Dr. Carlen Carten: Together is Better 

By Evan J. Cutts  

Dr. Carla L. Carten, MSOD leads the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts of Mass General Brigham (MGB) as its Interim Senior Vice President, Chief DEI Officer. Her work impacts the entire MGB system, and she is responsible for realizing their mission of providing equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist healthcare services.  

“To be an impactful DEI leader takes knowledge of diversity, equity and inclusion as a discipline,” she explains. “I believe that if we are creating diverse communities and work systems, then we are committing to the principles of innovation through learning through diverse perspectives. Organizations must embrace being on a continuous learning journey that will enact the processes of transformation.” 

As Dr. Carten guides MGB on its journey of transformation, she draws on her doctoral expertise organizational behavior as well as over 25 years of experience as a domestic and international diversity management consultant, facilitator, and educator.  

“The disciplines I engage in my work are Organizational Behavior, Positive Psychology, Gestalt Psychology and Organizational Transformation and Change,” she said. “Thus, I have three ‘Carla Rules’ for engaging in DEI: (1) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable; (2) Give yourself grace; and (3) Alone is good and together is better: be a radical collaborator.” 

Through a commitment to the “Carla rules”, Dr. Carten and the office of DEI at Mass General Brigham continues to implement its “United Against Racism (UAR) strategy.” The strategy focuses on elevating MGB to higher level of leadership and accountability in addressing and dismantling racism,” according to Dr. Carten. “UAR, is our long-term, multi-million-dollar commitment to address the many impacts of racism on Mass General Brigham patients, employees, and the broader community.” 

“We recognized how COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color, so we took action.” says Dr. Carten. “We are uniquely qualified to make a tangible difference in health equity and are committed to eliminating the many impacts of structural racism on our patients, employees, and communities. These efforts apply to all four pillars of Mass General Brigham’s mission: patient care, research, education & community.” 

“[In 2020], we partnered with community organizations to expand our mobile care and deliver thousands of meals in Chelsea, Revere and other Boston communities. This mobile program also administered thousands of COVID-19 tests and vaccines. Mass general Brigham leaders plan to build upon this promising model for community care to drive better outcomes in underserved neighborhoods.” 

Dr. Carten draws inspiration for her work from her family, particularly her autistic son Daniel, and the richly complex histories of Black and Indigenous people in the US. “[Daniel’s] way of seeing the world is truly unique and [has taught me] the very skills and frameworks one needs to do [DEI] work: patience, perseverance, empathy, and love,” she reflects. “I am [also] inspired by people who ask how they can shape movements that benefit us all; as well as white slave owners and abolitions because they inspire me to learn from the past, [rather] than burying the experiences that are foundation of my families and my community’s intelligence and resilience.” 

With consideration for the challenges of 2022 and beyond, Dr. Carten remembers some of the things she is thankful for. “I am thankful to the collective action of those who have demanded progress and held their ground. I am moved by the courage of those who challenge the status-quo; those who will continue to challenge opposition for building racial justice. Being Black in America and doing this work is hard, at times cynicism whispers in my ear, but knowing that I am part of a Black community, and a community of Color, gives me faith and inspiration to keep moving forward.”