I want to update you on SWOG’s progress on our initiatives to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) among our membership and leadership, and on our efforts to make the population of patients we enroll to our clinical trials more representative of  patients at large. I’m going to be honest with you – we have a lot of work to do.

Strategy Workshop with Pope Consulting

In November, members of the SWOG leadership team met with our DEI consulting firm – Pope Consulting – to hear what they had learned from their DEI maturity analysis of SWOG, their take on how SWOG stacks up against other organizations, and their recommendations to move us forward. 

The one-line summary is what I suggested above: SWOG has much work to do to reach the goals we aspire to. Based on their interviews and focus groups, Pope identified some specific challenges. I don’t think this is a surprise – doing this work formally is new to us, and we expected it would be an uphill … battle is not the right word. Uphill journey?

Most of our members agreed we have a strong need for change in this area. Some members, especially among women and people of color in the group, had concerns about having their views discounted or ignored by SWOG leadership. And a number of members want to confirm leadership’s commitment to DEI is real and lasting. Our commitment is real, our horizon is long term, and we are already acting to address these issues Pope identified. 

It’s clear we need to gather input from a wider set of voices and to bring more members of underrepresented groups – especially young members of these groups – into our networking, mentoring, and support mechanisms and onto our leadership teams. One necessary tool to achieving this is being able to better track the diversity of our membership and leadership. We’ve taken initial steps to develop systems to do this, and a working group meets next week to move this work forward. 

Pope’s recommendations fall within four areas of focus, or “pillars”: strategies, structures, systems, and practices. Steps in all four areas are crucial to our DEI success, and we’ll be working on all of these. Today I’ll highlight structure – specifically new organizational structures, to aid and sustain DEI growth. 

These include three new, foundational roles for embedding DEI in everything we do: DEI champions, members of a DEI monitoring committee, and a vice chair for DEI & professional integrity. 

DEI Champions
I’ve written of our DEI champions program before, and I’m happy to report here that all five champions are now on board. These folks have been trained in the TeamScience@SWOG Module 6 methodology and have been paired with five of our research committees to work on pilot projects. They’ll partner with study teams to build action plans to improve diversity and representativeness among our clinical trial participants. Our five champions and the committees they are initially working with are:

  • Gayathri Nagaraj, MD – Breast
  • Manuel Espinoza-Gutarra, MD – Myeloma
  • Jessica McDermott, MD – GU
  • Lucy Gansauer, MSN, RN, OCN, CCRP – Lung
  • Colmar Figueroa-Moseley, PhD, MPH – GI

I extend my profound thanks to these champions for taking on this role and to the leadership of these five committees for being pioneers in this effort.

DEI Monitoring Committee
To ensure that we make progress in diversifying enrollment to our clinical trials, we’re forming a new DEI monitoring committee. This will be somewhat analogous to our data and safety monitoring committee and equally important: it will regularly review trial diversity and plans for ensuring representative participant populations. The charter for this committee was approved last week by SWOG’s executive advisory committee, and you’ll hear more about it – and about how you might contribute – in the weeks to come.

Vice Chair for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Professional Integrity
Finally, our search for our new vice chair for diversity, equity, inclusion, and professional integrity continues, and we would like your help finding the perfect candidate. 

We seek 

  • a research or health professional with demonstrated commitment to DEI efforts

who will

  • guide and advise leadership and staff with strategic direction,
  • assess our current state and improve policies, and
  • direct and assist cultural change,

leading to

  • improved and sustained DEI practices.

You can learn more about the position and view the job description on our website. If you have a lead on a great candidate, please send me the name directly. Self-nominations are welcome, if you are potentially the right person.

I’m excited to be able to share some of what we’ve learned over the past year and a number of recent steps we’ve taken to move toward our DEI goals. We’ve made real headway but have a considerable way to go. I will keep you apprised of our progress in future Front Line posts.

And Now for Something Completely Different: In Breaking News, SWOG Has a New Lung Committee Chair

I’ll use next week’s Front Line to properly introduce her, but I don’t want this news to be stale before I even share it: Dr. Jhanelle Gray, of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, will be SWOG’s new lung committee chair as of April 1. We just completed our search, offered Dr. Gray the position, and she has accepted. I am grateful to all who applied (it was an amazing slate of candidates), and I couldn’t be more thrilled with our choice! Tune in next week to learn more.

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