C-suite diversity remains a work in progress

The problem of racial inequity has taken center stage in light of the events of 2020. For their part, many healthcare organizations have approached issues around systemic racism and inequality by assessing their own efforts to promote diversity and inclusion within their workforces.

But increased interest in diversity has yet to lead to substantive change at the executive level, where people of color fill less than 15% of all hospital executive positions and board seats. Such figures have sparked new discussions around how stakeholders can not only best attract employees of color but create the types of work environments that provide opportunities for more minority professionals to take on leadership roles.

Modern Healthcare recently held a virtual town hall with eight industry leaders to get their perspectives on how healthcare can move toward greater diversity at the top.

Understanding the importance of diversity
Dr. Joanne Conroy, president and CEO, Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health: When you get a sack of a hundred resumes, it’s pretty difficult to go through those quickly without letting some unconscious gut feeling decide who gets into the video interview pile versus who doesn’t actually move any further. So now we blind all of our resumes for senior leadership positions. The last time we did that—hiring two of our really important positions—we got a female candidate and a diversity candidate and were incredibly pleased by the outcome.

Dr. Thomas Sequist, chief patient experience and equity officer, Mass General Brigham: A couple of things are really important. One is making sure you create a culture of accountability. I think the other is really communicating to everyone the purpose of why we are pursuing such diversity. I think that message often gets lost.

Nicole Thomas, president, Baptist Medical Center South: Having a measurement be a part of how our leaders are evaluated is really important to be able to focus the attention that’s needed on what you’re going to be judged by and when it’s important to the C-suite. It becomes important as we cascade it through the rest of the organization.

Suresh Gunasekaran, CEO, University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics: It’s a fundamental type of problem-solving, just like we’re in search of new technologies and new therapies, we’re also in search of new perspectives. I think it’s really about embracing this notion that new types of healthcare problem-solving are needed because yesterday’s configuration hasn’t gotten us the results that we wanted.

Mark Clement, president and CEO, TriHealth: At TriHealth, for the first time in our history we’ve established a leadership diversity goal. Our senior leaders are now accountable for that, and it’s directly tied to our incentive plan. We launched just this year an emerging leader program targeting and developing up-and-comer minority candidates within our system to really be able to promote from within, which is for us probably one of the best sources for leadership talent.

Defining the diversity candidate
Dr. Tamarah Duperval-Brownlee, senior vice president and chief community impact officer, Ascension: I think it is a candidate who allows an organization to really get to the ultimate goal of what racial equity is—that every person has the opportunity to be able to thrive in a place of leadership and all can be welcomed and included in that regard.

Lessons learned
Ceci Connolly, president and CEO, Alliance of Community Health Plans: It is not enough to successfully hire a diverse candidate. We need to invest in their success over the long term. That’s something we focus on a lot. When people see that we’re a place where you can get an executive coach, where you’ll have the opportunity to present before a board of directors that’s comprised of 24 CEOs—that kind of opportunity and exposure I think inspires others to come along.

Carladenise Edwards, senior vice president and chief strategy officer, Henry Ford Health System: The residuals of slavery and institutional racism have not ended. I think there should be intentionality in making sure we undo wrongs and do right by opening doors and sponsoring people who have been victimized by racism. The only way to do that is to just do it, not to talk about, not to dream about it, and not to think about it but to sponsor someone who has been generation after generation held down because the institutions of our country do not allow and enable people who are descendants of slavery to progress.

Understanding the value of investing in diversity
Thomas: I had the opportunity to build a relationship with the CEO at Baptist Health and that trust allowed me to sit down and show the data—our demographic representation hadn’t changed in 10 years. And that made him want to do something about it. So that literally is how that conversation started for us. It was really based on the idea that we have to change this, because our data does not match our hearts.

Clement: For us, I think the answer to how do you have the conversations is for you to just have the conversations. We now conduct virtual town meetings on a quarterly basis on diversity, our commitment to social justice, intolerance of racism of any kind.

Conroy: We actually are pretty successful in recruiting diverse candidates, but our problem is keeping them. It’s not just getting them here and finding an office and a house and saying, good luck. They have to feel like we’re investing in them and that we are interested in their careers, and we realized that we were doing a really bad job there. So we started a diversity equity, inclusion and belonging task force. A big part of that task force is listening to stories, and I’m going to tell you, it is painful. These people have worked with us for 20, 25 years, and they’ve been carrying around how they’ve been treated. You have to listen to that, and you have to create a safe environment for them to actually share that.

Setting the example
Connolly: Who leaders task for important, high-profile roles or assignments or projects can send a very powerful signal about sponsorship. It goes beyond mentorship to really helping them advance. When you’re in a position of leadership, you have certain additional responsibilities including to the organization, but you also have opportunities to use that position in different ways, and I think that’s where it can really become very powerful.

Gunasekaran: We found it more important actually to engage the front lines than some of the senior leadership because they had more data on what’s happening in the real world. We found that our staff members of color and of different sexual orientation were subject to a lot more harassment and abuse than we were fully aware of from our patients. Empowering front-line staff to be part of the solution to help us better understand the realities of our community has been really important. But that isn’t to say that the senior leadership shouldn’t also be held accountable for having the right representation and listening.

Edwards: Young people want to be what they see, right? You can’t be what you can’t see. So now my organization is intentional about connecting with high school programs. We actually allow 70 high schoolers who are in the medical academy here locally to do rotations through our hospital system to get exposure to healthcare. We also have a relationship with our local (historically Black college). There are over 100 across the country. Find one that’s close to you in your region and reach out to those students. They are smart, they are hungry, they are humble, they are talented. Give them an opportunity to see what it’s like to walk inside the organization and leadership shoes and give them kind of an expanded dream if you will.

Conveying the message to the right audience
Sequist: It is really important that we figure out who are the folks we need at the table. You’ve probably all been to talks on gender equity and it’s like 90% women in the audience. That’s not helpful. But it really is a signal as to what the real sort of intentions of the organization are about. I would really advocate to everyone that your audience—our audience—for this work are not the Black or Native or Hispanic, Latino populations. If we’re talking about race, they are the white population. If we’re talking about gender, it is men who are the target of these initiatives. And not targets in a negative way, but targets in terms of who we should be working with most actively.

Source: modernhealthcare.com

Tags: covid-19, pandemic

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