Creating a Support System for Black Women Leaders and CEOs

For Black women who are hospital and health system CEOs, it's been difficult to find and connect with others like themselves. In 2022, the AHA launched the Black Women CEO Roundtable to create a support system and facilitate meaningful connections. In this conversation, roundtable member Asha Rodriguez, vice president, facility executive with Atrium Health Cabarrus, reflects on how the roundtable’s support, encouragement and honest dialogue have helped her bond with her fellow CEOs.


 

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00;00;01;10 - 00;00;23;23
Tom Haederle
It's often been observed that leadership is lonely, and that's especially true for a specific and too small cohort of leaders, black women who are hospital and health system CEOs. It's been difficult for these leaders to find and connect with others like themselves, people who understand the challenges. As health care intensifies, its efforts on health equity, diversity and inclusion,

00;00;23;25 - 00;01;01;19
Tom Haederle
there is a need to lift the voices of black women members as active contributors to the field. Welcome to Advancing Health, a podcast from the American Hospital Association. I'm Tom Haederle with AHA Communications. In 2022, the AHA launched the Black Women CEO Roundtable to facilitate meaningful connections and create a support system among black women, hospital and health system CEOs.

00;01;01;22 - 00;01;25;00
Tom Haederle
Its current membership stands at about 24. And there is a lot of room to grow. The group celebrated its one year anniversary in late April. In this podcast, roundtable member Asha Rodriguez, vice president, facility executive with Atrium Health Cabarrus in North Carolina, reflects on what it has meant to her and the support, encouragement and honest dialog that has helped her bond with her fellow CEOs.

00;01;25;02 - 00;01;38;09
Tom Haederle
She's in conversation with Joy Lewis Senior Vice President, Health Equity Strategies at AHA. This podcast was recorded just prior to the Roundtable's one year anniversary at the AHA’s annual meeting in Washington, DC.

00;01;38;11 - 00;02;10;22
Joy Lewis
Such a pleasure to be sitting down with you today to. We're going to have fun diving into quite a few topic areas here. I really want to learn more about you as a leader. And I'm wondering if you want to start out by sharing a personal story that would illustrate to our listeners an experience, something that's helped to shape the way you see yourself as a leader, your leadership style.

00;02;10;22 - 00;02;14;29
Joy Lewis
Even if you want to harken back to your interest in becoming a leader.

00;02;15;00 - 00;02;42;03
Asha Rodriguez
I would say when you aren't in a position of leadership, it can be quite intimidating. It's in the space of: First of all, I don't I don't know what that looks like. I don't know what it feels like. I don't know how I'm going to do well in that space. And I think for women and women of color, I think it can be particularly challenging because of what they don't know and maybe the lived experience as well.

00;02;42;06 - 00;03;11;08
Asha Rodriguez
And so I would say that I've been pretty blessed in that regardless of the amount of fear or trepidation I've ever had stepping into it, I've had really phenomenal individuals around me inspiring me to move ahead, but also who saw things in me that I didn't really see in myself. And so I reflected on that question just for a second, because I've had a bevy of reports who were white males.

00;03;11;11 - 00;03;20;02
Asha Rodriguez
I've had two men that I directly reported to who were men of color. And then I've had one woman of color in my entire career.

00;03;20;02 - 00;03;20;28
Joy Lewis
And how many years.

00;03;20;28 - 00;03;49;12
Asha Rodriguez
In my entire 20 plus year career who I reported to. Phyllis Winget. Now, in terms of my inspiration and becoming a leader, I think that there were people who saw something in me many, many moons ago who said, you have to keep going. And I was like, well, are you sure? Because the more I step into this space, the more I'm speaking up, the more I'm pushing things that aren't necessarily popular.

00;03;49;15 - 00;04;13;08
Asha Rodriguez
And I would say that there were a lot of women of color who maybe I wasn't reporting to who appreciated my leadership, for lack of a better term, in that space of my advocacy and who kept moving me ahead or saying, you have to keep trying, you've got to go back to school. You have to participate in these organizations.

00;04;13;10 - 00;04;16;08
Asha Rodriguez
We like what you have to say. We like how you are.

