Dr. Vo, can you tell us about yourself?
Krysti (Lan Chi) Vo is a board-certified, attending Psychiatrist with the Autism Integrated Care Program and the Medical Director of Telehealth with the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She’s also a revered Digital / Telehealth expert.
Dr. Vo, How did you start your career in DEI or Social Impact?
My core mission is destigmatizing mental health and normalizing mental healthcare through cultivating thoughtful conversation. What we talk about, we normalize – we live in a time where dinner table conversation can include emotions like happiness, sadness, anxiety, when it’s OK to tell the people in your life that you need support, or help but there’s still so far, even in the US, that this needs to spread and we won’t continue getting there unless there are people promoting this rhetoric.
I’ve been an active member of the mental health community for nearly a decade; I’ve fostered positive conversation through support groups, both peer and provider, and fought for affordable and accessible mental healthcare as the standard. I’ve always felt I had a responsibility in lending my voice to the marginalized, whether for mental wellness, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants or anyone experiencing injustice. COVID19 has brought on the highest spike in Anti-Asian American hate crimes since the 1940’s and I’ve prioritized being an AAPI female leader and voice in the #StopAAPIHate movement. I’ve attended rallies, participated in panels and dedicated my social media, blogs, podcast sections to highlighting intolerance and promoting solidarity and acceptance and will continue to do so.
Tell us about a personal experience on why our world needs more Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?
As a woman of color, I’ve personally experienced the need for DEI as a best practice in my work digital health research; research itself is dominated by cis-white-males and frankly, there have been times I’m overlooked in my profession, research and personal life as people will look to a lesser credentialed, white male in the room.
If we had more DEI years ago, there would be diversity in many professions and the norm wouldn’t be to look for the white-male in the room to be the person in power. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a patient’s parent ask a question to one of my interns, even after learning that I’m their supervisor and will still say “I’d prefer to hear from him”. No one would ask their surgeon to leave the room and let a surgical tech cut into them, but you’re cutting your nose to spite your face in the same process when you refuse the educated information of a professional and trust a lesser credentialed student basing your belief in their abilities on their gender, sexual orientation or color of their skin.
Krysti, What does DEI mean to you?
Diversity and Inclusion means Equity over Equality to me. We don’t live in a fair world and saying everyone is equal doesn’t right injustice or provide opportunity to the marginalized. We need to create systems that promote the equitable treatment of human beings regardless of the color of their skin, country of origin or social class.
What is your proudest moment as a DEI professional?
I’m proud to be a minority in the healthcare industry. I’m proud of my credentials and what it took to get as far as I’ve come.
I bring this same passion to my work and research and fighting to give accessible and affordable care to minority families, be it immigrants, neurodiverse or other marginalized populations. I think my proudest moment has to be connecting with someone non-neurotypical like child and adolescent patients affected by ASD and finding ways to connect with them and treat them. Watching parents’ eyes light up when they’ve fostered what is sometimes one of the first real connections with their child … and I think about what I’ve overcome to get to that ability. I think about my incredible respect and admiration for my parents, who immigrated to a new country with two small children and worked hard to still live, essentially, below the poverty line yet managed to give us an equitable chance at opportunity. I honor their fortitude and the strength of those who struggled before me by working hard to make contributions to science and society. That’s something I’ll truly never take for granted.
Why is DEI important to you as an individual?
I was a minority in elementary school through med school. I’m a minority at the corner store the same as I am as a woman in medicine, tech and STEM and I can safely say that DEI is a priority and equity is the answer. DEI gives people the opportunity to earn their place in the world, vs. trying to distribute opportunities equally to everyone, whether qualified or not.
I prioritize diversity and taking opportunities to represent, even when spreading myself thin. Nonprofit board members are historically white and male. I trained with the University of Pennsylvania’s DiverseForce on board programs and currently serve on 3 boards.
Diversity in non-profits is incredibly important because they typically serve minorities. How can they be optimally effective, empathetic and canvas their goals without representation on their board of directors?
If you could change one thing in terms of DEI, what would that be?
I’m so proud of how far we’ve come as a society, but so mindful of how far we have to go. I don’t think I’ll exist in a world that ends racism, but I do think I’m part of a society that holds people accountable. We’ve made great strides in inclusion in minority communities, immigrant communities, recognizing the preferred identifiers for LGBTQIA+ community members but apart from still having a long way to go, I don’t see nearly as much progression for neurodiversity. Those affected by ASD and developmental disabilities still have a long way to come in diagnosis, normalization, care and access to care and places in society. Many neurodiverse individuals are highly capable and highly functioning and deserve a seat at the table, we have to stop defining people by their disability. You’re not diabetes, you have diabetes. We need to treat those non-neurotypical the same way.
What is stopping your community, organization or company from achieving a more equal and equitable world?
People don’t understand or take the time to question the difference between equal opportunities and equitable opportunities. To say that we should all have an equal opportunity to see the baseball field allows everyone to line up at the fence. Equitable opportunity gives those too short to see over the fence a stool.
People tend to become stifled in the thought that equal opportunities for everyone mean less opportunity for them – this is engrained privilege. Equity is based on everyone having a reasonable opportunity to earn their place in society; no one’s competing with a hand-tied behind their back – what we get in life is a fair fight. You’ll still need to get the same score as a cis-white male on your LSAT to get into law school but the difference is you may have not received the opportunity for post-graduate education in the first place without an equitable chance.
Anything you want to share with your readers?
It’s actually a proven fact that businesses and corporations benefit from having a diverse staff. They have a healthier environment and problem solve, adapt and grow faster and have a better bottom line vs. non-inclusive brands. A diverse population brings different strengths, weaknesses and POV to the table and statistically, mixing up any think tank will always foster better results.
Don’t be afraid of words like diversity, inclusion, equality. Understand what they mean. Diversity and inclusion don’t restrict opportunities from the majority or take them from those that earned it, DEI just gives light and movement to the marginalized that were left out of opportunities before and balances out engrained privilege; this is a normal aspect of societal progression.
The article is part of our Diversity and Inclusion Thought Leadership Series