"An organization with a chief diversity officer shows a commitment to diversity," Bauer said. "There are individuals who will look to see if there is a chief diversity officer" when they apply for jobs.
In order to be effective, a chief diversity officer must have an understanding of the organization's culture and its patient population, Bauer said. "This is a role that accomplishes things through influence and relationships, not through authority, so it requires someone who is able to build strong relationships and communicate," she added.
Jefferson Health's Hill said he sometimes drives to different neighborhoods just to talk to people and get to know them better.
Experienced healthcare diversity officers can be hard to find, Korn Ferry's Giella said. The role is relatively new in healthcare so fewer professionals in the industry have the necessary background. Organizations will sometimes look outside of healthcare for diversity officer candidates in sectors such as education and government, he said. "It's a people-intensive role."
Depending on the size of the organization, salaries for chief diversity officers can range from $170,000 to $350,000, Bauer said. This is in line with other senior executives at healthcare organizations, which she said is essential to show the role's importance to the overall leadership team and strategic vision.
Gloria Goins, chief diversity officer at Bon Secours Health System based in Marriottsville, Md., spends much of her time ensuring employees leverage their unique differences to improve patient care. Bon Secours employs about 25,000 across its 19 hospitals.
One tactic is the use of employee resource groups, which bring together workers who share the same background or interests to come up with new initiatives and programs that target specific patient populations.
The health system serves a large veteran population in Virginia. The Bon Secours veteran resource group includes both employees who are veterans and those who are passionate about helping veterans get better healthcare.
Group members often travel to various communities to assist veterans, whether it's serving hot meals to the homeless or helping them locate housing.
"An integral part of who we are at Bon Secours is to provide culturally competent care," Goins said. "The idea is to really meet people where they are, and the ability to bridge across all kinds of cultures including age and religion."
Hill at Jefferson Health, who now has nine people on his team, held focus groups with patients to get a better sense of what they expect from their healthcare providers, and how they view Jefferson Health.
"People make assumptions, and a lot of the time those assumptions aren't true," Hill said.
The effort has helped Jefferson Health better target health disparities in local communities, particularly among the homeless and low-income populations.
Although the goals of chief diversity officers align with important overall strategic missions of healthcare organizations, it might still be hard to get buy-in and support for their efforts, Bauer at Witt/Kieffer said.
"I think the challenge for a chief diversity officer is that your work isn't directly attributable to market share or revenue . . . so you need to be able to develop a strategy to lobby for the resources and have conversations with the CEO around what types of resources are available," Bauer said.
Elizabeth Appling, chief diversity officer at Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Erlanger Health System, said it can be hard to keep diversity top-of-mind in the C-suite. To combat that, she's identified executive leaders who support her goals and will help sponsor them.
"Identifying ways to secure leadership buy-in is constant," she said.
Another challenge is that strategic goals take awhile to achieve so chief diversity officers need to practice patience. "The reality of it is when you do this work you recognize it is not a sprint, it is an ongoing rigorous process," Goins said.