The concept of race and its impact on health has evolved.
Traditionally, racial health disparities and inequities were viewed through the lens of socioeconomic status. However, this view doesn’t account for how racism shapes social experiences and has biological consequences.
Health systems cannot adequately address their mission and vision to enhance care and serve humanity without creating strategy and structure to address recurring systemic inequalities that materialize in sickness and diseases. Diversity, equity and inclusion committees are key to improving the breadth and scope of patient outcomes and employee value.
Below are some ABCs to guide institutions in creating successful programs.
A. Activists, allies, administration
When forming a DEI committee, it is important to invite and seek out activists who are passionate about cultural change, activism and able to execute the committee’s goals. Allies recognize their privilege, amplify voices of marginalized communities, and engage in ongoing learning and difficult conversations around privilege and inequity. Allies can be catalysts for change. Administrators can build morale, push to execute tasks and vet brainstorming sessions.
Cultural humility is an ever-evolving process that requires self-reflection, openness to learning and respectful discussion. It is impossible to be “competent” about all cultures. The pressure to be perfect, expert or solely responsible for cultural change will lead to a poor sense of belonging. Belongingness is key for members to feel comfortable offering ideas and accepting opportunities. Consider minimizing power differentials among the group. For example, exclude titles such as “doctor” when speaking among one another.
C. Carry different lenses
Within healthcare systems there may be both synergy and conflict between an entity level committee’s vision and the larger system’s vision for DEI initiatives. DEI committees may comprise members who are on the front lines and intimately aware and exposed to inequity faced by patients and colleagues. The system is usually restrained by several legal, political and financial variables. As a result, the committee may suggest ideas that conflict with system restraints. The committee members should be aware of system-level constraint.
When forming a DEI committee, membership should be diverse in a variety of aspects. Consider members across visible and invisible cultural identities (i.e., age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability status and others), tenure within the organization, disciplines, and satellite sites (if applicable).
DEI committees bring together individuals who are tasked with discussing emotionally charged and sensitive subjects. It will be important to identify safe words and conversations to be had during meetings. Shaping expectations for a space that embraces differences as well as honest, respectful and constructive discussion is critical.
F. Form partnerships
It is negligent to form committees for systemic change without input from the patients and communities that are affected by inequity, exclusion and systemic barriers. Consider having a member from the patient and family advisory council on the committee.
G. Gather data
Development of a plan to collect baseline organization and patient data will drive the assessment of need. Further, data on the effectiveness of the DEI committee’s initiatives will support accountability and provide direction and strategy.
Committees focused on DEI are inherent in the mission of most healthcare institutions. The formula for creating such committees is fluid, evolving with the environment and across time, and modified for unique populations served. These committees can increase trust with communities, help retain patients and employees and spark innovation, which will ultimately build reputation, brand awareness, associate value and positive community impact.