Marin County Health & Human Services Department director wins North Bay Women in Business award
Benita McLarin, director of the Marin County Health and Human Services Department, is a winner of North Bay Business Journal’s 2021 Women in Business Awards.
Professional background: Served 20 years as an active duty Medical Service Corps Officer in the United States Army, serving in multiple worldwide locations including in the first Gulf War and retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. Served as a leader and executive in several bay area county public health and health services agencies for the last 15 years.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri; Master of Health Administration, Chapman College, Master of Science in Health Policy and Management, currently working on PhD in Health Services Leadership with Walden University.
Tell us about yourself and your company: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is an innovative, integrated department consisting of four divisions (Administration, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, Public Health, and Social Services) that deliver, coordinate, and administer a range of federal, state, and local programs addressing the health and welfare needs of County residents. Health and wellbeing are prioritized in Marin and the County is consistently named among the healthiest in the State in comparative rankings.
At the same time, many residents do not enjoy full and equitable opportunities. The Department’s Strategic Plan To Achieve Health and Wellness Equity describes its commitment to improving across a wide spectrum of areas that influence health and wellness. Health and Human Services is the largest department in the County with over 700 employees and an overall annual budget of over $220 million. The Department is responsible for approximately 40 programs that are located throughout the county and community.
Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?
I proud of the many accomplishments of the County of Marin during the COVID-19 pandemic in keeping the community safe and healthy. We are especially proud of our status of being the most vaccinated county in the State and in the entire Country.
What is the achievement you are most proud of?
I’m a woman of faith and although I have faced my share of hard times, I want to acknowledge that I’ve been very, very blessed in my life and career.
I’m most proud that when I faced adversity and challenges, I didn’t give up (though I wanted to) and I want to encourage all the young people that no matter what you face, you can move around it or through it or over it and succeed. “Just don’t quit.”
What is your biggest challenge today?
Finding enough time. There are many ongoing challenges with continuing COVID response, balancing other work responsibilities, being a caregiver, supporting my church and finishing up my PhD studies and figuring out personal care.
Words that best describe you: Caring, hard-working, giver, accountable, mission-focused, commitment, service, humorous.
Personally, which of the adjustments you’ve had to make in your home life and career have been most challenging?
I’m a caregiver for my 84-year-old mother who has many health conditions. Asking for more help from family and friends was difficult for a person who thinks they can do it all.
How about the women your work with, or know outside the work place? What adjustments have they had to make?
Some women at our work had to do home schooling and perform their work at the same time which was challenging. Some took care of their kids during the day and worked non-traditional hours. At least one new mom I know decided that she wanted to continue remote work only and left the job instead of risking having to return to the office.
Lastly on COVID, which changes in routine or approach to your job you’ve made as the result of the pandemic will remain in place, either at work or in your outlook on your home life?
We will probably offer some continued remote workdays to some employees if the job allows and client needs are able to be met.
As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?
As a black woman professional, I faced many challenges in my career. One of the biggest ones is always being “the first”. It’s a big burden to carry, constant judgment.
While in the Army I faced the challenge of facing a male dominated society where some men where opposed to being led by a woman. In the County world like most workplaces, its facing perceptions.
For a woman, if you are aggressive, you can be considered too hard or if you are too nurturing you can be considered too soft. Finding the balance and gaining respect is challenging and hard earned. I feel that you are constantly having to prove you deserve the job. You overcome these challenges by trying to be authentic, supporting others and just trying to be the best person you can be.