Recently I had a chance to visit with the first-year healthcare-management graduate class at Tulane University, my alma mater. The faces of the students looking back at me that day-young men and women of all races and ethnicities-stood in striking contrast to the 22 men in my graduating class 30 years ago, all of whom were white with the exception of one black student.
While we as a field have made progress in promoting racial and gender diversity in healthcare management during the past 30 years, evidence from a recent study shows we still have far to go. In 2002, the American College of Healthcare Executives-in collaboration with the Association of Hispanic Healthcare Executives, the Indian Health Service's Executive Leadership Development Program, the Institute for Diversity in Health Management and the National Association of Health Services Executives-conducted a comprehensive survey that compared the career attainments of healthcare executives by race or ethnicity (Aug. 11, 2003, p. 6).
The findings, which are available online at ache.org/pubs/research/research.cfm, show that minorities continue to lag behind whites in several areas, including job satisfaction, winning senior-level jobs and median total compensation. In response to these continuing inequities, the board of governors of the ACHE has made a series of recommendations that we hope will be important steps toward leveling the playing field. The following are several of the initiatives the ACHE board has devised.
Executives and boards in all types of healthcare organizations should:
* Establish flexible hiring criteria that allow for judgment relative to talent and potential and avoid limiting positions to those with precise prior experience.
* Identify internal candidates of color who exhibit leadership attributes to assume senior-level executive positions. Through such systematic succession planning, organizations will develop a diverse talent pool to draw from as senior leadership positions become available.
* Promote executives of color to senior-level positions, especially in organizations serving predominantly minority communities.
* Urge senior executives to speak out and advocate for diversity in the organization's leadership team.
* Encourage senior managers to promote managers of color by following guidelines for succession if these have been established; conducting candid, periodic evaluations of such managers; and providing counselors to help bridge cultural differences between minorities and whites on the management team.
Senior-level white executives are encouraged to mentor managers of color by:
* Considering the establishment of annual evaluation criteria for mid- and senior-level executives that reward mentoring of minorities.
* Counseling mentors to coach their proteges to aspire to high-level managerial positions, including chief executive officer positions.
* Establishing programs that link mentors with proteges of color, especially in large healthcare systems.
All executives should be provided with opportunities to represent their organizations to a variety of audiences, including professional societies, the community, and employees and potential employees.
The ACHE recommends more efforts be made to increase access to financial assistance for minority students in health services administration programs, based on need and academic achievement.
Executive search consultants need to be apprised of the findings from this study. Their daily experience with hiring and promoting decisions makes them a particularly valuable resource to suggest techniques that would enhance and expand the career opportunities of minorities.
The educational and social functions that professional healthcare associations and organizations offer appear to enhance career advancement. Moreover, becoming involved in professional associations and organizations fosters leadership opportunities at local and national levels. We suggest that minorities join larger healthcare professional societies as well as race- or ethnic-specific group societies and local healthcare executive groups.
Furthermore, the professional organizations of healthcare executives should develop policies that encourage their members to endorse equal employment opportunities. Specifically, they should publish policy statements, prepare position papers and continue to gather data comparing the career attainments of their members. For example, the ACHE's public policy statement, Increasing and Sustaining Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Healthcare Management, provides the college's position on diversity and suggests ways in which you can address this issue in your organization and community. The ACHE's broader Statement on Diversity outlines our efforts to promote diversity within the ACHE organization and within the healthcare-management field as a whole.
A follow-up study should be conducted in five years to determine whether career outcomes have improved for minority healthcare executives compared with whites.
Because no two organizations are alike, there are no "right," specific approaches that can be applied universally. However, the ACHE's broad-based recommendations can help set the stage for how our organizations will fare when it comes to ensuring diversity in the days, months and years ahead.
Richard Henault is chairman of the ACHE and executive vice president of Methodist Health System Foundation, New Orleans.