Making Diversity and Inclusion Work for Our Young Leaders
Isaac Johnson, EVS Regional Director of Operations
Sometimes diversity and inclusion also mean fighting obstacles if people perceive you are too young for the job.
I was only 24 and out of college for three years when I became an assistant director for Environmental Services at Crothall. Because of my age, many people didn’t think I deserved this position, even though I’d held four internships during college and had been an operations manager in my previous job.
It was difficult at first, especially because nearly all of the people I was managing were older than me. To overcome this obstacle, I joined Toastmasters International to refine my speaking and presentation skills and learn more about how to effectively interact with leaders and associates. And I also leaned on my mentors for solid advice.
During my 16 years at Crothall, I’ve occasionally felt excluded from opportunities because people didn’t think I could handle the responsibilities. Once, when I joined a project about half-way through completion, I was told to sit back let the team finish it. Because I wasn’t there at the start, the leader assumed I couldn’t provide any valuable insight.
But I knew better. Once I understood the project, I began to ask questions and provide information on topics where I had a lot of expertise. Every project has an objective, so I began to pick and choose where I could make a contribution. Because housekeeping touches every department, I often would surprise people with my knowledge of the hospital. When you’re in a room with medical professionals or executives, they sometimes don’t believe the EVS representative can hold their own. At project’s completion, several team members apologized for not giving me a warmer welcome.
Whether at age 24 or 40 – my current age -- one of the key lessons I’ve learned that still holds true today is that once you prove to colleagues and others that you can do the job, any bias usually fades away.
Fortunately, Crothall has given me plenty of opportunities to advance my career. Over those 16 years, I’ve worked for the company in 10 different cities on the East Coast, West Coast, and in between. This includes my current position, where I oversee the EVS programs for the Duke Health System in North Carolina and at WellStar North Fulton in Georgia with the responsibility for roughly 60 managers and more than 800 hourly associates.
All of this experience has provided me with opportunities to help other young people navigate the company’s organization. In two locations, I oversaw Foundations, an intensive on-site onboarding program. I’ve been pleased to watch some people who came into this program as operations managers work their way into regional manager positions.
Using our existing training programs is another way to promote diversity and inclusion, especially among our up-and-coming high performers. For each of the past eight years, I’ve hosted young managers as part of our Managers in Training (MIT) program. It’s a great way to share my knowledge so these young people can avoid bias and learn from their mistakes.
For those who are seeking to be included in management and leadership positions, I advise them to find a way to engage with the hospital or Crothall leaders. One way to achieve this goal is to join key committees at the hospital involved in major projects. These committees often provide access to doctors, nurses and other people on the hospital’s leadership team, which gives you a chance to shine.
For example, I’m a part of the new construction committee at Duke, where the facilities already cover approximately eight million square feet. The committee enables me to have a voice in major decisions and access to the hospital’s top administrators.
They are able to see me as a thoughtful leader and not just the person who oversees the facility’s clean-up duties. In addition, I gain access to planning for new facilities, which allows me to explore the best finishes for floors and other items that directly affect our work.
I am a member of the DIAC board and I’m extremely pleased with the enormous awareness it has created about inclusion and diversity. However, I’d like to see DIAC became more of an agent for change within our company. That is, now that we’ve raised awareness of these issues, it may be time to take more actions that show our company’s commitment. This could include more opportunities for minorities in senior leadership positions, starting at the division president level.
Make no mistake about it, our company has made great strides as an organization that is diverse and inclusive. I’m hoping we can continue to make progress and enable the next generation of leaders from diverse backgrounds to take their place in our great company.
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