Rosa M. Colon-Kolacko: A National Recognized DEI and People Officer Leading the Development of Equitable Experiences for All Globally

Top 10 Empowering Women Leaders in DE&I to Follow in 2024

In the realm of transformative leadership, Dr. Rosa M. Colon-Kolacko, stands as a radiant luminary, igniting change in countless organizations. Her journey is a captivating saga of influence, weaving together the tapestry of equity on both corporate and societal landscapes.

Rosa’s visionary path led to the creation of Global Equity Learning (GEL), a consulting firm that collaborates with experts who’ve lived experiences and leaders who’ve walked the talk. GEL harnesses evidence-based research and proven practices, serving as a guiding light for academia, non-profits, healthcare, life sciences, advocacy groups, global industries, government bodies, and beyond.

Her vision? Uniting people and industries across the globe to revolutionize processes, practices, and policies, ensuring equitable experiences, addressing racial and health disparities fostering a sense of belonging for all. GEL specializes in crafting inclusive strategies, paving the way for racial and health equity, human capital development, cultural transformation, and change management to build organizations that are truly committed to equity and conducive to learning.

Acknowledging that equity is a global challenge unique to industries and countries and for people to live their best lives and improve their quality of life and expectancy, we need to address disparities and unequal treatment. GEL provides expertise in the USA, and Europe and plans to expand in Asia.

The evidence for the value of diversity is growing. According to Russell Reynolds Associates’ 2023 research advanced D&I strategies are roughly 30 percent more likely to have executives who report high levels of loyalty, innovation, and performance. However, only a third of European companies do not have a diversity or inclusion strategy as building meaningful diversity continues to be a challenge.

Rosa is fervently devoted to the twin ideals of humility and equity. Her passion, like a luminous beacon, guides her on a profound journey of advocacy and transformation. Her humility isn’t a mere posture, but a profound commitment to fostering compassion, empathy, and genuine connection among people from all walks of life.

Rosa works to promote a culture of equity in healthcare, improve access, and grow a varied pool of talent. She has been the driving force behind many companies’ transformational strategies. With her unique mix of intellectual and real-world knowledge, she has become a leading advocate for equity in both business and society.

A Visionary Champion of Equity and Learning

Rosa believes that culturally competent care is critical to saving lives and addressing healthcare challenges in the communities that GEL serves including her own. Earlier in her career, she worked at SmithKline Beecham (since renamed GlaxoSmithKline) and Bristol Myers Squibb, leading change, cultural transformation, supply chain, IT Implementations (SAP, EPIC, Workday) learning, talent management, and lean/Six Sigma functions in Asia, Europe, North America, and Puerto Rico.

Rosa relinquished her 15-year tenure in global pharmaceuticals to join Christiana Care Health System as a prominent change management and learning leader. She made history as one of the first SVP Chief Diversity and Learning Officer in health care influencing the creation of the first AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) CDIO and Vice Deans of DEI in medical schools. Her tenure at NYC Health + Hospitals as SVP and Chief People Officer showcased her commitment to shaping the healthcare landscape.

Rosa’s career journey boasts high-profile roles such as the first Senior VP and Chief Diversity and Equity and Inclusion Officer at Tufts Medicine, where she spearheaded the advancement of diversity, racial and health equity, inclusion, and community health. As part of her role as CDEIO at Tufts Medicine, she partnered with the Tufts School of Medicine contributing to the advancement of education curriculum for residents, medical students, and faculty in culturally competent care, Bias in Medicine and Recruitment, Addressing Microaggressions, DEI, and health equity.

Rosa is also an accomplished researcher. She has held academic positions at prestigious institutions such as Bowling Green State University, Georgetown University, University of Delaware, and Thomas Jefferson University. Her deep-seated commitment to equity extends beyond the workplace, as she actively engages with national and state-level boards, shaping policies and advancing the cause of equity.

Her role as an executive member of the Massachusetts Health Equity Compact showcases her dedication to driving change through legislation, workforce development, governance, and data sharing. and improved access to care. Additionally, her role as Equity Fellow of the Delaware Community Foundation underscores her dedication to fostering positive change in the communities we serve.

