Image of Diane Holland in white suit sitting on a chair.

Diane Holland, MPA, MHRM, measures success in one word: trust.

“When someone trusts me enough to come and ask for help, I feel like I am doing something right,” says Ms. Holland, who joined EVMS in Fall 2021 as Assistant Director of Training of Diversity and Inclusion. She’s also Ombudsperson for the office, where she acts as a liaison, sounding board and advocate for the entire campus community.

“Every challenge we face in the space of diversity, equity and inclusion is an opportunity to find solutions and to improve the learning and working environment in a positive way for everyone,” Ms. Holland says. “We have to listen, ask questions and be willing and ready to act.” 

Ms. Holland came to EVMS with 18 years of experience in counseling, litigation and investigations. As a civil rights investigator at Norfolk State University, she was instrumental in building the standard operating procedures for the university’s Title IX program. Ms. Holland also served as a trainer and an instructor for the Virginia Department of Social Services, delivering statewide continuing education in social work skill development, state guidance, coaching and leadership training.

Mekbib Gemeda, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, says he created Ms. Holland’s position to fill a critical role identified in EVMS’ strategic plan to advance health equity and inclusion.

“Diane enhances our diversity, equity and inclusion — DEI — training and serves as an institutional ombudsperson who can provide a safe listening space for staff and faculty,” Mr. Gemeda says. In her first semester on the job, Ms. Holland successfully launched the Inclusive Excellence in Medicine (IEM) training program, which allows faculty, staff and residents to gather in small groups over a seven-week period for focused study and strategic thinking around DEI.

Ms. Holland also has experience in human services, serving children and families in the public and private sectors. She worked for Richmond Public Schools’ Talent Office in Employee Relations, providing conflict mediation and investigations for Title IX and employee relations, and is a certified master life coach and qualified mental health professional.

Q. Where do you see the most significant opportunities for DEI growth as an institution?

A. DEI principles are not new to EVMS, but we have the opportunity now to further shape our future — and to be creative about how we craft and communicate our vision. Through initiatives like our IEM training, we can build champions for these principles and help create a school that is even more inclusive, welcoming and safe for everyone, regardless of their background. Having this focus keeps us in line with a larger effort, an important movement that’s happening across the country.

Q. Can you talk more about your vision for DEI training efforts?

A. Being a change agent takes time, skills and resources. We have to investigate processes and interrogate why, how and when we make decisions. We need champions at every level. That’s where I’ve seen training come into play in a powerful way. For example, our IEM cohort members come together from different areas of EVMS to grow and learn. We move from talking about DEI principles to sharing personal stories and formulating strategies on how to implement change. The effect is profound. One participant came back to ask for more recommendations on anti-racist books and resources. She told me that before the training, she hadn’t realized the extent of her privilege. She wanted to do better. That’s change. 

“Being a change agent takes time, skills and resources.” Diane Holland, MPA, MHRM

Q. What do you think people misunderstand about diversity, equity and inclusion?

A. Some people think it’s a fad or a statement on a website — maybe they confuse it with affirmative action. When I hear that type of response, I back up and ask, “OK. How do you define diversity?” It could be race, gender, religion, ability, sexual orientation, age — so many things. The most common misconception people have is that DEI is only about recruitment, hiring, promotion and treatment of minorities, but it is not. DEI is about embracing the differences of others while meeting their unique needs in a trusting workplace where everyone is treated with value, dignity and respect. Effecting sustained, meaningful change is never going to be a single, one-size-fits-all proposition. The movement is all of us, pushing forward together every day. 

What is an ombudsperson?

Diane Holland, MPA, MHRM, is the Assistant Director of Training and Ombudsperson of Diversity and Inclusion at EVMS. What does that mean? Basically, she’s a connector, liaison and advocate — a person charged with embodying the key principles of EVMS’ policies on diversity, equity and inclusion while educating others and helping to advance the school’s mission.


Read more magazine stories from issue 14.2 or read stories from past issues.