March 8, 2024

Recognizing Women’s History Month

MADISON, Wis. – According to the National Women’s History Alliance, this year Women’s History Month is honoring women who advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion, and few embody that theme more than Shiva Bidar-Sielaff.

She serves as the vice president and chief diversity officer at UW Health, as well as the associate dean for diversity and equity transformation at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Shiva has dedicated herself to promoting equity in health, education and the workplace,” said Naomi Takahashi, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, UW Health and UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “Her passion drives our team and reflects how far we’ve come and what we’re capable of continuing to do.”

Bidar-Sielaff was born in Iran and relocated to Spain during the Iranian Revolution when she was 9 years old. Her experiences as an immigrant were formative, leading her to a career in championing equity, she said.

“I learned what it feels like to be different and to be bullied for it,” Bidar-Sielaff said. “Fortunately, I also learned the value of inclusive spaces and diverse perspectives.”

Her paternal grandmother grew up in a small village instilling in her grandchildren the importance of compassion and love. Her maternal grandmother was one of the first women to go to the university in Iran.

“She was an original feminist,” Bidar-Sielaff said. “She showed me what I could do.”

Bidar-Sielaff completed her undergraduate degree at Ecole d´Interprètes Internationaux in Mons, Belgium, then received a scholarship to travel to the United States for a Master of Arts in International Policy Studies at Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. She also has a gift for language and is fluent in Farsi, Spanish, French and English.

She joined UW Health in 1997 to establish the medical interpretation services program, which is now recognized as a national model. She became director of community partnerships for UW Health, building relationships with community organizations to advance health equity. In 2016 she became the first chief diversity officer for UW Health, and five years later became the inaugural associate dean for diversity and equity transformation at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Shiva has been an exceptional partner to us for a very long time,” said Karen Menéndez Coller, executive director, Centro Hispano. “She brings a keen sense of strategy grounded in the understanding that resources and expertise should align with what the community needs and is a fierce advocate for the health and wellness of our immigrant and BIPOC communities.”

In recent years, Bidar-Sielaff has led many initiatives to advance diversity, equity and inclusion at UW Health and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

In 2021, UW Health worked with community partners to make community health workers available to equitably distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. The health system committed $1 million of annual support to community organizations engaged in anti-racism work the same year.

In 2022, UW Health and the other members of the Dane County Health Council alongside community partners launched ConnectRx, a coordination tool that connects Black birthing people with resources to eliminate low birth weights and reduce disparities in maternal health outcomes for local Black families.

Bidar-Sielaff has also led the expansion of employee resource groups for UW Health and UW School of Medicine and Public Health faculty and staff. Employee resource groups are voluntary, employee-led groups that foster a diverse, inclusive workplace by connecting people with similar experiences and identities to build community. She also leads planning for the annual diversity summit, which focuses on a specific topic related to diversity, equity and inclusion and how it intersects with health care and research.

Over the last several years, she has expanded the work across UW Health and UW School of Medicine and Public Health, aligning the two organizations to integrate diversity, equity and inclusion systemwide. In the coming years, she hopes the work becomes second nature to those doing the medical research and providing clinical care, she said.

“We need to think about equity in all the work we do,” Bidar-Sielaff said. “That is the key to creating an environment where everyone can do well and thrive.”