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When Huntsman Cancer Institute made an official commitment to being an antiracist cancer center, part of that commitment included taking meaningful actions that would result in a more just, equitable, and inclusive environment.
“We will fall short of our vision to deliver a cancer-free frontier if we fail to achieve equity, diversity, and inclusion,” CEO Mary Beckerle, PhD, said in a statement announcing this commitment.
Huntsman Cancer Institute immediately established a Commission on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) tasked with making recommendations for concrete steps to take.
One of the resulting recommendations: the creation of an associate director of EDI position. This individual would have the authority to establish a safe, inclusive, transparent, and responsive workplace culture and act as ombudsperson and arbitrator for staff and trainees. In 2021, Huntsman Cancer Institute welcomed Natasha Ovuoba in this role.
“A big part of my job is to focus on the internal aspects of EDI as it relates to education, communications, activities, and events, and to support our staff, trainees, and faculty so they can then positively influence their areas of the organization,” says Ovuoba.
Our vision is creating a cancer-free frontier. That means eliminating cancer across every demographic.
In her first few months, Ovuoba helped the EDI Office develop strategic goals, one of which was to create a culture of safety at Huntsman Cancer Institute, with zero tolerance for discrimination.
“One issue for the people working in this system is the discrimination they experience on a weekly basis, sometimes a daily basis,” she says. “Unfortunately, it can be from patients they’re caring for, or it can be from their own colleagues.”
Ovuoba says while she may not be able to stop incidents of discrimination altogether, she can at least help employees know how to report them. “That gives employees a bit more control of creating a sense of safety within their workplace.”
Another goal of the EDI Office is to work with policymakers and community partners on guidelines and programs to help reduce cancer disparities in underserved populations.
“Our vision is creating a cancer-free frontier,” says Ovuoba. “That means eliminating cancer across every demographic.” Many pieces go into that, she says, such as researching different populations in order to create solutions to the unique disparities each group faces.
Achieving this vision, Ovuoba says, means increasing diversity in the medical research and health care fields. Accordingly, another strategic goal of the EDI Office is to develop best practices to hire, retain, and support faculty and staff from diverse racial and economic backgrounds.
“It’s hard to be able to make decisions about a group that is not represented in the room because you don’t have that lived experience,” says Ovuoba. “I would love to see us create more pathways for people to enter the workforce and move into leadership positions so they have a seat at the table.”
Image: Natasha Ovuoba enjoys a latte at one of her favorite local businesses, Mestizo, a combination coffeehouse/art gallery. Mestizo says its goal is to connect customers with art showcasing “the rich and complex view of Utah’s multicultural existence.” Artist Nate Pack's work can be seen in the background.