We are a new cancer center, and we are carefully considering some of these issues. So, this study is a good means to know the current landscape.
There are some natural challenges in society and in science that are also reflected in our cancer communities. Then, there are some unusual challenges, based on the type cancer center and its location. This data is a great start, but there are further underlying factors that I can think of. For example, geographic location might affect the composition of a cancer center leadership.
In some ways, this report is reassuring in that there’s progress in the composition of the cancer centers’ leadership across the country. There’s more work, obviously, to be done, but the diverse composition of many institutions is heartening. The good composition of women and people of color in leadership by some institutions offers hope and models. It can be done in this community.
In particular, many of our members come from an engineering background. We are still addressing parity of representation of women in engineering, and there is much more work to be done in increasing participation of underrepresented minorities. Many of the minority representation trends serve to emphasize the a need to develop the entire pipeline.
An unexpected finding for me was the relative lack of representation of Asian Americans among the directors and other senior leaders of cancer centers. While there seem to be larger numbers of oncologists and medical experts from this group, senior leaders are fewer. The disparity in numbers between the NCI-designated and those that are not was also interesting, though smaller numbers may have disproportionate effects.
An interesting correlation to consider is the academic backgrounds of cancer center leaders. Biology has obviously made much more strides in including women and other groups, and that may be reflected in the compositions of more biological and medically-focused cancer centers. It does seem to me, at least in those fields, there’s a more diverse representation. To me, it was heartening at some level. It is now more important than ever to think of diversity.
There is a transformative change happening right now in the world—with more information, better models of things, precise care, detection, and personalized approaches. That’s the way the world is going and the field will go. If we’re not diverse enough, we will lose the opportunity to learn something from the differences of backgrounds and experiences among us. Those differences might hold the key to actually developing new approaches for everyone. We also need to think of diversity of disciplines.
Perhaps an interesting future survey would be to understand how many with engineering, artificial intelligence and process management backgrounds are amongst us. Almost every industry has shown that these disciplines can bring about greater value and deliver a better experience for the customer. Maybe it is time to explicitly bring these disciplines into our community.
For our community in the cancer center world, it is very important to have the best minds, regardless of background, regardless of color, regardless of socioeconomic status. If we’re not putting the best minds together—we will not be able to deliver better care at lower cost. The future of society depends on that paradigm being realized soon. And if we don’t include the best talent, if somebody is left out because of the color of their skin, or because of their beliefs, or whatever, then that’s not progressing against what society needs today. To me, that’s a very critical element.
We take diversity very seriously in the Cancer Center at Illinois. I lead all our efforts to make sure we are considering diversity in all our efforts. We have appointed a chief diversity officer from amongst our staff. There’s a person who focuses on all processes in the cancer center, being examined, to make sure that they’re equitable and they include everyone.
For example, we are focusing on expanding the role of women in our CC leadership. We instituted a focused leadership program for early mid-career members of the cancer center. These are all very accomplished members, and we’re going to put them through a year-long set of activities that expose them to the different facets of a cancer center operations and strategy. It puts them on the fast track to take on some leadership roles, scientifically—whether it’s training grants or it’s program projects. We feel that by homegrowing the talent, we will have a very solid foundation for many years into the future.
The biggest next step is that we don’t let up. All the cancer center directors that I know and all the senior leaders in every cancer center that I know are incredibly wise and aware of the value of people. They are well aware of the benefits of maintaining a highly diverse cancer center and leadership, and so on.
However, we can’t let this issue sort of slide into the background with the multitude of challenges that we’re facing now. Not the least of which is the COVID pandemic, and certainly many other challenges that existed before COVID, and which just got exacerbated now with COVID-19.
As a community, I believe, we will maintain our focus on this issue and continue to move forward. As a community, we have to take a moment to celebrate that we have come far, and recognize that we need to go further. It is important to appreciate the progress that’s been made, while at the same time having a clear-eyed-view of what it will take to continue to move us forward.
Those, to me, are the biggest takeaways in our community at this point—from the survey.
Finally, I want to congratulate The Cancer Letter for taking on this exercise. The data is very valuable, and helps us benchmark to make sure that we maintain excellence with diversity.