00;04;16;10 - 00;04;17;01
Joy Lewis
You're showing up.

00;04;17;07 - 00;04;37;15
Asha Rodriguez
You're showing up, right. And I don't think at the time I really recognized how important that showing up was for other people. I knew that I had to show up because the person that I was I had to wake up with her every day and I had to go to bed with her every day. Right. And and there were things I just wasn't willing to let go of.

00;04;37;18 - 00;04;42;07
Asha Rodriguez
Otherwise, I wasn't going to feel complete. But I want to talk about Phillis for just a minute.

00;04;42;10 - 00;04;43;07
Joy Lewis
Tell me about her.

00;04;43;08 - 00;05;11;22
Asha Rodriguez
I would say that I've. I had an only reported tuff a brief period of time, but Phillis actually was a board of directors in 2011 for AHA before it was called the board of trustees. And she chaired the North Carolina Hospital Association, none of which I had known before reporting to her. But one of the things that I saw in her was an example of a incredibly moral, ethical, tempered, inclusive leader.

00;05;11;25 - 00;05;22;01
Asha Rodriguez
She's an amazing, amazing woman, and I got the benefit of working with her towards the end of her career, meaning that she had felt like she had

00;05;22;08 - 00;05;25;09
Joy Lewis
Accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience. Absolutely.

00;05;25;11 - 00;05;51;18
Asha Rodriguez
And had become truly. I would say, the best. I'm sure she felt that way. She may not feel this way, but fully evolved as a leader. And so she has inspired me greatly since then to consider who do I want to be and how, and more importantly, how do I want to help shape the experiences of other leaders who are deciding to bravely step into the unknown.

00;05;51;21 - 00;06;14;29
Asha Rodriguez
And so I'm ever grateful for her example. But the other examples of women who may not have been in her shoes, you know, leading as a president or a CEO, but managers and directors and even the ladies in the cafeteria who right now call me Baby doll, which I love. So the shout out.

00;06;14;29 - 00;06;16;16
Joy Lewis
To you visit them often?

00;06;16;16 - 00;06;36;01
Asha Rodriguez
I visit them often, but I think there's something special about women in the way we nurture each other and hold space and protect and guide. And I think women of color do it so well because they understand the challenges that we face without even ever having to discuss it.

00;06;36;03 - 00;06;37;20
Joy Lewis
That's right. Mm hmm.

00;06;37;23 - 00;06;58;27
Asha Rodriguez
It's the head nod. It's the look, the acknowledgment. It's the extra hug. It's the extra word of encouragement. It's the email that comes out of the blue. And I've been the recipient of a lot of those things. So what inspires me to be a leader is knowing that I show up for more than just myself. I show up for those people.

00;06;58;29 - 00;07;02;09
Joy Lewis
Who don't even know yet, right? Who don't even know what they don't know.

00;07;02;10 - 00;07;03;10
Asha Rodriguez
Yeah, absolutely.

00;07;03;11 - 00;07;35;11
Joy Lewis
So I guess one of the things then that I'm really curious about is when the AHA a year ago decided to launch its Black Women CEO roundtable. Yeah, right. Phenomenal moment. We're celebrating our one year anniversary during this conference. Tomorrow, in fact, on Monday, April 24th. You got the invite in your inbox. Why did you say yes to this opportunity to engage with this group of women?

00;07;35;14 - 00;08;06;14
Asha Rodriguez
So, first of all, anything that Dr. Roxie Wells is doing, I want to participate in, complete and total, you know, amazing, amazing leader. My understanding is that Roxie really understood and laid out a vision for creating a community and a space for African-American women leaders or black leaders, excuse me. I think that's amazing because what I think, you know, I just laid out for you sort of a case for that when I started talking about Phyllis.

00;08;06;14 - 00;08;44;05
Asha Rodriguez
Right. So in my 20 plus career, I've reported to more more white men or black men than I've ever reported to a black woman. And it's taken me 20 something years to find her. And she retired about a year and a half into my time with her. And I think it was important to me because my viability and the long term likelihood of my career, I knew it was going to require I know it's going to require support, but support from women who understand my experience.

00;08;44;05 - 00;08;44;21
Joy Lewis
Right.