For Rosa, equity, and learning are not mere buzzwords; they’re the cornerstone of a brighter, more inclusive future. These strategies resonate at the core of organizations, creating environments where every individual feels valued, understood, and provided with equal opportunities to shine.

These organizations not only become better places to work but also form deeper connections with their employees, customers, and communities. With the guidance of Rosa, any organization can embark on this transformative journey, creating workplaces that mirror our diverse and vibrant world. “Together, we can build a brighter, more inclusive future where all people can belong,” she insists.

Distinguished Awards and Certifications

Rosa’s journey to excellence has been marked by a constellation of accolades and certifications, each a testament to her unwavering commitment to pioneering change. Among these achievements is the SHRM – Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) certification, a symbol of her profound expertise in the world of human resources and organizational leadership.

Further enriching her credentials is the coveted Certificate in Diversity Management in Healthcare from Georgetown University, where she not only earned this distinction but also actively contributed as a faculty member as part of the AHA Institute for Diversity in Health Management. Rosa’s dedication to the cause of equity and inclusion shines through her involvement in the design and teaching of Georgetown University’s program.

Rosa is the past President of the board of the Latin American Community Center (LACC) and a former board member of the National Association of Latinos Healthcare Executives. Rosa is also the co-leader of the Strategic Planning Committee of the LEAD Fund (The Fund for Leadership, Equity, Access and Diversity) part of the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity to provide thought leadership in promoting inclusive organizations and institutions through research and education on issues related to diversity, social responsibility, human and civil rights. Rosa is also the Strategic Advisor of the Boston Caribbean Foundation founded by a group of Caribbean women providing services to the culturally diverse and economically disadvantaged communities of elderly and physically challenged in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury. She has been recognized for her tireless efforts in advancing equity and learning, cementing her status as a trailblazer in the realm of positive change in non-profit and advocacy organizations. These awards and certifications are but a few jewels adorning her career, each a testament to her enduring commitment to a brighter, more equitable world.

Becoming Aware of the Stark Disparities Within Healthcare Systems

Rosa’s remarkable journey unfolded amidst humble beginnings. Her life story in her formative years reads like a testament to the enduring power of determination and empathy. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Rosa was nurtured by a mother whose own life had been marked by hardship.

Raised as an orphan, her mother never had the opportunity to complete her high school education and faced the daunting challenge of navigating a world where English remained a foreign language. From her earliest days, Rosa recognized the stark disparities within healthcare systems, particularly when it came to caring for individuals from diverse backgrounds and linguistic communities. This awareness was not just an intellectual notion; it was rooted in personal experience.

Rosa would often find herself acting as a bridge, translating complex medical jargon and providing emotional support for her mother when they lived in different parts of the world. “In healthcare settings,” Rosa reflects, “we frequently encountered a sense of otherness, a feeling that we didn’t quite belong.”

However, it was a heart-wrenching turning point that catapulted Rosa into her life’s mission. When her beloved mother suffered a debilitating stroke that ultimately claimed her life, she was thrust into the role of a culture translator and experienced unequal treatment. This experience was a stark and painful reminder of the disparities within the healthcare system — often insensitive to the unique needs and fears of those from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Rosa recalls that the hospital staff didn’t seem to grasp the depth of her mother’s fear or understand the sacred cultural duty to care for their elders until their final moments. This profound experience catalyzed her unwavering commitment: a determination to reimagine healthcare through an equity lens, one that would account for the cultural nuances and unique needs of every patient.

Feeling the Moral Imperative to Make a Difference

During her work in the United Kingdom, Rosa couldn’t help but notice a stark contrast in the way people and patients from diverse and limited English-speaking backgrounds were treated in healthcare across the Atlantic. It was a revelation that stirred deep contemplation within her, an understanding that she aptly dubs as a lack of “cultural humility and competence.”

“We Latinos place a profound emphasis on family. Our upbringing often unfolds within multigenerational households, where the wisdom of our grandparents enriches our lives. As they age, it’s a cherished duty to care for them. When illness strikes a family member, our instinct is to unite, to rally together, for that’s the essence of how we offer support within our culture,” Rosa observes.

