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Kimberlyn Leary, PhD, MPA, thinks Women’s History Month is important because “it reminds us of where we’ve been but helps us set our eyes on the horizon of where we want to go next.”
As McLean Hospital’s executive director of policy outreach and of the Center of Excellence in Women’s Mental Health, Leary believes that events such as Women’s History Month serve a necessary purpose for an organization. “There is value of having a space on the calendar where there is explicit permission and encouragement to think about women and to take stock of progress and continuing barriers,” she said. “We do that with all outcomes that matter in any organization. We engage in a strategic planning process that takes place every couple of years or during an annual retreat. We determine goals that help us advance in the next year.”
Taking stock and focusing on future goals have been central characteristics of Leary’s career. Trained as a clinical psychologist, Leary began her career at the University of Michigan, then served as chief psychologist at Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA). Working at CHA during the period when Massachusetts began reforming its health care system, Leary found herself “plunged into the policy ramifications.” Building on this experience, Leary earned a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School. “I became more and more interested in health policy and how to drive outcomes at scale,” she said.
Over the years, Leary has continued to engage in the policy side of health care. As a Robert Wood Johnson health policy fellow, she served as an advisor to the White House Council on Women and Girls during the Obama administration. She helped develop the Advancing Equity initiative, aimed at improving life outcomes for women and girls of color, and she worked as an advisor to the White House Office of Management and Budget Health Division.
As she has built and shaped her career, Leary said that she has had help from many mentors and sponsors. These individuals, she said, “gave me the opportunity to hear about the world through very different perspectives, historical epochs, and sensibilities. I think that they gave me a great appreciation for the complexities of driving change and an appreciation for the long-term course it often takes to do important work.”
Today, Leary fills the same mentoring role for others who are building their careers. In helping these individuals, Leary said that she tries to “identify opportunities where they can thrive, to make room in case their interests or careers change over time, but to also have a touchstone as to what their purpose is.”