Jennifer Raffo: Outstanding Supervisor Award Winner 2023

Focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Jennifer Raffo, Research, Evaluation, and Quality Improvement Team Supervisor for the Department Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology leads a team of dedicated professionals that are empowered to do their best work, even during challenging times. Championing racial justice in the health care space requires persistence and inclusivity. Raffo ensures that the mission of the department is reflected in all her efforts.

“Our lab works in a space of racial justice, and many would think that because of this we know everything there is to know about racial diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, a basic principle within this space is that you cannot check anti-racism work off a to-do list and be done with it, you must always be learning, changing, and doing. Jenn models this daily. I have been in multiple meetings with her where she voiced concern that the way we were planning a project did not center the voices of those we are serving or has kindly corrected someone that was unknowingly using harmful language. … Anytime I have suggested an edit to a publication or presentation to make it more gender inclusive, Jenn has graciously accepted the recommendation and taken steps to adapt that change in future work. I have even noticed a shift in her language with other staff members and community partners to include ‘birthing persons’ and not just ‘mothers.’ I know that my suggestions will be heard and considered, even if it means she will need to change the way she is doing something. Not everyone works in a space where their supervisor treats them with such dignity, respect, and integrity, and I count myself lucky to work with a woman who so clearly values these things,” explains Hannah Nelson, Project Administrator for the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology.

Jennifer Raffo

“She particularly emphasizes racial justice, equity and inclusion. When I sought feedback for a research paper I was drafting, she suggested that I use racial and gender inclusive terms and provided me with resources to incorporate them into our work and publications. Thanks to her deep commitment to research, evaluation, and quality improvement, we complete national grant applications, produce multiple policy reports, forge new partnerships with diverse stakeholders, and successfully publish our research in esteemed journals. She plays a pivotal role in cultivating a productive, collaborative, and enjoyable work environment for our entire team,” says Xiao Yu, Data Resource Analyst, for the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology.

Raffo knows that a diverse team contributes to departmental success.

“Including diverse perspectives in the decision-making process is critical to our lab’s success. … The majority of our team members are female, and close to a third identify as a racial minority or are immigrants. … Everybody on the team, from project managers, data analysts, junior faculty, to the leaders of the lab contributes their perspective to major decisions. For example, while developing a $21 million, seven-year, research proposal earlier this year addressing maternal morbidity and mortality disparities, several meetings early in the process included all lab team members and Jennifer invited everyone to share their perspective on what they would like to see included in the large, complex proposal. The final proposal was a joint team effort,” confirms Cristian Meghea, Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology.

Jennifer Raffo and the Research, Evaluation, and Quality Improvement team for the Department Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology

Raffo exhibits a deep commitment to work-life fit.

“Jennifer humanizes the work environment and treats employees as people first. One example was Jen’s idea to start each weekly lab team meeting with each of us sharing what is going on in our personal lives, outside work. We all loved the idea, and it is now standard practice. I encourage all my MSU colleagues and professional collaborators to integrate this practice in their work lives. Jennifer treats everyone with dignity, respect, and integrity and has a positive leadership style which empowers others. Her empathy-based leadership maintains a positive environment for the team and motivates all of us, both in our work lives and personally,” says Cristian Meghea.

“Jenn supports and models a healthy work-life balance during life’s bigger and more stressful times,” recalls Hannah Nelson. Raffo’s team is encouraged and supported in taking time for caregiving, mourning, and rejuvenation. “This level of support, and general respect for the human condition, from Jenn was particularly evident during the devastating events this year on February 13th. She was the first to call us all together and check-in on how we were doing, offering connections to resources provided by the University, and giving us space to process with everyone. She showed vulnerability in expressing her own feelings and letting us know when some days were harder for her than others. She was also instrumental in organizing the lab to shift workloads around while members of the team processed on their own timelines and in their own ways. I would argue that we were able to come together for each other in such a meaningful way because of the work Jenn has put into building such a great team,” continues Nelson.

Jennifer Raffo and the Research, Evaluation, and Quality Improvement team for the Department Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology

Raffo is a model supervisor.

“I regularly talk about Jenn with my friends and family, and they are absolutely astounded by the way she lives her values of honoring people as individuals and creating a strong team dynamic. They always finish the conversation with, ‘I really wish I had a supervisor like her,” concludes Nelson.

View the other Outstanding Supervisor Award Winners for 2023.