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Lift up others as you climb: Dr. Marcelle Davis shares insights as a woman in leadership

Special series highlights the unique contributions of women in Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health.

Portrait of Marcelle Davis from a video of her speaking about DEI initiatives. She is wearing a red shirt and glasses. Dr. Marcelle Davis, DSL, is VCU Health’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. Her work has laid the groundwork for inclusionary efforts across the health system. (VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

By Sara McCloskey and Khanh Burks

Diversity drives excellence at Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health.

As part of Women’s History Month, we want to honor the many contributions that women in the health system have made to VCU’s history, culture as well as innovations in their fields and patient care.

To kick off this month’s special series, we’re taking a look back at a conversation with Dr. Marcelle Davis, DSL, VCU Health’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), whose work has laid the groundwork for greater inclusion across VCU Health.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in leadership?

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?

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.

Is there a moment that inspired you as a young woman?

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 to create balance in our lives?

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 women colleagues and students at VCU Health?

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 up others as you climb.

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