In the realm of healthcare, this concept takes on profound significance. It signifies the ability to tend to patients bearing diverse health issues and values, and the art of tailoring care to harmonize with their distinct social, cultural, and linguistic needs. “This is the everyday reality for many of our fellow citizens,” Rosa observes. “I felt an unwavering call to action, a moral imperative to make a difference.”

These profound experiences catalyzed her unwavering commitment: a determination to reimagine healthcare through an equitable lens, one that would account for the cultural nuances and unique needs of every patient. In essence, Rosa’s mission crystallizes into a vision of healthcare as a vehicle for healing, not just of bodies but of the societal divides that persist. It’s a mission grounded in cultural understanding, compassion, and the unshakable belief that equitable healthcare is not a privilege, but a fundamental human right.

Nurturing the Aspirations of Youth

In her visionary perspective, Rosa champions unity as the bedrock upon which progress is built. She passionately emphasizes the need for multicultural communities to forge a collective bond, transcending the diverse tapestry of their backgrounds to confront the challenges they collectively face.

To enact substantive change, she firmly asserts that executives bear a vital responsibility to advocate for those they serve. This advocacy, she insists, hinges on nurturing a robust pipeline of future leaders who will continue the relentless pursuit of progress.

“This commitment to unity is ingrained in our very way of life,” Rosa reflects thoughtfully. “Latinos are celebrated for their humility, but it is our solemn duty to empower the forthcoming generation, encouraging them to embark on meaningful careers in healthcare.”

For Rosa, knowledge emerges as the key to unlocking success. “Those with diverse backgrounds are the highest growing population in the USA and key influencers of the future, but to be influential, we need to be highly educated,” she says. “This means that we need to increase education levels and the number of diverse professionals with master’s degrees, PhDs, nursing and medical degrees.”

These initiatives encompass outreach, education, and the provision of grants collaborating with government agencies, bioscience, and industries aimed at addressing the social determinants of health. It is through these concerted efforts that Rosa seeks to pave the path toward a fairer, more equitable healthcare landscape for all.

An Innate Passion for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Rosa extends her influence as a professor at Thomas Jefferson University dedicating her time to chairing dissertation committees and providing unwavering support to minority students, guiding them toward the completion of their doctoral studies.

Her boundless energy in this pursuit arises from an innate passion for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), an ever-evolving journey. Rosa instills hope, effects transformative change, and labors relentlessly to create a fairer world where everyone can enjoy good health and lead their best lives.

Each morning, she awakens with an unquenchable vigor, eager to reshape the world by challenging conventional healthcare, academia, and government practices, fostering a sense of belonging within its workforce, nurturing diverse talents to mirror the communities they are privileged to serve, and revolutionizing healthcare through the lens of equity.

Rosa’s enduring commitment serves as an inspiring testament to the transformative power of DEI in the realm of healthcare, life sciences, academia, government, and beyond.

How COVID Exacerbated Healthcare Disparities

Rosa joined Tufts Medicine as their first SVP, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer during the COVID-19 pandemic. She observed first-hand how the pandemic exacerbated existing disparities and weaknesses within communities of color, resulting in a troubling increase in cases, illnesses, and deaths. “We developed a strategy of working as real partners with our communities closing the vaccination gaps and strengthening trust,” she recalls.

Today, the health status of people of color has deteriorated further compared to the pre-pandemic era. Between 2019 and 2020, there were significant declines in essential healthcare metrics for people of color and LGBTQ. Tests for cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, and depression, along with follow-up care, witnessed a 15 percent drop-in health centers. Colorectal cancer screenings declined by 17 percent, and depression assessments by 19 percent.

Additionally, the number of patients with well-controlled blood pressure decreased by 16 percent, while those with dangerous levels of hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) surged by 31 percent. Alarmingly, the number of HIV patients receiving recommended follow-up care within 90 days of diagnosis plummeted by 51 percent.

“We have discovered that during the pandemic, health systems, government, and communities came together as a team to create policies, education, and solve one of the biggest challenges in our history. Massachusetts (MA) health equity and racial justice leaders did not want this collaboration to stop or become just a report on the shelf and to avoid that, the idea of creating the Health Equity Compact emerged,” Rosa observes.