00;08;44;23 - 00;09;07;02
Asha Rodriguez
And Roxie is leading in a rural space where I'm sure there just aren't very many of those women who are willing to do that. And doing those things come with some tradeoffs. I mean, there's some definitely some pros and cons, and she's leading in a very fierce way. And the fact that she came to AHA and said, you know, we have to have this.

00;09;07;04 - 00;09;07;22
Joy Lewis
Here's a gap.

00;09;07;24 - 00;09;33;19
Asha Rodriguez
Here's a gap. Right. And here's how we can fill it. But here's my vision for how we fill that has been incredible. I mean, and, you know, when we first started, just the few meetings that we had together as a group, I think the relationships, the support, the encouragement, the honest dialog that we've been able to have, I think those things make the biggest difference in ensuring that leaders don't feel alone in the journey. 

00;09;33;21 - 00;09;40;12
Asha Rodriguez
And and isolated or perhaps misunderstood.

00;09;40;14 - 00;09;51;06
Joy Lewis
Yeah, because to your point, these ladies didn't know that each other existed. Right. I mean, there was this amazing moment. In fact, emotional moment when they got in the room together.

00;09;51;06 - 00;09;51;26
Asha Rodriguez
Right.

00;09;51;29 - 00;09;58;01
Joy Lewis
And saw so many. So many. Right. And and it continues. The group continues to grow.

00;09;58;01 - 00;10;00;29
Asha Rodriguez
Absolutely. And you say so many others. I mean, but.

00;10;01;00 - 00;10;04;11
Joy Lewis
Well, it's relatively relatively speaking.

00;10;04;11 - 00;10;05;25
Asha Rodriguez
Right? There's still not nearly.

00;10;06;02 - 00;10;10;19
Joy Lewis
Nearly as much. We've got nearly 5000 members and we have 24 women in this group.

00;10;10;19 - 00;10;13;14
Asha Rodriguez
24 women. And I say that again, Joy. 

00;10;13;15 - 00;10;16;13
Joy Lewis
24. So let's not overstate.

00;10;16;16 - 00;10;50;01
Asha Rodriguez
But the idea that there were more than I correct. I'm sure every woman sitting at the table, we had an aha moment where we looked around each other and it's pretty emotional to see people who look like us or represent communities like us, right. You know, who live on a diaspora in different ways. And to see all of these women dotted all across the country, like when we started to look at the geographics of where all these women were at, like and we're relatively far away from each other, but not that far, you know, to pick up the phone and to call or to say, Hey, sis, I got you.

00;10;50;07 - 00;11;16;12
Asha Rodriguez
I'm thinking about you today. What do you need? And it's been highly productive without having, I think for any of us to have to ... all of these women highly competent. You know, we're not going in we're not going into this in terms of competence. This is this is also key. This is not about the scale of competence of any of these women, it simply is an opportunity, I think, for us to remain engaged and support our own individual resilience.

00;11;16;18 - 00;11;26;21
Joy Lewis
Absolutely. Because it's such a radical act in so many of these spaces to even be there, to even be occupying the roles that you occupy. Right.

00;11;26;27 - 00;11;33;06
Asha Rodriguez
So I was going to say, I thought about that and the fact that we exist.

00;11;33;09 - 00;11;34;08
Joy Lewis
Exactly.

00;11;34;10 - 00;12;05;05
Asha Rodriguez
The fact that we exist, I'm sure walking into some of the spaces, especially for women, the women who lead some of our rural hospitals. That alone, I'm sure, automatically, quickly to your point, it is I wouldn't call it a resistance, but it is also a huge acknowledgment of the fact that women leaders can hold space and be highly, highly effective because they reflect marginalized communities.

00;12;05;05 - 00;12;06;25
Asha Rodriguez
Right. So who better?

00;12;06;28 - 00;12;10;06
Joy Lewis
Who better because they're proximate to the very issue.

00;12;10;06 - 00;12;11;02
Asha Rodriguez
To the very issue.

00;12;11;02 - 00;12;12;18
Joy Lewis
That we're solving for in health care.

