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Celebrating Women's History Month with Dr. Marcelle Davis

Illustration of women of different races and ethnicities Photo: Getty Images

By Khanh Burks

 Each year, March is designated Women’s History Month by presidential proclamation to honor the many contributions that women have made to history, culture and society. We would like to take this opportunity to get to know Dr. Marcelle W. Davis — VCU Health’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

As director of DEI, Dr. Davis began laying the groundwork for greater inclusion within the health system. In her new role as vice president of DEI, Dr. Davis is leading the advancement of DEI and cultural humility strategy across the health system.

Marcelle Davis headshotWhat does it mean to you to be a woman in leadership?

Dr. Marcelle Davis:  Being a woman in leadership is a tremendous responsibility. It means I have the opportunity to (1) mentor others who seek guidance and development, (2) sponsor those who need advocacy when they are not in the room, and (3) be a change agent for diversity, equity and inclusion. The key to being effective in all of these is leading by example.

Why is it important to be a female leader in the health care industry?

Dr. Marcelle Davis: The theme this year for Women’s History Month is Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope — this is especially true in health care. A recent study done by McKinsey & Company shows that while women make up approximately 70% of the health care workforce, only approximately 25% of them make up health care leadership.

The number is significantly smaller for women of color, who constitute approximately 20% of entry-level roles but occupy only 5% of C-suite positions. This data is a reminder of the importance of being a female leader in health care because it positions me to seek equity for women and advocate for their advancement.  

Please share a women’s empowerment moment that inspired you.

Dr. Marcelle Davis: When I was growing up, there were two values my parents always recited to me and my siblings. First, mediocrity is unacceptable, and second, education is the one thing no one can take away from you.

So while on my doctoral journey, I repeatedly recited the education value to my daughter so that she understood why I was so committed. Upon completion of my degree, I hugged my daughter and said to her, “Now do you understand why education is important?”

She said, “No mommy, but I do understand that you never gave up. Even on the nights when you didn’t understand the assignment, or what to write in your paper, or even what you were reading. You never gave up!”

Do you have any tips or advice on how you create life balance?

Dr. Marcelle Davis: First, figure out what your why is. Your why is that thing that gets you out of bed every day and motivates you to keep going no matter what challenges you face. Once you find your why, then find the things that bring you the most joy and peace (often these two things are related) and use them as often as you can to create a life balance.

What message do you have for your fellow female colleagues and students at VCU Health?

Dr. Marcelle Davis: We can’t control how others behave, but what we can control is (1) how we see ourselves, and (2) how we show up. So, don’t be afraid to stand tall in your brilliance. Know who you are and the value you bring. Most importantly, don’t forget to lift as you climb.

Thank you, Dr. Davis, for being a great example as a leader in and outside of VCU Health! A true inspiration.

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