08 08 smith youd moreno evolution of edi work header
Jen Rosio, University of Utah Health
Evolving EDI: Facing Challenges, Fostering Change
In an era where equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) are paramount for organizations striving for meaningful change, the challenges of prioritizing and advancing EDI initiatives have come to the forefront. Experienced EDI professionals William Smith and Katty Youd share valuable insights on the challenges and strategies involved in advancing EDI initiatives, from fostering trust and facilitating conversations to navigating cultural shifts and institutional support.

quity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) frameworks tackle the challenging job of ensuring that all people within an organization can fully and fairly participate. In addition to ensuring the people from many races, cultures, religions, and identities are represented, EDI frameworks also ensure they are treated equitably thereby fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging.

But implementing these frameworks takes deep, cultural changes within and throughout organizations. Organizations must make EDI a sincere priority and be willing to dedicate the time necessary to overcome the difficulties associated with achieving a more equitable workplace.

We have dedicated our careers to overcoming the challenges of EDI work. Dr. Smith, Chief Executive Administrator of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute and former Department Chair of the Department of Education, Culture, & Society at the University of Utah, has spent over 30 years as a professor. His research into racism, racial battle fatigue, critical race theory, multicultural issues in higher education and more has had a tremendous impact on the EDI field.

As the program manager of the Office of Equity Diversity and Inclusion at Huntsman Cancer Institute, Katty Youd works to ensure a more equitable and inclusive culture at HCI through training, consultation, and collaboration with staff and trainees, and faculty. She has worked in EDI throughout her career but is now dedicated full-time to implement EDI-centered policies and practices within clinical, hiring, and retention spaces as well as providing validation and safe reporting for those that have experienced discrimination.

We believe that EDI can lead to healthier communities, safer and more satisfying workplaces, and a higher quality of life for all people.

Evolution and Challenges in EDI Work

EDI work has been around since the 1960s. But interest in doing the work waxes and wanes frequently, leading to uneven and slow progress toward equity and justice. Since the events of 2020, including the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, there’s been a renewed interest in EDI. But many organizations are short-sighted in their efforts.

Many organizations treat EDI as a checkbox, as a task that is completed once, instead of the ongoing work it is. They may feel that EDI work stops after training is completed or after hiring someone diverse. The work stops after putting a person of color in a leadership position or after just creating an EDI department. It’s one of our greatest challenges to show how it’s not just an hourlong training, but time-consuming cultural transformation that’s necessary for meaningful change and sustained outcomes.

EDI work also relies heavily on building trust and connection with people from all backgrounds, which takes time. This trust allows for honest, open conversations and greater learning for all participants in EDI training and presentations. EDI training involves uncomfortable conversations with each other–and with ourselves. We have to build up trust over time to help people come into training with an open mind that’s ready to learn and change.

EDI work can also feel paradoxical: while there’s a sense of urgency to do the work now to try to institute changes that help people as quickly as possible, it is also work that is gradual. This intense pressure, coupled with lack of institutional support, can lead to high turnover in the field. It’s difficult to remain patient and trust that change will occur in time and the organization will not waver in support. Complacency is a looming threat. It’s highly stressful work.

Strategies to Overcome EDI Challenges

Suppose we shift our perspective and stop viewing equity, diversity, and inclusion as merely a requirement but instead as an investment in the diverse wisdom of experiences and intellect. In that case, we open ourselves to a wealth of benefits. Drawing from diversity—cognitive, racial, sexuality, or gender—can lead to improved problem-solving, increased innovation, and more accurate predictions. Therefore, investing in diverse environments is not just a moral or societal obligation—it’s a strategic decision that can yield significant returns. Whether it’s a university fostering a multicultural academic community, a business building a diverse workforce, or an organization promoting inclusive practices, embracing diversity is among the best investments they can make.

To truly achieve greater equity, diversity, and inclusion, it takes support, investment, and engagement from leadership and teams throughout an organization. It’s not just having one person of color lead the charge, but sustained, long-term support and work from a wide range of people. You must continuously review practices and policies; you must look at hiring and retention practices. You must do the hard work of examining company culture and dismantling the barriers that prevent an inclusive, equitable environment.

And at the same time, we must build structures and processes that protect and promote EDI. One way to place EDI throughout an organization is to appoint ambassadors to a wide range of committees where they can speak up for the work. For instance, having an EDI ambassador on search committees when hiring new staff or on public health committees when determining service projects. We can also create EDI committees for the sole work of reviewing institutional policies that have been obstructive to EDI work.

We can also institute policies that require EDI training for leadership and staff members. These trainings can help keep EDI issues top of mind and better weave efforts into an organization’s culture. More frequent trainings help EDI workers build trust with staff to have more open, honest conversations and uncover the real issues facing organizations.

EDI should also be part of merit raises, particularly for leadership. In employee reviews, we should include evaluations for how they have worked to change the culture of the institution, department, or clinic. How have they contributed to making the workplace more equitable? Have they attended or scheduled trainings? Have they sought out education? Have they worked to implement equitable policies? What are their EDI goals for the next year? 

If EDI work is truly valued in an organization, it should be encouraged, recognized, and rewarded.

Important Work to Tackle Together

We can only achieve more equitable, diverse, and inclusive communities when we work together toward them. We must all recognize the importance of the work, the time it takes, and the support EDI leaders need to achieve meaningful cultural change. It’s not just the work of people of color or LGBTQ+ people. It’s the work of every person, of every background, in every, department and every corner of an organization.

We encourage everyone within the University of Utah and beyond to reflect on ways they have tried to change the culture within an organization. We encourage you to look for ways you can improve your workplace. We encourage you to join us in working toward a more equitable future for all.


William A. Smith

Ph.D., Professor, Chief Executive Administrator, Huntsman Mental Health Institute, University of Utah

Katty Youd

Former EDI Program Manager, Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah Health

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