00;12;12;20 - 00;12;16;20
Asha Rodriguez
I may even have experienced those issues nicely.

00;12;16;21 - 00;12;25;03
Joy Lewis
Yeah, precisely. Yeah. So lean into that a little bit more around what you've benefited from your engagement with this roundtable.

00;12;25;05 - 00;12;56;18
Asha Rodriguez
I think for me, it has energized me in a way that I didn't think I could ever find. And I say that to you because when I say walking along the journey or ... It's lonely in leadership and and it's even lonelier for women of color. Right. So you hear people talk about I was just sharing with a junior associate recently that, you know, you as a leader, you walk a journey for some time as two different people: an individual and a leader.

00;12;56;20 - 00;13;20;16
Asha Rodriguez
And at some point, those worlds have to converge. And I would imagine that as for a person of color, having those worlds merge can be a very painful experience, knowing that the parts of you that make you such an individual is generally not either accepted in leadership and/or can become a barrier to you being successful.

00;13;20;16 - 00;13;22;08
Joy Lewis
Uncelebrated, right? 

00;13;22;08 - 00;13;41;22
Asha Rodriguez
Uncelebrated. And because people see you, they can't hear you, that you have to convince people of how competent you are, that you worry that maybe just my being itself is a barrier to the work. And I think this type of a group allows us to sort of unpack the fear.

00;13;41;29 - 00;13;42;25
Joy Lewis
Right.

00;13;42;28 - 00;13;53;26
Asha Rodriguez
And some people will say, well, that's not real. Well, you know, it may not be real to you, but how do you explain some of the barriers and the reason that there aren't more women of color leading?

00;13;53;27 - 00;13;58;12
Joy Lewis
Exactly. Why is there that you get to that manager level and then.

00;13;58;12 - 00;13;59;00
Asha Rodriguez
Just can't.

00;13;59;00 - 00;14;00;14
Joy Lewis
Get can't get over that hump?

00;14;00;15 - 00;14;22;27
Asha Rodriguez
Right. And and I'm sort of and I really want people to understand that women of color can have ... it's not a relational issue. We can have and build relationships. There is a community of people who may not relate to us. And I think what makes us a little bit different, you know, men have sports and that sort of crosses lots of barriers.

00;14;22;27 - 00;14;48;17
Asha Rodriguez
Men have hobbies that crosses those barriers. But when you think about a lot of how and I think women of color have tried to overcome that by also embracing perhaps hobbies like sports and golfing and tennis or the socialization. And what about people who those aren't things that either interest them? Be It's not how they were. They grew up.

00;14;48;17 - 00;15;10;02
Asha Rodriguez
It's not a part of their cultural makeup. How do they build a relationship with a community of people who that is or has been centrally how they connect with others? And so I think that this for us gives us a space that allows us to really be authentic to who we are, discuss truly our challenges without feeling a bit gaslit.

00;15;10;04 - 00;15;22;23
Asha Rodriguez
And very productively, I would say. So it's not that we're walking around in the conversations in a woe is me, but it's a real acknowledgment around we have a unique needs. So how do we support one another with those unique needs?

00;15;22;27 - 00;15;27;11
Joy Lewis
Now, this is not a session for I mean, in fact, you have goals and objectives.

00;15;27;11 - 00;15;51;18
Asha Rodriguez
Goals and objectives. We spend our time lifting up each other's accomplishments. We have an opportunity for us to nominate or identify women we think need to be stepping into other roles and or be acknowledged or recognized. But nationally, I also think the fact that we're talking about those goals and objectives like you've described; it's a very productive experience for us where I think we haven't had a coalition.

00;15;51;18 - 00;15;55;12
Asha Rodriguez
So this this space has created coalition.

00;15;55;12 - 00;15;56;13
Joy Lewis
And agency.

00;15;56;16 - 00;16;25;11
Asha Rodriguez
Agency. That's where when you have an agency and there is nothing more powerful than knowing that you have more control over your experience, good or bad, and that any are making choices, good or bad, that help you to sustain how you move ahead. And I think having that sounding board experience is really, really powerful. But sharing opportunities across all of us and being very intentional, right.

