In My Reality, an editorial series from D CEO, North Texas executives share their personal experiences of diversity and bias. Jyric Sims, the CEO of Medical City Fort Worth, discussed his biracial upbringing, mentorship, and often being the only African American in the room.
“I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, one of six kids, and I am biracial. My mom is Caucasian, and my dad is African American. My parents always taught me a sense of pride and belonging, and my dad is very steeped in African American tradition. My grandparents owned an African American Baptist Church, so I not only grew up in the church, but I grew up with a rich set of history of African Americans. We were not particularly wealthy. We grew up underprivileged in a very low income, mainly African American neighborhood.
“Neither one of my parents graduated from high school; I am a first-generation high school and college graduate. My parents dropped out of high school because of race. They were one of the first interracial couples to get married in their town, and they were in segregated schools, and because of that immense pressure, they literally had to drop out of school and then relocate to Baton Rouge. And that’s where they started having kids and having a family. This is not a new topic, but it’s certainly accelerated with the most recent events that have happened.
“My father, from a very early age, gave me his perspective on the rules of engagement when you are with the police—to act professionally and respectfully. But at the same time, understand that you need not make any sudden moves and make sure that you telegraph everything that you’re doing in that instance. I’ve experienced certain things in life; I always knew that people are people.
“Never use your race or who you are as a crutch. Be aware of it, and be mindful of it, have strategies that mitigate it, but also don’t let that hinder you.
“A Lack of Inclusion”
“In my career, I have not witnessed as much systematic racism, but what I certainly have experienced is what I would call a lack of representation and a lack of inclusion. Historically, in every role that I have been in, I had always been either one of, or one of a few (Black people) in the room. That has bred some unique things. I would say that mentorship is important. HCA has been really good regarding mentorship opportunities for me, along with providing a diversity-related network that spans across the system. It allowed us to have a sense of belonging and a sense of where your voice is being heard.
“The reality is that African Americans are significantly underrepresented in leadership. Not only just in my current company but throughout the industry.”
“Going back to under-representation—whether there have been various boards that I have been on, whether it’s been a professional organization that I have been on, that has been something that I have seen. Whether that was bred out of racism or whether that was bred out of a lack of knowing where to look for key qualified hospital executives that are of diverse backgrounds we can debate the cause of it. But the reality is that African Americans are significantly underrepresented in leadership. Not only just in my current company but throughout the industry.
“HCA has a lot of innovative and very intentional efforts underway when it comes to diversity and inclusion. From a numbers standpoint, we still lack African Americans in key corporate executive and hospital executive roles, but that is something that is known and is very intentional that HCA is working through and working on.
“The National Association of Health Executives, which is aimed at African Americans in hospital administration, is so important because it allows a family atmosphere of life experience like nationality, ethnicity, etc. They get together throughout the year to discuss issues that are impactful to African Americans and how we can help each other out and be a sounding board and ultimately be a professional network that can be vulnerable and be open. It can get some pretty candid and relevant feedback.
“You Can’t Have Any Baggage.”
“I’ve been the only African American male in so many rooms, whether it’s board level or even at the national level with organizations. You name the sector; you name the experience, it’s become so common for me to where, to be honest with you, I don’t even notice it. But it’s a little unnerving to think about that because I should notice it.
“But it’s kind of like, you drive to work every day, and you get to work, and you are like wait, I don’t remember passing any red lights. So yes, when noticed, I would say it makes me proud; it makes me honored, not for the reason to pat myself on the back, but for the reason that I have the opportunity to represent myself. I happen to be the African American male and put myself in a place where I can bring people behind me. And if I do a good job, others are likely to get opportunities through what I’m able to do or through my ability to influence decisions.
“I have to pay it forward, and it’s just an expectation. I would say that to all African Americans, but specifically to those who are fortunate to be at a certain level.”
“My parents taught me that as an African American, male, and an executive, you would have to work 10 times harder. They taught me hard work, discipline, a sense of belonging, and that to whom much is given, much is expected. At any given time, I have five to six young African American college students, or even graduate students, who are aspiring healthcare executives that I mentor. I make time [to coach them] because it is my rent that I pay for occupying this space right now. I have to pay it forward, and it’s just an expectation. I would say that to all African Americans, but specifically to those who are fortunate to be at a certain level.
“The other side of that pressure is, you got to do a good job. Because the other side of that sword is that as an African American or as the only X in this room, you got to make sure that not only do you prepare, you got to be extra cautious that you are pristine, meaning that you can’t have any baggage. You can’t do certain things. Just by nature, just by who you are or what you represent, you attract a certain differential of attention just by the difference in the room. The pressure is, you can’t mess up because if you do, then you feel a burden that you will hurt those who come behind you. And I’ve always had that on me, and I take that incredibly personally. That is why I mentor so many people, that’s why I work so hard and am so stressed out all the time. It’s because I feel like God put me here to make sure that this road stays paved; it gets paved in the future.”
If you’re a North Texas business or nonprofit leader and would like to participate in D CEO’s My Reality series, please contact [email protected].