Embracing Healthcare Diversity Starts from the Top Down

07/19/2017 08:59 pm ET Updated Jul 20, 2017

When asked what diversity in healthcare leadership means to her, Nurse Ameila Roberts of RN Solutions, writes: “Diversity in leadership means that organizations are truly open to innovative ideas. If people at the top all look the same, with similar backgrounds, similar education and the like, it is hard to think that said organization is open to something new.” Diversity in healthcare is about more than doing a job, every aspect of the business involves engaging and connecting with people; like any other business, if healthcare providers fail to connect with their clientele, it’s unlikely that they will have repeat customers.

Healthcare companies should promote diversity as a means of embracing policies of inclusion and encouraging innovation. Mr. Johnathan Greenstein, CEO of Mercy Homecare and Medical Supply, believes that healthcare companies that fail to meet this criterion lack the stigma for disagreement. Mr. Greenstein states: “Out of disagreement, companies grow. You need different opinions, people of different gender identities, sexual orientations, religions and races in the medical field because each background offers insight to the way we care for our customers.”

Healthcare leaders are responsible for encouraging an organizational climate that promotes diversity, cultural competency, and embracing different perspectives; it ultimately trickles down to the company’s bottom line. Patient-centered care calls for organizations to cater to the needs of each client and the communities that they serve; inclusive diversity policies help build connections with the community. Per Ms. Alexandra (Alex) Coren, CEO of Carepostcard and Co-founder and CINO of a patient-driven healthcare recognition and performance platform Wambi, “Diversity in leadership is important in creating a culture of acceptance for this new wave of providers. In looking at a healthcare leader, a new practitioner wants to see something in which they can relate, giving them the confidence to strive for a leadership role—regardless of his or her own background.”

Ms. Coren cites that although women make up 80% of healthcare workers, they only account for only 40% of executives. She believes that women in healthcare leadership positions drive aspirations and a crucial sense of camaraderie, and this positive working culture promotes higher retention rates among hospital employees and enhances quality of life and care. According to Ms. Coren: “When a patient can relate to their healthcare provider, it helps to quickly develop a sense of trust that is vital to the patient experience and hospital success.“ In her opinion, diversity needs to come from the top down, so that in the future, every person feels as though he or she has a place where they belong.

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Most facilities promote these policies through pre-established hiring practices and ongoing cultural competency training. Results from the 2015 Institute for Diversity in Health Management’s, Diversity and Disparities of U.S. Hospitals, survey indicated that:

  • 80% of hospitals educate staff on cultural competence
  • 79% of facilities provide continuing education opportunities on the topic
  • 40% of organizations have guidelines for incorporating cultural and linguistic competencies into their day-to-day routines
  • 55% of monitor cultural competency metrics

According to Ms. Katie Owens, a Certified Patient Experience Professional and President of the Healthcare Experience Foundation, fostering diversity should be an everyday objective; leaders that seek out perspective demonstrate a commitment to honoring and respecting cultures, traditions, and the personal needs of patients and employees.

Although healthcare organizations are making headway in connecting with patients, there is still a gap in how diversity is reflected in higher-level leadership and governing boards. The Institute for Diversity in Health Management’s survey also indicated that despite the progress that healthcare organizations have made towards hiring a diverse group of employees, there has been little progress in increasing diversity among executives and governing boards; minorities accounted for 11% of executive leadership positions and 14% of board members. Much of the progress towards increasing diversity in healthcare leadership has occurred at the first and mid-level manger level positions with an overall 4% increase from 2013 to 2015 to 19%, although minority groups account for 37% of the U.S. population.

As pointed out by Ms. Owens, healthcare leaders that fail to build diversity as a core competency, while leading by example, the organization will not fulfill capacity to provide safe, empathetic, and compassionate care. Ms. Owens goes on to share a personal reflection: “Several years ago, I was onsite with a hospital in Queens, NY where the total number of languages patients and staff spoke was over 120. I was rounding with a patient on an orthopedic unit who spoke Tibetan. We used a language line to communicate. Upon introducing myself, I began asking her about the care she received since being admitted. She immediately started crying. When I inquired about her tears, she said, ‘everyone has been so kind to me. The unit leader matched me with a staff member who speaks my language, who has been wonderful. Also, every person I have met has had a smile and treated me with kindness. Because of this I feel safe and I was so scared when I arrived.’ To me, this is the result of a senior team and management team devoted to respecting diversity and making kindness and compassion non-negotiable.”

When healthcare organizations focus on wholistic approaches from the top down for instituting diversity and inclusion policies, training, and practices; it helps to establish a culture of acceptance and one that readily embraces change.

Author, Dr. Kristy Taylor, is the founder of Heka Healthcare Consulting, LLC, and healthcare training and performance company. She has 15+ years of experience in healthcare and education.

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