Pioneering Change for Equitable Healthcare in Massachusetts

Rosa is honored to be a member of the Executive Leadership Team and elected as the first Chair of the board of the MA Health Equity Compact, Inc. independent non-profit organization formed to promote health through the elimination of systemic barriers to equitable healthcare and health outcomes for all. The mission of this newly formed organization is to promote the creation and development of new policies, programs, processes, structures, systems, and institutional practices to eliminate preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, and opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by people of color in MA, educate, conduct nonpartisan studies, research and data collection, forums and advance social scientific research.

The Health Equity Compact, before becoming a non-profit, was founded seeking to build on the momentum of current and recent conversations around social inequities and drive change forming a coalition of members comprising over 80 leaders of color that are high-level executives and experts representing a diverse array of health, business, labor, and philanthropic organizations. This includes prominent figures from hospitals, payers, teaching hospitals, community health centers, payers, academic institutions, government, Life Sciences, and public health sectors who share the collective goal of advancing health equity in Massachusetts.

Unified by their unique lived experiences, profound expertise, unwavering, dedication, and urgency, the Compact’s members work collaboratively to propel the cause of health equity forward.

To bring this vision to life, the Compact has embarked on a mission of enacting bold, statewide policy changes, and legislation and implementing institutional practices that place racial justice and health equity at the forefront. This includes advocating to pass an omnibus bill “An Act to Advance Health Equity.”

This omnibus bill would overhaul parts of the Massachusetts health system to instill equity and accountability at government, industry, and community levels. It ultimately seeks better health outcomes for patients facing systemic barriers and structural racism – and all MA residents.

This legislation is an important step towards addressing the failings of our healthcare system and the root causes of health inequities across the Commonwealth. Building on previous major health reform laws on universal coverage, value-based payment, and cost containment laws, this legislation opens the next chapter of health reform, with health equity as the primary focus.

To build awareness of the cost of inequities, the HE Compact partnered with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation who sponsored the Cost of Health Inequities Report. The economic burden due to health inequities experienced by Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian populations was a total of $5.9 billion each year among populations of color and the total economic burden of health inequities across all major racial and ethnic groups in Massachusetts was $23.5 billion each year. If action is not taken to reduce health inequities, the economic burden of health inequities experienced within the Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian populations in the Commonwealth will almost double by 2050 through population growth alone, from $5.9 billion each year today to $11.2 billion a year.

The compact’s commitment is unwavering, as they strive to leverage their lived experiences and professional expertise in the ongoing journey to advance health equity focusing on increasing workforce diversity in healthcare, data and measures, accountability, governance, and health equity zones throughout Massachusetts

Effecting Change, One Individual, One Interaction at a Time

Rosa’s life mission is to inspire leaders to leverage differences for the greater good, empower colleagues to embrace their true selves at work, and nurture the next generation of global leaders, including mentoring doctoral students in their quest to serve diverse communities, advance equity, and promote healthier lives.

Her guiding philosophy is rooted in hope and a positive outlook. Regardless of the limitations of one’s upbringing, she espouses the transformative potential of diligent planning, hard work, and vocal advocacy — a formula to effect change, one individual, and one interaction at a time.

Rosa diligently strives to ensure that healthcare is not just accessible but also culturally sensitive and equitable. Her mission is twofold: to enhance overall health outcomes and bridge the yawning chasms in healthcare disparities. “We need more people from diverse backgrounds to join the healthcare sector,” she asserts with conviction. “There are incredible opportunities within this field, and health systems rely on our presence to cultivate trust within our communities.”

The Crucial Role of Life Sciences In Achieving Equity

“There is a need to define what is equitable research, and clinical trial experiences, and how that is defined by the communities that we serve. We need to start showing our patients more authentically that we are committed to share power co-leading this work with them because we respect their experiences and making building trust a priority,” Rosa insists.

She notes that clinical investigators and decision-makers should, at least to some degree, reflect the communities for whom they are doing the research. Beyond recording demographics, consider whether your team is truly taking that data and surrounding cultural context into account when analyzing it.

