CUIMC DEI Leader Alade McKen Shares Priorities for 2024

Diversity, equity, and inclusion have long been priority areas at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Beginning in September 2023, Alade McKen, PhD, assumed the role of chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for staff, responsible for implementing DEI programs and promoting and supporting best practices related to DEI.

Alade McKen

A native New Yorker and an alumnus of Binghamton University, McKen has a strong background in higher education and DEI, having worked for the past 18 years in multicultural affairs, civic engagement, and social justice initiatives, as well as with marginalized groups on executive initiatives and projects. He received his PhD in education, social, and cultural studies from Iowa State University and a master of science degree in higher education administration from Baruch College. He also holds a diversity and inclusion certificate from Cornell University.

Before his appointment at CUIMC, he was assistant dean of recruitment, diversity, and inclusion for the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.

“Columbia has shown an openness to explore new opportunities to advance inclusive practice and is engaged in thinking about how to lead in DEI,” McKen says. “Everyone here is working to create an environment that drives fair representation. It’s a conscious effort, and there’s always work to be done, but everyone is committed to doing the work.”

As he begins his first full calendar year in the role, McKen has identified several priorities for his team: The first is to revitalize the employee resource groups. McKen aims to increase the groups’ impact and inclusiveness by increasing education and outreach efforts for the ERGs and promoting campus-wide recognition of cultural holidays and celebrations. He encourages employees to see the ERGs as safe spaces that offer opportunities to collaborate and further employees’ professional development. Learn more about ERGs at CUIMC.

“We’re working with our 11 employee resource groups to figure out ways that they can engage in the community both internally and externally,” McKen says. “That looks very different for each group, so we want to essentially make sure that they are being a valuable resource for everyone. It’s a cornerstone of our strategy, giving employees a space where they can further their professional growth and connect on a personal level with their workplace as well.”

Another priority area for McKen is the development of workshops and trainings on diversity, equity, and inclusion for employees and collaborating with DEI officers at the medical center to establish mentorship programs and support systems for staff. These initiatives aim to shape the institutional culture and enhance employee satisfaction.

“When you have people doing exceptional work, whether they’re new or seasoned leaders, it’s critical to reward these individuals for their dedication,” McKen says. “It’s a powerful and influential way of impacting staff and employees, ensuring that they can see themselves as contributing to the larger whole. It’s not just about having the skillset—it’s about being part of the community.”

The past few months have brought upheaval to higher education in general and to Columbia in particular, as students and others in the community grapple with antisemitism and Islamophobia highlighted by the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza. DEI efforts become even more critical during times of discord and stress, McKen says, helping drive the institution to a place of healing and fostering dialogue to strengthen and support the community.

“Our focus is building a supportive environment, but we have to think about this not just from a professional realm, because it’s personal too,” McKen says. “We have to give space to empathize, open a constructive dialogue, and promote understanding of the implications of what’s happening. We also need to look toward the future. What can we learn to change our practices and better support our community from here on out?”