San Mateo County has named its first-ever chief equity officer. Shireen Malekafzali, a longtime health equity advocate currently serving as the health equity officer and senior manager for health policy, planning and equity for County Health, has been appointed to the new role. She will step into her position later this month.
According to the County, the move reinforced “its commitment to delivering services and evaluating existing structures through a lens of equity and inclusion.”
“Starting the journey in partnership, with clear goals and shared language will help us build the trust and the infrastructure needed to support the journey’s success,” said Malekafzali. “When equity is achieved, we will ensure all people can reach their full potential in San Mateo County regardless of race, ethnicity, immigration status, income, zip code, ability, gender, sexual orientation or age.”
According to County Manager Mike Callagy, the new position will enable his office to reach across departments and bring an equity lens to issues such as housing, jobs, transportation and food access, noting that “equity must be woven into every aspect of how the County provides for all our residents, and in particular, those who are our most vulnerable.”
Callagy credited the pandemic with spotlighting “our structural biases and disparities and [showing] us that we must do better” and said “with Shireen’s experience and thoughtful approach to complex issues with often many sides, she is the ideal person to help lead the County in this critically important endeavor.”
As part of her new role, Malekafzali will build upon the work she spearheaded at County Health over seven years, creating diverse partnerships, advocating policy, providing leadership and strategically engaging the community to empower all voices, per Callagy.
Malekafzali and Callagy share the view that the chief equity officer role and County-wide accountability are ever-more important to ensure that government institutions don’t inadvertently perpetuate inequalities by maintaining the status quo. “To truly be a government for the people and of the people, we must continually strive to understand how we can do better by the people, all people,” said Malekafzali.
The chief equity officer position is one of two newly created County roles aimed at bettering the welfare and outcomes of employees and residents. The County Manager’s Office hired Nicole Westercamp in late 2020 to serve as its first chief wellbeing officer. She’s responsible for implementing systemic measures to promote employee self-care and emotional wellbeing.
“With Shireen and Nicole on board, we are truly being the change we want to see,” said Callagy, who credited the Board of Supervisors in approving the two new posts and “prioritizing equity as the lens through which all County functions and services will be evaluated.”
Photo courtesy of San Mateo County