Rosa ardently believes that the life sciences industry is committed to gain from the unique power of cultural agility that multicultural communities inherently possess. Their surging population growth in the United States accentuates the significance of their role in constructing healthier communities.

Rosa employed a multifaceted approach to achieve health equity developing strategic partnerships with community organizations as the model to co-lead health equity programs for greater impact. “We are excited to partnered with Luminous, an organization connecting the clinical experience to its broader human context, to convene the ecosystem to develop an adaptable Life Sciences Health Equity Practice including a framework by industry phases: Clinical/ Product Development, Early Commercialization, In-Market Customer & Brand Experience,” she explains.

Illuminating Pathways to Inclusive Equity Excellence

Global Equity Learning (GEL) headquartered in the US with offices in the EU, offers a comprehensive range of services designed to drive transformative change in organizations to enable the delivery of equitable care experiences for all. GEL’s services empower various aspects of institutions, including education, careers, and health, with the overarching goal of fostering a culture of genuine equity.

Together, we can work towards reshaping society so that every individual is not only seen and acknowledged but also esteemed, valued, and treated with the dignity and respect they rightfully deserve.

  • Embedding Equity Everywhere: GEL specializes in integrating equity strategies into the fabric of an organization, extending its reach into environmental, social, and corporate governance and sustainability programs, cultural transformation and effectively addressing entrenched racial and health disparities.
  • Assessing for Equity: GEL conducts comprehensive health equity, cultural competence, and racial equity assessments to gain in-depth insights and identify areas requiring improvement, to ensure compliance with new standards and guide the journey toward a more equitable future.
  • Community Activation: GEL implements a unique approach to community partnerships to co-lead equity efforts developing community activation strategies partnering with community centers, agencies, health systems, Biosciences, Life Science, academia, and government.
  • Experiential Learning Experiences: GEL offers a diverse array of educational and certificate DEI certificate programs based on Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging core competencies, developing leaders with an equity lens illuminating the path toward a more inclusive society.
  • The Equity Equation: GEL provides a customizable Equity data-driven Holistic Dashboard to set impactful business objectives, drive accountability, and monitor progress toward an equity journey.
  • Equity-Driven System Design: GEL has a methodology to integrate cultural competence in the design and implementation of processes, systems, and AI, for example: EPIC, Revenue Cycle, Workday, SAP, and others.
  • Inclusive-HR and Culture: GEL works with CHROs and their teams to embed social justice in HR Systems, policies, and employee engagement, strengthening their role to transform how work is done.
  • Cross-sector Collaborations: GEL forges alliances that transcend boundaries, communities, and industries, advocating to elevate community leadership, and for lasting change and sustainability.
  • Pioneering Research: GEL conducts action-learning research journeys that expand collective understanding of racial/health equity, microaggressions, racism, cultural humility, clinical trials, and Life Science Health Equity practice, and, cross-sector collaborations, paving the way for lasting solutions.

With GEL, organizations embark on a transformative journey and become part of a movement toward a world where equity is not just an aspiration but a reality. This movement seeks to create a future where every individual, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to thrive. In this journey towards inclusive equity excellence, the promise of a more equitable tomorrow is well within reach.

Join the Movement

In her relentless pursuit of cultural humility and competence, Rosa Colon-Kolacko strives to illuminate a path toward a more inclusive, equitable, and compassionate organizations and society— one that bridges the gaps and nurtures a sense of unity amidst diversity. Her commitment is a beacon of hope for all who dream of a world where every individual, regardless of their background, can access to opportunities, education, affordable housing, food, healthcare and clinical trials that speaks to their unique needs and values.

Rosa’s journey, marked by humility, compassion, and an unyielding pursuit of equity, serves as an inspiring testament to the indomitable human spirit—a reminder that no matter where one begins, one can rise to become a beacon of change and hope for a brighter, more inclusive world.

“No matter how limited our upbringing may have been,” Rosa passionately declares, “we must dare to dream, to create a vision, to meticulously plan, to toil tirelessly, and to champion what we hold dear. In doing so, we have the power to change the world, one person and one encounter at a time.”

Equity is a global challenge and an opportunity for leaders to step up to drive change. We call on all of us to act now in our communities and organizations to make a difference.