If you ever have questions about how to eradicate racism or advance health equity, call Andres Gonzalez for a strategy.
As vice president and chief diversity officer for Froedtert Health, Gonzalez brings intersectional expertise to his mission to close service gaps within the diverse communities the health network serves. Even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed and exacerbated historical health inequities, he was able to tackle healthcare-related crises head-on, working collaboratively within the organization and fortifying conscious partnerships within the community at large. “I was born to do this work,” Gonzalez says simply.
As a proud member of the Hispanic community, Gonzalez’s stake in these issues is personal. He was born in Puerto Rico and raised in inner-city Cleveland. His career was launched at two Latino-serving nonprofits, which stoked within him a passion for mission-driven work. His healthcare journey began when he was charged with overseeing DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) efforts at the Cleveland Clinic, a multispecialty academic medical center. Later, he served as chief diversity officer for Baystate Health, an integrated healthcare system in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“I was born to do this work.”Andres Gonzalez
Six and a half years ago, Gonzalez relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to join Froedtert Health. “Mission-driven work is critical to me. A great equity, diversity, antiracism, and inclusion strategy should support, amplify, and complement the organizational strategy,” he says. “At Froedtert Health, there’s mission alignment: to advance the health of the people of the diverse communities we serve.”
Historically, healthcare systems have neglected to serve all communities equitably. But Froedtert Health recognizes its past and is working to equalize the patient experience through exceptional care, hands-on innovation, and discovery.
Gonzalez’s office has been charged with developing a holistic DEI strategy for the health network. This has included developing an ‘employee life cycle,’ working internally with business resource groups (BRGs) around antiracism efforts, strengthening their supplier diversity strategy, and partnering with external leaders and ambassadors to broaden Froedtert Health’s organizational reach.
The employee life cycle assesses how the organization is attracting new talent in schools, universities, and within the communities that Froedtert Health serves; acclimating and onboarding that talent once they are hired; and developing and promoting them over time. “How do we show up as a workplace of choice?” Gonzalez asks. “We are looking at improving not only workforce diversity but also leadership diversity, which means providing professional development to our staff to ensure they become the leaders of tomorrow.”
Gonzalez works collaboratively with Froedtert Health’s five BRGs: the Hispanic/Latino BRG, African American/Black BRG, military veteran BRG, women in leadership BRG, and the LGBTQ+ BRG. While these groups may represent specific interests, Gonzalez’s intersectional approach integrates their unique health disparities, thereby enabling him to drive a greater impact. “Our BRGs have not only helped us increase engagement but also (and more importantly) that sense of belonging within Froedtert Health and the communities we serve.”
Gonzalez is also collaborating with the HR team to improve supplier diversity, zeroing in on companies in zip codes that have traditionally been left behind and then reaching out to them for Froedtert Health’s hiring and buying needs. By partnering with small businesses and minority-owned businesses, Froedtert Health is able to diversify its community network and contribute to the region’s economic vitality.
But the VP hasn’t stopped there. In 2021, Gonzalez and his team assisted with the implementation of a public service announcement (PSA) campaign to learn about what the community needs from Froedtert Health and how community members want to receive information from the organization. They learned that to have the most impact, PSAs shouldn’t be delivered by a clinical professional but by a trusted community leader.
Gonzalez listened and acted. His team partnered with Gee Smith—a barbershop owner serving the Black community—to provide health screenings in a mini-clinic set up inside the barbershop. Smith also helped spread the word to the community about the importance of getting vaccinated. After that, the VP and his team partnered with a retired executive director who is highly regarded in the Latino community, who delivered a PSA about vaccines in Spanish.
“We started seeing communities responding more effectively to that call to action and getting vaccinated,” Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez continues to engage with community leaders and ambassadors, emphasizing his commitment to accountability, transparency, and willingness to take feedback at every step of the way. Luckily for Froedtert Health, cultivating relationships is second nature for Gonzalez.
“At the end of the day, I’m part of a community,” Gonzalez says. “If we don’t leverage that community power, then we’re not going to be in a position of strength to address these issues that have plagued our communities for so many years.”
Gonzalez knows that the work isn’t done yet. But he’s fully committed to doing whatever it takes to serve his community, both through his work at Froedtert Health and beyond.
The Bigger Picture
Andres Gonzalez “gauges the temperature of community issues” by serving on an array of community boards, including Employ Milwaukee (a workforce investment board), La Causa (a Latino social service organization), and Nativity Jesuit Academy (a high-performing school within the Latino community). To understand the larger picture, he also serves as a board member for national organizations, including the American Heart Association, the Diversity Leadership Council, and the Institute for Corporate Productivity.