Q&A with Executive Director of Global Health Council – Women Leader in Global Health Loyce Pace

This Q&A was provided by Women in Global Health, a co-collaborator on the Women Leaders in Global Health Initiative, and originally appeared on their website.

GHC President and Executive Director Loyce Pace

1. Please tell us a little about your global health career path that led you to this position as Executive Director of Global Health Council.

I’ve heard people talk about two types of professional journeys: The traditional “ladder” or the less-predictable “jungle gym.” Mine has been more the latter, for sure. I always had a heart for health problems, thinking I would find myself in medicine, but being discouraged by the US healthcare system, I focused more on policy and social determinants of health. That first led me to pursue a career in education that eventually morphed into community outreach, trainings, and mobilization. I guess that’s when my inner-advocate was born. All the while, I was going back and forth between domestic and international settings, leveraging endless parallels between the many issues we face worldwide. In the end, I knew one thing that was very important to me was connecting the dots – across what we care about, how we address it, and who takes part. It’s never really anyone’s job per se to collaborate but it’s so critical to everything we do. Working for GHC gives me an opportunity to spend 100% of my time bringing our community together.

2. Please tell us more about your background and what led you to global health.

I believe firmly that health is wealth. Coming from an inner-city in the U.S. with the typical lack of quality services and infrastructure, I saw firsthand how difficult it was for people to live healthy lifestyles and prevent disease. It wasn’t about choice, it was about access. My parents didn’t allow me to visit the local parks because of violence, and had to drive to neighboring wealthier cities on weekends for better grocery options. There was a hospital within a mile of our house with a mortality rate so high its nickname was, “Killer King.” It was obvious to me how this led to other social and economic setbacks in our community, so I was determined to focus on health and wellness as a baseline of growth and opportunity.

As for the “global” side of things, I found myself circumnavigating the globe in college, visiting countries throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It was a fascinating experience that sparked a keen interest in exploring other parts of the world and working in different communities. Living in East Asia and West Africa later in life solidified those interests and exposed me to even more valuable lessons about how flat this world really is. More than being about charity or “helping” others, I saw that we all could learn from one another how to solve our mutual problems and celebrate our collective success. And isn’t it better to think about an army of people trained on the same solutions to face problems we all face? We are definitely not alone!

3. Have you ever had a moment where you found you were held back or extra challenged due to your gender? Did you notice there was a glass ceiling you had to break in order to advance?

Honestly, it wasn’t terribly apparent to me and I think that’s partly cultural. I somehow expected to be further behind and needed to work that much harder because it’s just the way things always were. To be clear, my family was incredibly encouraging. There was just nothing around me that said, “You can be or do anything” or “This will come naturally for you.” At some point, maybe in my late-20s, I realized that I was often the only person in the room with an advanced degree and international experience or a top-tier education and foreign-language proficiency. And I was often the only woman or person of color anywhere in sight. It only takes one time to notice something like that but once you notice it, then you see it all around you. I didn’t like thinking I was being held to a different standard because of who I was, often needing to justify in interviews or meetings why I was there. (“No, I won’t be taking minutes or ordering lunch. Perhaps you can.”) But, you know, my family is full of fighters. My mother integrated her school for heaven’s sake so I guess it’s in my blood to see a glass ceiling and just break right through it. If anyone cared, maybe they would’ve used cement.

4. During your career path, did you find that mentorship or networking with other leaders helped your own career? Elaborate if have a specific story about being a female leader and how mentorship or networking especially projected your career forward.

I think one advantage of working in health is that there are so many women in the profession. I’ve admired many leaders, along the way, and appreciate those that have encouraged me to see myself as one of them. In my experience, I’ve seen this in male and female leaders alike.

There was one woman, though, that greatly changed my perspective on women in the workplace. She’d been an executive at a sports organization and taught me the value of being assertive and outspoken. It took me a while to become comfortable with the approach and I don’t often tap into that personality, but at least I know how when it is required. I think even if you don’t have a formal mentor those types of models are good to watch.

5. Do you see that there is a gender inequality in global health leadership? What tactics do you think organizations and individuals can do/invest in in order to address this problem?

There are organizations in both the public and private sector addressing gender inequality, which is great. Of course, it’s encouraging that people are becoming more sensitive to gender equity in the global health profession. The thing we have to avoid is feeling like everyone is just checking a box. It’s not only important to have a woman or someone from the “global south” on your board or executive team, you need to recognize the value of diverse perspectives and that they can bring new contributions to the table that enhance your organization’s impact. That’s why it matters so much.

6. As a women leader in global health, what advice do you have for middle-career or emerging global health workers who are looking to climb the career ladder?

I’m not sure I could say something other than what we’ve all heard from others in this space. First of all, the whole ladder concept could probably be revisited and re-thought. You likely will walk a winding zigzag path and that’s fine, as long as it makes sense to you. Find a way to tell your story and own it.

Another thing to keep in mind is that mentors often find you and not the other way around. It’s fine to seek out people for support – never be afraid to ask for help – but also pay attention for someone to take an interest in you without you expecting it. Your biggest champion might not be the person you were looking for.

The last piece of advice I’d echo is to be honest about what success looks like for you. It might sound surprising, but I didn’t always want to lead an organization and I’m happy about that. I think if my whole end game were to reach this point, what would be left? There was definitely a point in my career when I felt I’d hit a wall and realized it was because I was so focused on getting a certain point up the proverbial ladder. Then, I ran out of rungs and didn’t have a plan for what was next. It turned out I was so focused on what mattered to other people that I forgot to check in with myself whether that was where I wanted to be. So, it sounds cliché but staying true to oneself is the best thing you can do!

Follow Loyce on Twitter at @GlobalGameChngr