Guest Commentary: Make promoting diversity and inclusion mission-critical in your organization
The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2044, the majority of the U.S. population will be nonwhite. The significance of this prediction is underscored by research that indicates that racial health disparities already account for an estimated $35 billion in extra healthcare expenditures each year.
Healthcare leaders have long thought that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is the right thing for our organizations to do, but I would suggest it also is mission-critical. As demographics shift and inequities of care persist in our communities, we as healthcare leaders must renew our personal commitment to providing an environment in which we can succeed in attracting and retaining diverse talent to fulfill our organizations' collective mission of providing the best possible care.
Leaders can—and do—make a difference, as a study conducted by the American College of Healthcare Executives in 2014 demonstrated. This study compared the career attainments of a sample of healthcare executives by race and ethnicity, and it also solicited their opinions about race relations in their organizations. Perhaps the study's most important finding was the critical role leaders play in creating diverse and inclusive cultures in three key areas: eliminating compensation disparities; creating strong mentoring programs; and establishing programs policies and practices that foster inclusion.
Eliminating compensation disparities is one of the first steps healthcare organizations can take to create and maintain a fair and welcoming environment for diverse individuals. Although some gaps in compensation have narrowed over the past 25 years, the study revealed that white men continue to earn higher salaries than black and Hispanic men and higher salaries than women of all races, even after controlling for education and years of experience. Compensation disparities are not always obvious, and organizations should invest in conducting fair audits to ensure their executives are paid salaries that reflect their qualifications and responsibilities, and without reference to their race, ethnicity or gender.
Creating strong mentoring programs is another way organizations can make a difference. Mentors play a major role in shaping the careers of healthcare executives. Yet, only half of the executives interviewed in the study indicated that their organizations offer formal mentoring programs. Mentoring relationships, supplemented with personalized professional development plans, can help ensure that emerging leaders from ethnically, culturally and racially diverse backgrounds have the support they need to progress in their careers.
Employers can take immediate action by participating in the Institute for Diversity and Health Equity's Summer Enrichment Program. The program, co-sponsored by the ACHE, places diverse graduate students in healthcare administration or related fields in paid internships at healthcare organizations across the country.
Establishing programs, policies and practices that advance inclusion is essential to creating workplaces where talented, diverse individuals can succeed. The study revealed that organizational diversity efforts do make a difference in how executives of different races and ethnicities view race relations within their organizations. Minority executives found organizations with strong policies for recruiting and hiring diverse candidates and for increasing the diversity of the senior leadership team to be more welcoming to employees of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Such efforts cannot be viewed as one-time events but must be integral elements of an organization's goal of nurturing an inclusive culture.
Finally, creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace requires the firm and unwavering commitment of senior leaders. It is our job to attract and develop the top talent if we are to benefit from our collective insights in striving to remove disparities and provide the best possible care. The agendas of today's healthcare leaders are crowded with myriad challenges competing for our time and attention. However, we must move from insight to action by taking the three approaches we have outlined: eliminating pay disparities, creating strong mentoring programs and establishing policies and practices that drive inclusion. If every leader commits to even one of these actions, I am confident we can accelerate our progress in improving health for all.
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