By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Seattle Children’s Hospital’s first vice president and chief equity, diversity, and inclusion officer, Andrew Lee, is ready to address anti-racism through engagement.
Before his career in equity, diversity, and inclusion, Lee was raised in a very traditional Asian household and then when he left to go to school, he embraced the American culture, and that duality has shaped who he is today.
Immigrant roots and values
Being part of a South Korean immigrant family in southern California, Lee grew up in humble beginnings and didn’t have much, but he always had his family, which was very important to him. They valued education and working hard.
And work hard, he did. He earned a doctorate degree in Psychology from Alliant University’s California School of Professional Psychology and completed his master’s degrees from University of Southern California (Master of Health Administration) and University of San Diego (Master of Clinical Psychology).
“As an immigrant family growing up in the United States, you have to navigate the duality of the cultures. As a child, I always had to juggle those two pieces,” he said.
He attributes his ability to juggle different views and navigate different cultures to helping him understand the challenges of many folks that are different from him.
In addition to looking up to his parents as heroes, Lee also looks up to everyday people that he sees and reads about. For example, the grandmother from San Francisco, Xiao Zhen Xie, who was brutally attacked.
“She really saw the greater good of needing to make sure that this wouldn’t happen to others. She donated the GoFundMe donations to address the hate that’s happening. People like her really inspire me.”
Others like Xiao are people that Lee draws strength from, and even his colleagues who share personal stories of discrimination or challenges that they’ve had in their lives.
Lee’s mother was a teacher who’s now retired, and his father was in community work—bringing people together.
“The world I grew up in was always about giving back to the less fortunate and underserved—this helped my world views as well,” he said.
Advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion at Seattle Children’s
For two decades, Lee has had the opportunity to advance this work and help develop it from the ground up for organizations. As of February 2021, he started his new role and will be focused on the Anti-Racism Organizational Change (AROC) and Accelerated Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Plan for Children’s, among other initiatives.
Prior to Children’s, Lee held similar roles at WellStar Health System, the largest health system in the state of Georgia, as well as Advocate Health Care, the largest health system in Illinois.
“Engagement is going to be key because this work cannot happen in a bubble or silo. When everyone comes together and makes that collective impact, the more impact there is to build and foster an inclusive environment,” he said.
“There is a level of deliberate action that takes time to get people engaged in the journey so they can start to see positive change happening across the organization. It will be a challenge in the beginning as we engage more people, but the more we roll it out to other departments and divisions, then it’ll become a positive role that the organization will play in this work,” he said.
Lee’s predecessors have worked on making Children’s a more inclusive workplace, but Children’s wanted to make it consistent and leverage data to drive equitable change.
“I’m familiar with how to integrate it into organizations from the ground up, but it doesn’t happen by default. This is a change management process you have to go through wherever you are,” he said.
For the year ahead, Lee has plans to leverage the existing infrastructure that others before him have established. He also plans to look through the lens of qualitative and quantitative data to understand where they’re headed. He will be partnering with staff and physicians to gain their feedback, conduct forums and listening sessions, and develop an anti-racism organizational change plan which focuses and addresses gaps in the workplace and policies.
He also hopes to educate and integrate efforts into staff training to create equitable change to build deeper trust, but also maintain a commitment from the employees and physicians to make sure they provide quality care for all of their patients and the community.
Current racial climate for Asians
Lee is residing in Atlanta, Georgia currently as he’s in the process of moving to Seattle. The spa shootings that took place last month hit too close to home.
“I worry about my immediate family, and I worry about my parents who live in California. It’s been very tough to navigate. We’re seeing it on the news on a daily basis, these attacks on people of Asian descent,” he said.
“You try to navigate your own feelings into what’s happening across the country, there’s a sense of vulnerability, a sense of hurt, and a sense of confusion,” he added.
Lee’s advice to other parents is to have the conversation about race and racism early on. He recommends talking about the history of Asians in this country, and talking about the positive things that each culture brings, leading into the qualities of what Asians bring to the U.S., but also having the conversation around the differences as well.
“Start early. Talking about race shouldn’t be something you don’t approach anymore. Race is front and center, and we have to be able to talk about those things,” he said.
“I’m extremely humbled and honored to be in this position. I look forward to working with AAPI communities in Seattle to help navigate these challenging times. I’m also eager to collaborate with community leaders and address racism and hate as a whole with the community. I look forward to that and the collaboration and partnerships that will be created.”
Nina can be reached at email@example.com.