Debbie Chang is president and chief executive officer of the Blue Shield of California Foundation, overseeing its programs of more than $30 million in annual grantmaking to meet the diverse health needs of all Californians and to address the root causes of poor health and violence. She holds a master’s degree in Public Health Policy and Administration from the University of Michigan, has served on numerous national boards and steering committees, including at the National Academies of Science. She spearheaded a national partnership to combat childhood obesity and promote public health with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, and worked with other foundations to establish the Convergence Partnership and Partnership for a Healthier America.
Why health care?
Building healthy communities with healthy people and families includes health care, of course, but I’m also energized by what’s possible when we go beyond the clinical walls to address the other determinants of health such as economic security and mobility, education, food insecurity, and housing. Unfortunately, in our current inequitable systems, not everyone has the same opportunity to achieve health. At the Foundation, we’re working toward a future in which all of us are healthy, safe, and supported. That’s why I’m so inspired by our mission to build lasting and equitable solutions to make California the healthiest state and to end domestic violence.
Who are women that inspire you?
I am inspired by many women -- including trailblazers like Maya Angelou, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Maya Lin – but perhaps most of all, my mother, Shelley Hsueh-lun Chang. Each of these women brought creativity and passion to their careers, and they persevered despite many setbacks and structural inequities deeply rooted in their career pathways. They stayed true to themselves and their ideals. I can say this especially about my mother. My mother has advanced Alzheimer’s disease now, but I still see a glimmer of her positive, kind, and progressive outlook in her smile – and in all that she made possible for me and my daughter.
How can we/do you support the next generation of women leaders?
Keep speaking up, showing up, and rooting for the incredibly smart and talented women around us. Every generation is poised for greatness. Being intentional and deliberate about mentoring and coaching the next generation of women leaders is a critical part of this. Empowered by one another and reinforced by our collective will, my hope for the future is that women will no longer be holding up half the sky; they will be holding up even more of it.
What challenges do we still need to overcome to achieve equality?
Women come to their work – and lives – with incredible ideas. We must be willing to listen and accept that the approaches and style of women leaders may be different than our male counterparts – that’s the first step. Innovation and transformation can be female driven if we’re open to hearing what brave and bold solutions women leaders bring to the table. We must also recognize the structural and cultural barriers that have historically stood in the way of women. The challenges we face demand our best ideas. The more our leaders represent the diverse communities they serve – including across gender – the better positioned we’ll be to tackle the most pressing challenges they face.
How has COVID-19 changed how you lead?
The COVID-19 pandemic has made our work at the Foundation even more urgent and revealed prevailing inequities in such a way that pushes me – and the Foundation as a whole – to look more closely at how best to support the communities who are struggling most. This pandemic affects all of us, but not all of us are equipped with the same privileges. For those hardest hit – including survivors of domestic violence and their children, people of color, and immigrant populations – we are focusing our efforts intentionally to provide greater resources to help them through this crisis.