Mai Chao Duddeck, EdD, serves as the Solution Owner for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at Gundersen Healthcare System. She is a visual artist, intercultural author and global educator.

We’re thrilled to share responses from Mai Chao about what is needed to create equitable workplace cultures and the importance of mentorship in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Opening thoughts from Mai Chao

I believe in the everyday magic of creating positive connections in the world within and around us. On this life journey, there are no single solutions, stories, or truths, but rather a collection of truths and stories when we come together to make sense of them.

Through this social constructivist lens focusing on collective learning, I have designed our DEI journey to embody a culture of appreciation, belonging, curiosity, compassionate listening, inclusion, and understanding by finding commonality in our humanity. It is our responsibility to create equitable workplace cultures leading to collective success. We must also promote access to mentors who nurture our personal and professional growth. In Gundersen’s DEI journey, it is imperative to ensure we prioritize an inclusive culture for talents to thrive and a sense of belonging to flourish. For instance, hiring a diverse workforce is great, but if the employees (present and future) consistently experience biases or do not have a sense of inclusion, then they are less likely to feel they belong. Retaining talent in this environment would be difficult and costly to an organization.

Creating an equitable workplace culture takes time (and courage), dedicated resources, supportive visionary leaders, and buy-in from all levels of the organization.

What is needed to create equitable workplace cultures?

First, we can address unconscious biases with a growth mindset. Unconscious biases are social attitudes or stereotypes about certain groups of people or individuals that form and impact our understanding, actions, and decision-making outside of our conscious awareness. Everyone is susceptible to these implicit or hidden biases (positively or negatively) even when we mean to treat everyone with respect or fairness. Being aware of bias and recognizing it consciously can disrupt our behavior and thinking. Having a growth mindset and accepting that we have learning to do are essential to discovering future solutions as we grow. A growth mindset allows us to see different viewpoints knowing everyone has their own unique life experiences and backgrounds. We can see “difference” as a gift that brings us closer to unity, rather than something to fear.

Secondly, we can embed inclusive practices in behaviors and attitudes. Having a seat at the table is not enough for inclusion efforts. In spaces where I am one of a few – or sometimes only — minoritized people present, my voice still feels invisible. We need to make education accessible around inclusive leadership, behaviors, and attitudes as part of employee onboarding processes and organizational culture. Training and education guide people to recognize and be aware of the different forms of biases, which drives home the importance of modeling inclusive behaviors and attitudes. Everyone can build a sense of belonging and inclusion by creating an optimal environment where all feel valued and like they have both a seat and a voice that matters at the table. A growth mindset, intentional inclusion of diverse voices, and support from each other authentically enables our teams to think differently and execute projects that leave no one behind while offering broader solutions to meet all needs. It begins with each of us doing our own internal work, so we become a part of something bigger, transformative, and life changing.

How can others be a mentor or resource to women in their networks?

I have experienced immense joys and painful challenges leading in a field that is new to my organization. One of the most impactful gifts I received has been support from mentors. Our work is incredibly complicated and deeply entrenched in a system that does not allow fast change. Having an impactful mentor makes the journey less lonely and more purposeful, so when challenging times come, you can stay encouraged and inspired.

If you are looking for a mentor, I recommend you find someone you trust and who supports you unconditionally. They should listen compassionately, be influential to you, and understand your journey.

Let me give you an example. I was once told I was “too intense.” The feedback cut right through to my heart. What does that even mean? I was angry at first, because I had worked so hard to assimilate to dominant culture and to be considered “successful” by Westernized standards. If I’m not “good enough” then I would not be seen as the leader or subject matter expert. If I’m performing at a high level and those around me have not been on the journey together, then I’m “too intense.” Once the anger passed, I began to see the value in the feedback and needed to process the experience with someone I trust. Of course, they said the same thing, but with less force and from a different angle, which did not open my wound again. The message was clear that I should “tone down” being organized and competent in my field, which contradicts our goal of fostering a sense of belonging where people can bring their authentic selves to work.

I was able to process the experience and talk about trauma, the double standards in expectations for women of color, and how being “nice and kind” is valued over being “brilliant and smart.” This helped me address my imposter syndrome while shedding light on why someone would think I’m intense when I am outstanding at what I do. I love myself and do not need to “tone myself down” to comfort someone. While feedback is a gift, we must take it with a grain of salt if it is harmful to our core values. We write our own stories and define who we are on this life journey. We are beyond good enough and perfect just the way we are, so we can continue to shine and be brilliant wherever we go!


We’re grateful to have the opportunity to share insights from Mai Chao. Her thoughts on curiosity, appreciation, mentorship and belonging are critical components of equitable workplace cultures.

Stay tuned for our final blog post for Women’s History Month soon.

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