One of the most significant responsibilities of a senior leader is to help set organizational priorities. These priorities drive organizational investment, recruitment of talent and management focus. In the healthcare industry, most organizations have set such priorities to improve quality and safety, expand strategic service lines, create ambulatory surgery centers and create larger health networks. Governing boards and management teams have been accustomed to developing such plans and investing millions of dollars, evaluating progress and measuring return on investment.
University of Iowa Health Care recently decided to make improving our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts such a strategic priority. This required us to think radically differently around how we must approach our efforts. We have been focused on DEI for many years and have been regularly recognized for some of those efforts (most recently by Forbes), particularly those designed to create an inclusive workplace and provide dedicated healthcare services for our LGBTQIA community.
Organizationally, we discussed the need to break out of the incremental approach and create dedicated investment streams and high-priority efforts to change the future of the organization through our DEI efforts. We began to have the difficult conversations around how challenging it can be to implement DEI work, the structural issues we need to overcome, and the competing priorities that can get in our way.
It was during this leadership discussion that we realized the way we need to approach our work in the DEI arena is not all that different from the way we pursued our other major initiatives related to quality, off-site services and telehealth, for example. We need to be willing to make major financial investments. We need to be willing to take risks, even though we are not perfectly sure of the plan. We need to have patience around the investment and prioritize long-term results over short-term gains. Ultimately, the fierceness of our commitment would cause culture change within in our organization, not the other way around.
This clarity of approach has been energizing and fulfilling (though a bit blunted by ongoing pandemic challenges). We have recruited dedicated DEI leadership and put together plans for dedicated teams focused on such matters in our medical school and health system. We have committed resources to recruit a diverse workforce and provide a meaningful onboarding experience for new hires. Within our community, we are building programs and support structures for our learners as well as employees to make sure that they feel they have a voice—and the resources and help needed to achieve their potential within our institution.
We have also embraced the reality that we cannot achieve our goals for clinical excellence without excelling in our DEI efforts.
One noteworthy area of painful learning that emerged for our organization during the past two years centers on the harassment our employees experience from patients or colleagues who treat them unfairly because of their race, gender identity or religion. A special management team was convened to update our policies and guidelines to appropriately address this behavior and support employees. More important, we are developing a management training and enterprise communication plan so our staff and patients know that hostile and discriminatory behavior will not be tolerated within our community.
As we develop these DEI plans and implement programs, we also change the way we measure success—different metrics to monitor patient satisfaction from diverse communities, measure workplace inclusiveness in our staff surveys, and identify health disparities in our quality metrics.
UI Health Care has determined that clinical and operational excellence is only possible with excellence in our DEI efforts, and we intend to make this one of our largest priorities of this decade.