By Peggy Schulz
Cynthia R. Stewart is one of the winners in the Corporate Trailblazers category of the 2013 Black Excellence Awards. She is Diversity Officer and Manager of Language Services at Columbia-St. Mary’s Hospital. She started working there in 1991, as an employment specialist in the Human Resources department. Her title has changed over time, but she’s been consistently devoted to diversity from the beginning.
“I often got involved in any work the hospital was doing around diversity,” Stewart says. “By me being in HR, I had kind of the authority and skills to do some of the tasks that other people really couldn’t do. I could easily fit that within the scope of my role.” Those tasks included not only employee relations, but also recruitment. In 1997, the hospital decided that they wanted to create a full-time position dedicated to diversity. And Stewart was the perfect choice to fill the role.
Stewart was born and raised in Milwaukee. She graduated from St. Joan Antida High School and UWM, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism in 1988. She also holds a certificate in Diversity Management in Health Care, from the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, out of Simmons College in Boston.
Stewart has a lifetime membership in the Sigma Gamma Ro sorority. She serves on the local INROADS board. The Mission of INROADS is to develop and place talented underserved youth in business and industry, and prepare them for corporate and community leadership.
Stewart’s husband, Ripton A. Stewart, is pastor of Transformation Temple Christian Church, at 54th and Burleigh, where Stewart fills the role of “first lady.”
Diversity at Columbia-St. Mary’s Hospital involves both staff and patients. Stewart works to attract staff from a variety of cultures, providing both an inclusive environment and culturally sensitive service to patients to improve their experience, as well as ensuring a higher level of safety and quality of care.
Stewart also has worked to create a full-service interpreter program, providing on-site staff for Spanish, Russian and American Sign Language. As well, the ongoing goal is to improve the hospital’s services for all languages, including document translation, and an in-house call center for staff to use.
Stewart is the hospital’s first diversity officer. “I’ve been able to get a lot in place over the last 15 years or so,” she says. “Our staff feels, when we do our employee engagement surveys, they report that we do a lot around diversity. Everyone knows that that is important to this organization.”
By pioneering the diversity program at Columbia-St.Mary’s, Stewart has earned the respect of the entire organization, as well as the honor of receiving a 2013 Black Excellence Award.