00;16;25;19 - 00;16;51;07
Asha Rodriguez
Very, very intentional and deliberate in supporting and identifying other women who have a voice that needs to be heard. And, you know, we just did we did something really phenomenal recently, which I appreciate. We talked about our unique skill sets, whether it's behavioral health, rural health, finance strategy, operations. So we're we're now starting to say to ourselves in this group

00;16;51;09 - 00;16;58;26
Joy Lewis
who are we and what contribution, what's here's my expertise and how do I share that Absolutely. More broadly.

00;16;58;26 - 00;17;30;24
Asha Rodriguez
How do I share that more broadly? And then how does AHA potentially tap into us? Right. You know, I think and Joy, you all are doing it. And let me first give you guys a huge shout out for I have to give Roxy a shout out for her vision in terms of creating this community. But let me give you and Krista and Priscilla a huge shout out for creating our framework within which we can be incredibly productive and seeking to leverage our strengths and our voices for a much larger, much, much larger good in the organization.

00;17;30;26 - 00;17;54;05
Asha Rodriguez
Because I think that when you compound social identifiers, whether it's, you know, you take gender, then you put race and ethnicity on top of that, you put socioeconomic on top of all of those things. We see the world differently. And I would I would argue we see the world in a way that the hospital, American Hospital Association, perhaps needs to start seeing the world.

00;17;54;07 - 00;17;57;12
Asha Rodriguez
if we want to start solving real issues.

00;17;57;14 - 00;18;14;27
Joy Lewis
So you're calling out the the dimensions and the intersectionality of of the diverse characteristics that we all bring to the table. And so how do you leverage that? Yeah. How do you celebrate it? How do you take those assets that people bring?

Asha Rodriguez
Right. Because this is an asset. 

00;18;17;24 - 00;18;23;08
Joy Lewis
Asset, Right. For the greater good to solve some of these vexing issues in the field.

00;18;23;08 - 00;18;42;06
Asha Rodriguez
And I would you know, as you say, that I think it's been hard because they feel like such taboo things. And then there's a lot of critique around, even the way we hired for diversity  - people who do diversity work, right, which is why do we always hire a woman of color or man of color instead.


00;18;43;00 - 00;19;00;23
Asha Rodriguez
Of hiring a facilitator? But I do think it's important. What you just said is that intersectionality is so critical to the work that we do. We've got to start seeing those things from different lenses and recognizing the differences are an aspect.

00;19;00;29 - 00;19;01;25
Joy Lewis
Yep.

00;19;01;27 - 00;19;10;10
Asha Rodriguez
We don't have to smooth them over. We actually need to begin to call them out because those are the cracks that our patients fall through.

00;19;10;11 - 00;19;10;23
Joy Lewis
That's right.


00;19;11;22 - 00;19;32;18
Joy Lewis
It's the same reason being that using the term colorblind blind is a no no. Right. Like, no. I want you to see my color. I want you to see it. See me? I want you to celebrate it. Right. You know, I celebrate it. And yeah. So this notion that we're using a broad brush to kind of paint that landscape. Right. And create the experience, right?

00;19;32;19 - 00;19;32;29
Joy Lewis
No.

00;19;33;06 - 00;19;33;17
Asha Rodriguez
Right.

00;19;33;18 - 00;19;37;29
Joy Lewis
That's not the goal. That's not the goal of equity. That's not justice.

00;19;38;01 - 00;19;39;12
Asha Rodriguez
It's not transformative equity.

00;19;39;13 - 00;20;01;26
Joy Lewis
It's not transformative equity. Yeah. So when you think about the pipeline and all the women who aspire to be where you are and where are the women in this black women CEO group sit, how might this group begin to impact those young emerging leaders and their trajectory?

00;20;01;28 - 00;20;28;06
Asha Rodriguez
Well, first of all, representation matters. So seeing someone that you could ultimately become is important. But I also think we have to whom much is given, much is required. So we have a huge responsibility to work on tilling the soil, if you will, to create an inclusive environment for those women to lead. And I mean that there's a lot of work to be done there.

00;20;28;06 - 00;20;46;10
Asha Rodriguez
I think there's a lot of organizations who are very interested in DEI efforts and we go through great lengths to diversify. Mm hmm. But the real question is, is have we done the work inside of our organizations to undo some of the structure is both formal and informal.

