During my tenure as CEO of a health system in Chicago, one of our board members and a close friend who happens to be a black man transformed my awareness of diversity from commitment to action. Through his willingness to share his perspective, I became deeply committed to diversity and inclusion, not only because it makes good business sense, but also because it is a moral necessity.
In 2011, when I was named CEO of Christus Health, I followed through, thanking my friend for his investment in me by taking action to place diversity and inclusion at the forefront of the organization’s agenda. In addition to CEO, I also hold the title of chief diversity officer.
As healthcare providers, we serve the whole patient. And at Christus, we embody the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Over the past decade, we have shaped Christus into an agile, focused and powerful force for clinical excellence. We set the stage for a fundamental transformation of how we operate as a health system by making a focus on health equity, diversity and inclusion one of our top priorities, and by tracking goals through our organizational performance scorecard. Guided by our mission, we actively work to meet the needs of our diverse patients through our equity-of-care programs, community benefit investments and by ensuring that our internal composition mirrors that of the communities we serve.
Christus adopted two primary strategies to realize deeper diversity and inclusion. First, we set ambitious diversity recruitment targets and linked them to executive pay-at-risk goals in order to cultivate horizontal diversity (between teams) and vertical diversity (from entry-level staff to the board of directors).
Second, we correlated the drivers of engagement and inclusion by investing resources in culturally competent training for all leaders across our local and international facilities, designing inclusive policies using a values-based decision matrix and shifting our practices to align with our values. We also recently provided systemwide workshops across 10 geographic regions to build skills addressing unconscious bias. Over 1,800 leaders were trained, from executives to front-line managers, who gained:
- A common language to promote inclusive behaviors.
- Increased self-awareness and ability to lead across cultures and differences.
- Tools for managing a diverse workforce and for being more inclusive when creating opportunities for teams and projects.
- Skills and strategies to develop and model inclusive behaviors and create sustained positive behavior change.
Results from our internal surveys demonstrated positive inclusion and engagement returns on this investment.
However, we also saw a need to expand our conception of diversity and inclusion to include health equity. While diversity appreciates differences, and inclusion relates to belonging, our mission requires us to incorporate social determinants of health into the clinical processes to preserve human dignity. Equity invites us to examine the roots and the outcomes of unfairness, injustice and lack of opportunity for our patients and staff. This reflection shaped our practices to eliminate barriers to participation for all groups.
The human brain is a bias-making machine, and it’s nearly physically impossible to break bias. However, it is certainly possible to manage how we react to bias.
At Christus, we are thinking more broadly about how our actions strengthen or dismantle barriers to staff success. Armed with this broader brush, our leaders are challenged to mesh awareness of their personal unconscious biases with a more insightful understanding of how those biases link to societal inequality. As we work to advance equity in our facilities, we extend that impact into our communities, our states and the world at large.
Unfortunately, my friend didn’t get to see these results, because he passed away in 2009. But I like to think that he is proud of the impact Christus is making in his honor for all those we are privileged to serve.