Just as growing diversity is shaking up the nation's politics, the increasingly multicultural populations served by U.S. healthcare providers are also driving changes in the organizations' C-suites and boardrooms. But the transformation is still a work in progress.
Based on 2012 data from the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association, minorities now make up 14% of hospital C-suite positions. That's up significantly from 9% in the previous year and only 2% in the organization's first benchmark survey in 1994.
Several factors account for the recent gains, says Fred Hobby, the institute's president and CEO. He credits organizations industrywide that have stepped up efforts to focus on diversity, while also noting that more senior-level executives have announced their retirements, creating additional opportunities.
But the numbers still don't reflect the nation's racial and ethnic profile, in which nearly 22% of the U.S. population is nonwhite, according to the Census Bureau.
There's still plenty of work to do, says John Bluford, president and CEO of two-hospital Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo., and a previous AHA board chairman. He's also one of this year's winners of Modern Healthcare's CEO IT Achievement Awards. “Diverse perspectives yield better decisions, and better decisions yield better outcomes,” he says. “Those who are in a diverse environment are going to be more successful competitively.”
Providers have created diversity committees and executive titles focusing on strategies to recruit more minorities, women and members of the gay-lesbian communities to leadership roles. While progress has been made in hiring and promoting minorities, barriers still exist. “Part of it is just the history and maintaining the status quo while being comfortable in that status quo,” Bluford says. “If you don't stretch yourself and take a risk, you are in effect taking a risk.”
Bluford, who is African-American, credits diligence and his commitment to the mission of healthcare for his success, but acknowledges that some organizations need a primer in diversity strategies. An organization can't pin the transformation of its culture on a committee or the chief diversity officer. It needs to be a systemwide effort starting at the top, he says.