Increasingly, companies and organizations throughout the U.S. are doing away with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives in response to many factors, including the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling eliminating race-conscious college admissions. We are enhancing our strategies because it is clear that they lead to greater innovation, better staff retention, more financial success and improved outcomes.
Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Robert C. Garrett breaks down how the largest health system in New Jersey is making progress.
How widespread is this practice to do away with DEI initiatives and what’s driving it?
RG: In May 2020, after George Floyd’s murder and the nation’s ensuing racial reckoning, companies were quick to launch or accelerate DEI initiatives. In fact, three months after Floyd’s murder, job listings for DEI positions increased 123%, according to Indeed. But in the last two years, organizations have dialed back on these strategies. Economic challenges prompted job cuts, there is less scrutiny on companies regarding racial justice, and in some corners, a backlash against DEI. Forbes recently reported an 18% decrease in leaders’ endorsement in their companies’ DEI efforts in the last two years.
What is driving your commitment to double down on these initiatives, and do you have the support of your board?
RG: It is clear that advancing these important strategies enhances a company’s success and team member engagement. As staffing remains a major challenge, it’s extremely important to create a strong culture. Research from Great Place to Work found that team members in diverse and inclusive work environments are more than five times as likely to want to stay on the job. My advice? Stand firm in your commitment to DEI and invest even more in these efforts.
Our board of trustees supports these initiatives 100 percent! One of our seven strategic priorities created by the board with input from executive leadership is this: “Integrate a culture, rooted in our core beliefs, where trust is foundational, diversity, equity & inclusion is celebrated to strengthen and stabilize the workforce and create a great place to work for all.’’
You have certainly made the business case for doubling down on DEI. How do the initiatives and a strong endorsement from the Office of the CEO impact the culture of HMH?
RG: When people can bring their authentic selves to work every day, everyone wins. Here’s a great example. We have 10 Team Member Resource Groups and will feature them in a virtual town hall this month which I lead. This year, we are honoring the Pride & Allies team for their exceptional work in advancing health equity. Their expertise has helped 13 of our network hospitals achieve the 2022 Health Equity Index Leader and Top Performer designations. Additionally, the co-chair of the group asked me to consider increasing IVF benefits from $10,000 to $30,000. After consulting with our benefits team, I was happy to approve this enhanced network benefit for 2024. This is a great example of all boats rising when we address inequality.
Any lessons you can share from your experience that would help fellow CEOs who are questioning their commitment to DEI?
RG: We have come very far in a short period of time. Our advances in DEI include creating an Executive Diversity Council co-chaired by the CEO and the Chief Diversity Officer, who reports directly to the CEO. The council meets quarterly. The network has identified four pillars of focus to advance DEI and drive business including patient care and outcomes; community; workforce and supplier diversity. The network launched a year-long program to build a stronger pipeline of diverse leaders and increased its annual supplier diversity spend by 32% this year. For these efforts and more, Fair360, formerly DiversityInc, ranked Hackensack Meridian Health No. 1 among health systems in the U.S. this year.
We are also making major strides to advance health equity. Our academic flagship, Hackensack University Medical Center, was recently recognized as the first hospital in the nation to earn a Health Care Equity Certification from the Joint Commission. This great quote from former First Lady Rosalynn Carter always inspires me: “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be."
To learn more, visit hmhn.org