A Look at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with Mignon Early

A Look at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with Mignon Early

As the premier healthcare company focused on providing the highest-quality care to people with renal and other chronic conditions, we have an awareness of and an obligation to the diverse patient population under our care. At the same time, we recognize our rich and diverse workforce who are committed to providing the best care for those patients. At Fresenius Medical Care, we are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), and lead with inclusivity. Our Vice President of DE&I, Mignon Early, provides further insights into our key initiatives in this space, and how her journey from a dialysis nurse to her essential leadership role today influences our approach.

Q: Can you provide a brief background on your career journey and how it led you to the position you are in today?

A: My career as a dialysis nurse began in Pensacola, Florida. After a move to St. Louis, I found myself in the position of clinic administrator for a start-up company that was sold shortly thereafter. I stayed with the former owners and helped start a new dialysis company that went through three acquisitions, eventually becoming part of Fresenius Medical Care. While trying at times, each of the ownership changes was educational and made me a better leader with a high tolerance for change.

When I joined Fresenius Kidney Care, I started as a regional vice president. Over the years my role expanded, and I was promoted to group vice president and ultimately general manager. At a certain point I decided to leave the clinical operations side and moved into Fresenius Medical Care corporate to lead our Clinical Quality department.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, and protests following the murder of George Floyd rocked the country, I found myself at a crossroads — I was hurting and struggling to find my voice in the midst of the crisis. I decided to reach out to Bill Valle, our chief executive officer, to share some thoughts about my experiences, and provide suggestions on how to address the challenges as a leading healthcare organization. I knew that I needed to use my voice. I often tell my children, “There’s a time to speak up, and there's a time to be quiet,” and I knew it was my time to speak up. It was a long journey, but this is how my work with diversity, equity, and inclusion ultimately began.

Bill brought together a diverse group of employees to form the DE&I Executive Council, myself included. The team came together, and we worked on a plan to understand what DE&I could and should be at Fresenius Medical Care. I was eventually asked to lead the group during that process.

I have to say, it's been an exciting journey from the beginning, and I feel blessed. I think I bring a unique perspective to the role of vice president of DE&I — having been a nurse, an operator, and a leader of a corporate department. I have personally experienced the many ways our company and our people provide support — to each other and to our patients. Having had those experiences with teams across our organization, I am a true believer in our culture and our ability to evolve our DE&I program.

Q: What does DE&I mean to you? And why is it so important in a corporate setting?

A: Like many leading companies, Fresenius Medical Care subscribes to the concept of “servant leadership.” A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of their employees first, and helps people develop and perform to the best of their abilities. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people. Our next evolution of servant leadership has DE&I at the forefront.

To enhance our servant leadership principles, keeping DE&I paramount, we have begun training and hands-on work with a focus on inclusion. The goal of this work is ensuring that every employee has a seat at the table, and that they have permission to bring their authentic selves to work, every day. We know that when we build an environment where people feel safe, welcomed, cherished, and celebrated, they will feel empowered to do their best work and contribute to the success of our business.

If I had to sum it up in one word, diversity, equity, and inclusion equals belonging.

Q: Last year, the DE&I Executive Council released a Glossary of Inclusive Terms as a resource for all employees. Are there any terms that you think are particularly important for people to know?

A: I think the short answer would be no — all of the terms are essential at different points in time, for different people, and in different situations. But what I will tell you about the glossary is that it is not a one and done. We are committed to reviewing it on a regular basis and incorporating feedback from employees. It’s a living, breathing document. Since we released the glossary, I've probably received a dozen comments from employees with suggestions for additions. Some of the terms we cover include unconscious bias, multiculturalism, belonging, and, of course, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Q: Can you walk us through the five DE&I goals the company is currently focused on?

A: The five goals we set include building an inclusive culture for our employees; attracting and retaining a world-class team that reflects the diversity of our patients and staff; positioning our company for success through our commitment to DE&I; ensuring senior leaders realize their individual potential to impact the company; and setting the industry standard for health equity. 

I sometimes hear questions from my colleagues about the risk of this work replacing or uplifting one community of employees at the expense of another, and I am quick to make a distinction. You’ve probably heard the term “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and that's what this is all about. By putting the effort into communities that have traditionally been marginalized, like women and people of color, we consciously build programs, focus attention, and behave in a way that ensures all employees feel valued and cherished. With both employees and our patient population, we’re not going to uplift one group at the expense of another.

In our industry, much of our patient population comes from minority and underrepresented groups. We are committed to taking care of every patient, no matter their race, gender, age, ability, lifestyle, background, or cultural tradition, because that's our mission. Similar to how we approach equity with our employees, we recognize there are opportunities to put more resources behind certain underrepresented patient populations or certain treatment modalities so that access to those resources is a bit easier. This is part of our overall efforts to promote health equity.

Q: Where do you think our biggest opportunities are for DE&I?

A: For me, one is around our data and being able to have data readily available for people managers so they can look at talent with a DE&I lens. We are a very data-driven company and DE&I should be no different.

The second opportunity is around looking at decision biases, or unconscious bias. We want to focus on intentional inclusion and recognizing those biases. We plan to continue hosting workshops on intentional inclusion for leaders and their teams. That said, we understand that all of us are on a journey, so we lean in with grace and the knowledge that change takes time. We are here to support good intent, even when we stumble.

None of this work is mandatory, and that is by design. Research studies show that when you mandate programs such as our intentional inclusion workshop, it turns into a compliance activity and doesn’t change hearts and minds. Our goal is to make these resources available and create safe spaces to have honest conversations. This will be an ongoing dialogue and we are excited to keep it going.

I’ll mention again that, for us, it starts with inclusion. If you are inclusive, diversity and equity will soon follow. I’m proud of the work we’ve done so far as a company, and I can’t wait to see where we are in one year, five years, and beyond.

If you are interested in joining our inclusive workplace, where you can show up as your authentic self every day, please visit jobs.fmcna.com.  

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