Q&A with
Tayla Mahmud

Published on September 7, 2022

Tayla Mahmud, a health marketing and communications expert with more than 19 years of experience, recently joined M Booth Health in a new position – Executive Vice President, Health Equity & Multicultural Strategy. We sat down with Tayla to learn more about her work to help M Booth Health clients advance health equity and reach diverse communities.

You have a newly-created leadership role at M Booth Health – tell us about that.

I lead Health Equity & Multicultural Strategy at M Booth Health – that’s HEMS for short. My focus is counseling clients and teams on communications strategies to address health disparities and engage multicultural audiences in a culturally competent manner. Put simply, I’m working to infuse equity and inclusion in our agency’s practices, processes and consciousness.

HEMS is our specialty consulting team infusing equity and inclusion into everything we do. We partner with health organizations and brands to address health disparities in access, representation, understanding, and care. We help clients define and demonstrate their commitment to health equity. We engage multicultural communities in a culturally competent manner. We shape communication around policies that advance health equity.

Our vision is for everything we do – from research practices to activation – to have a HEMS lens. Without a doubt, our work so far has shown that the collective consciousness of our teams and clients is raised by thinking from an equity-first mindset.

From your perspective, how is M Booth Health’s approach to HEMS different from that of other agencies?

The key is that at M Booth Health, HEMS is integrated by design into everything we do, rather than a stand-alone practice or an afterthought.

Many agencies and clients consider health equity and multicultural strategy as separate entities, different practices, or a “nice-to-have” addition to their communications plan. We recognize that approach doesn’t fit with the world we live in and hasn’t improved health for all.

Nearly half of the United States population identifies as multicultural and the world’s population of more than 7 billion is increasingly diverse – yet systemic inequities remain staggeringly prevalent in how we reach, treat, and prioritize the health of diverse audiences. We need to take a different approach to yield different outcomes – one that starts with evolved practices and is inherently more inclusive.

What’s the difference between HEMS and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I)?

Let’s talk definitions for a bit. This comes up often and I want to be clear that these practices are different yet interrelated.

Health equity means that everyone has access to the highest quality of care and equal opportunity to achieve optimal health outcomes, and no one is disadvantaged from achieving optimal health outcomes because of social status or other socially determined circumstances.

Multicultural communications means communications across cultures and social groups, with consideration of cultural relevance and behavioral norms. The goal is to meaningfully reach and engage audiences in an authentic and respectful manner.

DE&I means organizational efforts focused on supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion. Companies and their leaders are being examined by the impact of their DE&I practices, leadership involvement, and point of view on their journey to achieving progress. It’s critical for leaders to effectively communicate the promise, progress, and impact of their organization’s DE&I programs to stakeholder audiences.

M Booth Health’s clients are all working in different ways to close gaps in health equity. What are we doing to help them succeed?

We have clients that run the spectrum of experience in health equity. Some organizations, generally the larger ones, have a long legacy of leading in the health equity space, while others are just starting their journey. And let me emphasize the word “journey,” because the work here is never done, the learning is never done, and the process must continue.

For clients just starting their journey, our work has been focused on education – helping to define and communicate the organization’s strategy, commitment, and actions around health equity. There’s still a high need for education in this space.

For clients further along in their journey, our work has been focused on action and activation – helping them to prioritize investments and actions that will yield the greatest impact, and to demonstrate continued commitment to equitable outcomes.

What are some of the things health communicators often get wrong when it comes to health equity and multicultural communications?

There are many examples, but here are a couple: First, not considering equity or culture at all or considering this work as a “nice to have” ESG charitable endeavor. Advancing health equity has a moral and strategic business impact. We’re talking life or death. Second, focusing on messages and what sounds great, when those messages aren’t grounded in tangible actions and impact. 

M Booth Health recently released a study called The Pharma Brandemic, which is based on a survey of 1,000 demographically diverse adults across the U.S. on a wide range of health care–related issues. What were some of the most interesting findings related to BIPOC, and what are the implications?

Our Pharma Brandemic research focuses on patient empowerment and expectations as a result of COVID-19, and the implications for pharma marketers and communicators in this new dynamic. While last year focused on the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine race on awareness of pharma brands, this year’s results are expanded and show that the increase in patient knowledge and expectations is only the beginning.

Our data show that African American and Latinx patients are becoming increasingly vocal, knowledgeable, and engaged in their care because we have to be – it’s a matter of life and death. This is why audiences of color are taking matters into their own hands, because there is recognition that we can’t rely on others. This has extended even further to taking a more proactive approach to health management more generally – from speaking up more in the doctor’s office to engaging with pharma on social media.

We are hit the hardest whenever there is any pandemic or endemic. Credible health information from trusted sources is crucial to amplify the health of Black and Latinx populations, who are impacted by COVID and many other critical conditions at disproportionate rates.

This is a critical moment in time for the health care sector – and in particular, pharma – to engage these audiences authentically. Our research shows that African American and Latinx patients want pharma to:

  • Address health misinformation head-on, helping patients to distinguish between false and accurate health information;
  • Be more honest and realistic about realities of diseases and treatments, and use simple, clear language, and
  • Show patients what goes on behind the scenes at pharma companies, such as how drugs are developed and priced.

It’s important to mention that these findings don’t apply to everyone. Important gaps still exist in digital equity, health literacy, language barriers, etc. – which, again, disproportionately impact people of color.

What inspired your personal passion for advancing health equity?

My passion for this work is inspired by the intersection of my lived experience with the health system and career experience as a health marketer. I’ve been in the doctor’s office and experienced discrimination. I’ve been in agency halls and noticed the gaps in representation, strategic practices, and diverse perspectives. The work is born out of a need to act – to share knowledge, challenge the status quo, and partner on solutions that help advance health equity for all.