EDI Spotlight: Sharena Ballard-Hart

By William Alexander


When Sharena Ballard-Hart took over efforts to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center (BIAC) in 2016, she was the only person of color in her unit. The role allowed her the opportunity both to learn more about EDI efforts and resources that she could apply to the BIAC and to connect with other people of color within the School of Medicine. 

Seven years later, Ballard-Hart continues to lead EDI efforts within a larger, more diverse BIAC while also serving as its human resources manager. In this week’s EDI Spotlight interview, Ballard-Hart talks to us about how her EDI duties complement her human resources work of helping all the members of the BIAC feel empowered and celebrated. She also shares her involvement in Moments to Movement and the school’s strategic plan to dismantle racism, and enjoying cooking contests and rivalries with her husband (and fellow Duke employee) Marcus Hart.

What is your current position within the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center (BIAC)? What does a typical day for you look like?
I am a senior program coordinator  who also serves as the human resources manager for the BIAC. I lead our EDI committee of fellow faculty and staff members. My work days vary and look different depending on the days of the month as I wear many hats. 

At the beginning of the month my work consists of creating invoices, confirming payments and processing journal vouchers. In the middle of the month I focus mainly on human resources and administrative duties. At the end of the month I dedicate most of my time to my EDI work which consists of meeting with the BIAC Director, strategizing with our center’s EDI committee and creating a monthly EDI newsletter for the following month. Daily I am responsible for responding to many emails, and throughout the month I attend various HR or EDI meetings. 

What are your primary duties as EDI Leader for the BIAC? How does this work complement your other responsibilities?
As BIAC’s EDI Leader, I am responsible for attending SOM EDI meetings, training, and seeking additional training to help mold me as a leader. I bring back new tools and information from what I’ve learned to our director, business manager, and EDI committee. I seek additional work on my own such as learning what’s going on at Duke and in our local community from which our faculty and staff may benefit. 

I contact our center’s principal investigators to see which lab members have upcoming birthdays or have work-related or personal announcements to share to be sure everyone is celebrated. I (with the help of the EDI committee) coordinate EDI lunch, talks, and staff outings (fairly new for us post-pandemic). 

I also create monthly newsletters and update our social media pages, ensuring they are inclusive. This work compliments my other responsibilities because as one of the first faces to welcome new members of the BIAC community, I have first-hand knowledge of who is who in order to recognize and celebrate them. Oftentimes our staff are more comfortable coming to me with issues pertaining to HR, given my additional responsibilities in serving as our director’s assistant and working closely with our business manager, I can go to them with these HR concerns that may be closely related to EDI issues and use what I’ve learned to help address them or point them in the right direction.

When and how did you begin working to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion within Duke?
In 2016 I was asked by our Director if I would be interested in serving as our leader following the departure of our former leader. At the time I was the only person of color in our center and thought it’d be great to connect with a group that included and supported people like me.

What initiatives to address equity, diversity, and inclusion is the BIAC currently involved with?
The EDI Committee and I recently sent an EDI and well-being survey to faculty and staff and have been addressing issues raised by BIAC Community members. A few mentioned they felt isolated since the pandemic as most have been working from home. To address this, we hosted our first in-person EDI staff lunch. 

Our speaker and faculty on the EDI Committee, Raj Morey, MD, gave a talk entitled “What is the biological and genetic basis of race?" The talk helped to engage our faculty and staff in a series of questions and answers as it pertained to our work at BIAC. Everyone felt included and provided feedback that it was great to finally see their colleagues outside of Zoom and email. We are planning a retreat this fall that will have a dedicated session focusing more on EDI in addition to scientific research talks as we had in the past.

Do you have a moment or experience when the need for improving equity, diversity, and inclusion in academic medicine (or the country as a whole) felt especially urgent to you personally that you could share?
In September 2020, following the death of George Floyd, the School of Medicine began work on dismantling racism. I was asked to be on the Work Culture and Accountability & Sustainability sub-committee. I felt at that time it was important to get my voice heard and didn’t hesitate to join. I worked on this sub-committee until November 2020 and in June 2021, the strategic plan for “Dismantling Racism and Advancing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the School of Medicine” was launched. I am pleased with the work my sub-committee and others have done to help this plan and where it’s at now.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of work?
Outside of work, my family and cooking are important to me. On the weekends I spend lots of time chauffeuring my four-year-old to birthday parties, playgrounds and museums. On Sundays, I always cook a big meal and invite friends over to enjoy or send plates to neighbors. My husband, who also works at Duke, where we met, and I have cook-offs because we both think we cook better than the other. I am the 2nd oldest of 8 children and my husband is also 1 of 8 children, so we are always at a family function when we’re not doing something for our four-year-old or cooking.