…. We need to remember our strengths are in the health, well-being, knowledge, skills, and diversity of our workforce.”
— Julie Traylor, Director of Strategic Development for the Division of Family Health and Wellness at the Tennessee Department of Health, and AMCHP Annual Conference Committee Chair
“Diverse MCH leadership will help ensure that no one is left out of the conversation and that we advance policies and programs that consider our intersectional positions and life experiences.”
— Amani Echols, Policy Manager, Health Systems Transformation, AMCHP
“We need to be intentional about our own leadership journey. We need to be intentional about the role we can play in other’s leadership journeys. And we need to ask ourselves, how are we harnessing our power, and in many cases, our privileges, to elevate others?”
— Ben Kaufman, Associate Director, Workforce Development and Capacity Building, AMCHP
And with this last question posed by Ben, the importance of the theme, Cultivating Diverse Leaders in Maternal and Child Health, became clear to all of us—the organizers and participants of the conference. To do justice to the theme, we also knew that no individual had all the answers and that by putting all of our heads together, we would likely come up with many good ideas.
Sharing Your How Project on Equity in the Workplace – A Continuation of Last Year’s Plenary Session Focusing on Equity in Health Systems and Communities
The second plenary session, Sharing Your How: Growing Diverse Leaders, was a cornerstone session at this year’s annual conference. During the planning and design stages, AMCHP focused on gathering testimonies from a broad range of professionals, youth, and families to learn about strategies that support the development of diverse leaders in MCH.
The Sharing Your How project was a continuation of last year’s Sharing Your Why plenary session. In 2022, conference attendees were part of an impactful plenary session that offered personal stories about what brought presenters to the MCH field and what inspired them to continue their work. They reflected on each other’s journey and heard different perspectives on how to tackle issues in the MCH field. One common theme emerged from this project: the importance of connecting with each other and striving to create equitable solutions for all people.
In 2023, equity is still front and center in our MCH mission. And in this year, the focus of our conversation shifted to the workspace with stories from leaders in Title V administration, MCH, Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs (CYSHCN), family leadership, public health nursing, and MCH early, mid, and late-career professionals. All of them represented a variety of backgrounds and educational contexts.
Sharing Our Collective ‘How’ On Growing Leaders Who Reflect the Diversity of the People We Serve
Synergies were at play with speakers at the conference plenary session and the testimonial submission process: AMCHP identified many common themes that answer the question of how to grow leaders in MCH who reflect the diversity of experiences, cultures, and abilities of the people we serve. They are summarized as follows:
To shift the MCH culture, we must include diverse perspectives. Doing so requires a system thinking lens with an integrated public health lens. Centering equity requires leadership through a community mindset instead of an individualistic attitude. Creating advisory committees helps ensure that community voices are front and center.
Mentor or Support Someone and Invest in People
Offer to mentor or advise someone. Your knowledge, experience, and abilities can be valuable to someone in your organization or community. Help this person develop the skills to grow personally or professionally or help connect them to potential growth opportunities.
Create spaces for people to leverage their knowledge and experience and foster their curiosity. Provide guidance and support throughout the learning process. Help someone discover new areas of interest by allowing them to work on a variety of projects or in different areas.
Support rising leaders in their MCH journey by making internships and training programs available. Passion drives both our “why” and “how” – pave the way for those after you!
Encourage others to reach their full potential. Help build your team’s confidence by recognizing their hard work. Uplift those around you. Invest in the success of others and their professional development, and be the one who opens professional doors and introduces your team to people in your network.
Make sure that your team is well compensated for their work and advocate for fairness on their behalf. Also, encourage your staff to take breaks and exercise self-care.
Learn from Others’ Experiences and Challenges
Look for ways to proactively learn about the challenges experienced by others outside of your community, state, jurisdiction, or territory, especially people with lived experience. Get informed about their barriers and connect with them to exchange knowledge, experiences, and ideas. Broadening our perspectives provides a lens to improve our work in MCH.
Build trust, relationships, and community by knowing the people you serve, listening to their experiences, and establishing and accommodating new partnerships.
Lead by Example
Be a leader that any team, organization, or community needs. Foster the qualities that make people feel embraced as leaders. Important qualities to foster include:
- Empathy — Put yourself in others’ shoes to consider other perspectives.
- Honesty — Be honest with people to build a strong foundation of trust and respect in relationships.
- Reliability — Follow through by doing what you said you would and staying in contact with others.
- Adaptability —Learn to adapt by being flexible and capable of adapting to someone’s needs in the face of challenges.
- Self-reflection — Practice humility by reflecting on how you see the world and your biases and be open to learning from others and from your own mistakes or missteps.
Finally, be someone else’s or the next generation’s role model and inspiration through actions, behaviors, and accomplishments.
AMCHP Collaborators: Eden Desta, Communications Analyst, AMCHP, and Caroline Stampfel, Chief Strategy and Program Officer, AMCHP