Q&A: Froedtert chief diversity officer Andres Gonzalez on health system’s D&I approach

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Andres Gonzalez is vice president and chief diversity officer for Froedtert Health, where he oversees diversity initiatives throughout the Wauwatosa-based health system, including workforce and community initiatives. He also heads the steering committee for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Area of Commerce’s Region of Choice initiative, which has set goals of increasing diverse management by 25% and diverse employment by 15% in the Milwaukee region by 2025. In a recent interview with BizTimes Milwaukee associate editor Lauren Anderson, Gonzalez shared his reflections on what D&I strategies have been effective at Froedtert and in the region.

Editor’s note: This interview is part of BizTimes’ Business Cares series, focused on diversity and inclusion. Read more stories here about what other companies that have denounced racism are doing to follow through on those commitments, how Milwaukee’s creative industry is working to increase diversity in its workforce, and ideas to help the city attract diverse talent. 

BizTimes: How did the national reckoning on race last summer serve as a catalyst for the region’s D&I efforts?

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Gonzalez: “In the last year, we have seen an uptick in organizations saying ‘Houston, we have a problem. We don’t have a thought leader with these competencies,’ and they are struggling internally with how to continue to navigate (those issues).

“Froedtert was extremely visionary in that 11 years ago they were forecasting that this is a critical role and were one of the first health systems nationally that created the (chief diversity officer) role and that also resourced the role. It’s one thing to identify the need, it’s another when you provide all the resources critically needed to operationalize it.”

BizTimes: What are the benefits of having a D&I leader in the C-suite at Froedtert?

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Gonzalez: “When you look at Froedtert and at how at the highest level, there is an equity, diversity and inclusion lens, everyone has line of sight for our efforts. Cathy (Jacobson, president and CEO,) trusts our office.

“It’s part of why we have been successful in not just implementing strategies but achieving collective impact. At Froedtert that’s the way we’re structured. Within our department, we oversee the talent/people strategy side, recruitment, retention, promotion of diverse staff. All of that is part of our purview, along with strategic partnerships. … We work with our marketing leaders on multicultural marketing to position us as a health care provider of choice, but also as a workplace of choice. Supplier diversity falls under our department … as well as language services. Most systems are not structured in that matter. We have built a very unique holistic strategy.”

BizTimes: Froedtert has declared racism to be a public health crisis. Why?

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Gonzalez: “2016 was a watershed moment (in Milwaukee) when Sylville Smith was shot. That became our George Floyd moment, and we have continued to see African American males lose their lives in America. In 2016, as we were building on our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives as an academic medical center, we said we can either take a position of being reactive or proactive. There were things that were bubbling up in the community … that, as we know, led to the Sherman Park unrest. That’s when we started talking about anti-racism and racism as a key issue. Fifteen months ago, in our ‘Eradicating Racism and Enhancing Health Equity’ plan, we were one of the first to take the stand that racism is a health crisis, and here are the four key actions we’re taking. …. That anti-racism pledge, if you go into any of our facilities, it’s displayed at the entrances of our facilities. It’s another reminder to say, ‘here’s what Froedtert stands for and against.’”

BizTimes: How does D&I play into Froedtert’s overall hiring strategy?

Gonzalez: “Our teams (HR and Diversity & Inclusion) are in lockstep, either brokering conversations in the community or enhancing partnerships. … (For example), our partnership with Cristo Rey allows students to learn meaningful capabilities and skillsets at Froedtert while in high school. Then we want to retain them. That’s the litmus test. We measure how many of those interns did we convert to employees? … That’s an example of how we’re working in lockstep – where are we going? Who are we partnering with for recruitment? We have partnerships with the Hispanic Nurses Association, with HPGM (Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee), we have them with AALAM (the African American Leadership Alliance of Milwaukee).”

BizTimes: What role do business resource groups play at Froedtert?

Gonzalez: “In short, BRGs are an extension of our office and culture and are committed to fostering an inclusive workplace to retain staff, elevate recruitment efforts to attract diverse talent with the ultimate goal of improving health equity for all.”

BizTimes: How does Froedtert’s structure give BRGs influence over the organization’s D&I strategy?

Gonzalez: “Each BRG partners with leaders and staff across the organization to address key priorities and incorporate the BRG goals to operationalize these key priorities. The BRGs will ultimately provide insights and suggestions to incorporate within key priorities to help solve for the complex issues that the organization may be encountering. Within this process, the BRG will create work plans that address organizational priorities that include but are not limited to increasing staff engagement, increasing retention, addressing health care disparities and supporting community efforts.”

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