00;20;46;10 - 00;20;46;24
Joy Lewis
Right.

00;20;47;00 - 00;21;15;15
Asha Rodriguez
That create an environment for these women to succeed as we intend them to bring their full selves because they can be successful. And we can argue that there are people maybe who have survived in leadership, but have they thrived in leadership? They've been able to really bring their whole selves and have the conversation you and I are having around that intersectionality and the differences and the celebration of it, or that that or just frankly, the acknowledgment of it.

00;21;15;17 - 00;21;16;06
Joy Lewis
Exactly.

00;21;16;06 - 00;21;40;07
Asha Rodriguez
And I think that I imagine that people like Phyllis and Roxy and other women who have been in leadership for decades. Mm hmm. You know, 20, 30, 40 years, I imagine what that experience was like for them back then. I imagine, you know, I asked myself, like, what would that if Phyllis had a group? She was wildly successful.

00;21;40;08 - 00;21;40;25
Joy Lewis
Right.

00;21;40;27 - 00;22;03;24
Asha Rodriguez
But if Phyllis had a group like that back then, what could have happened? Where would we have been as a national health care? 
00;23;16;06 - 00;23;35;25

Asha Rodriguez
So how do we get those people to access us in a way that is meaningful to them, meeting them where they need us? But I'd imagine that this group is going to it's you know, we're on a year end, Right, right. And here I am with lots of thoughts and ideas, But I imagine what it would be like.

00;23;35;25 - 00;23;42;22
Joy Lewis
You have to have a vision and you have to you know, this is innovative, transformative work and is so it'll take time. But we have to.

00;23;42;29 - 00;24;04;29
Asha Rodriguez
But we have people like you. We have now we've planted enough seeds and hope in the women who are sitting at that table who feel the agency, who know that while maybe my decision is unpopular today, I have a whole group of women who are seeing it work in their organization. So I'm going to step out on not just faith, but on really solid best practice.

00;24;04;29 - 00;24;05;13
Joy Lewis
Correct.

00;24;05;17 - 00;24;30;02
Asha Rodriguez
Because I'm because we're having these conversations. So I'm I'm actually incredibly hopeful, inspired. I think I told you, for me, it was a lifeline personally for us. And not that I not that I don't have supportive leadership, but it's different. And I think I think you need to have people who see you fully because this work is hard.

00;24;30;04 - 00;24;31;00
Joy Lewis
You need your village.

00;24;31;00 - 00;24;50;06
Asha Rodriguez
You need your village. And I think these women have created a village for each other, for me, certainly for each other. And I see that continuing to exponentially increase as we look at our own individual spheres of influence and how we create villages for people to belong while they become.

00;24;50;13 - 00;24;52;23
Joy Lewis
That is awesome. Oh my gosh.

00;24;52;24 - 00;24;59;23
Asha Rodriguez
This we you know, we should do this more often. I know. I feel like I should give you a copay for this experience.

00;24;59;25 - 00;25;27;12
Joy Lewis
Where it's launching. Yeah, actually, exactly. Well, yeah, what let's not, you know, have this be the last time. Yeah. I think there's just so much that we can put out there for others to kind of noodle on to, to reflect on, to help, to, to plant some seed, share some nuggets along the way because we were all building off of the legacy of those who came before us.

00;25;27;12 - 00;25;49;23
Joy Lewis
Absolutely right. And so to your point earlier, to whom much is given, much is expected, and this is a part of our reaching back and giving back and making sure we're pulling our sisters up with us. So thank you for your time. Thank you for your transparent conversation today and being so authentic. And I'm sure our guest will will gain a lot from your insights.

00;25;49;23 - 00;25;50;24
Asha Rodriguez
Thank you, Joy.

00;25;50;26 - 00;25;52;02
Joy Lewis
Thanks for your leadership.

00;25;52;02 - 00;25;54;21
Asha Rodriguez
And thank you for yours sincerely.

00;25;54;21 - 00;25;56;23
Joy Lewis
Okay, Take it easy. Bye bye. Bye.

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