As a result, across all of its boards, roughly 27% of Henry Ford's trustees now are non-white, compared with 19% in 2005. The share of female board members has remained fairly steady at a little more than one-third.
But at many other not-for-profit hospitals and health systems, not much has changed, governance experts say. Last year, 47% of not-for-profit hospital governing boards lacked even a single racial or ethnic minority member, according to the Governance Institute, a consulting group. While only 3% of boards lack female members, the median board makeup is three women among 13 board members. Two of the most recent American Hospital Association triennial governance surveys found that minority board members accounted for 9% of hospital directors and trustees in 2009 and 10% in 2011. The latest survey is currently underway.
Boards “in no way” reflect their communities, said Dr. John Combes, president of the AHA's Center for Healthcare Governance.
Over the next three decades, the U.S. will become a “nation of minorities,” with no one racial or ethnic group making up a majority of the population, federal projections show. Minorities accounted for 37% of the U.S. population in 2012, and that will increase to 57% by 2060.
As the nation becomes more diverse, hospitals' lack of diverse leadership grows more troubling, Schlichting said. “It's like we're not paying attention to the world we live in,” she said.
Henry Ford's systematic approach to greater diversification of its governing boards is one that is widely endorsed but too rarely practiced across the industry, governance experts say. Board diversity assessments, formal diversity policies and measures to track progress are needed among hospital boards and industrywide, they argue.
“If you never have a metric, then you're never held accountable,” said Connie Curran, founder and CEO of Best on Board, a healthcare board education and certification company. Explicit financial incentives for executives to expand diversity also help. “Number one, you get what you measure,” she said. “Number two, you get what you reward.”
The issue is about far more than just numbers. Homogeneous boards that fail to reflect the demographics of the communities they serve—by gender, race, ethnicity, age, geography and socio-economic status—risk excluding knowledge and experience that will better inform policies to improve patient care and provide services communities need, experts say. Increased diversity in governance and management is one of three strategies critical to eliminating healthcare disparities, according to a 2012 report issued by the AHA, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the American College of Healthcare Executives, the Catholic Health Association and America's Essential Hospitals.