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Benefits of diversity in healthcare leadership

September 17, 2021
September 17, 2021

Many healthcare organizations make a big deal about increasing the diversity of their workforces. One reason is that the advantages are easy to see. According to The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), “A review of studies related to diversity in health care showed positive associations between diversity, quality, and financial performance. For example, patients generally fare better when cared for by more diverse teams, and improvements to innovation, team communications, risk assessment, and financial performance are associated with increased diversity.” 

The blog Diversity Nursing offers that “There are clear benefits of promoting diversity in the C-suite and encouraging stronger representation from groups that have long been underrepresented in executive roles. Not only do patients benefit from having advocates who represent the full spectrum of the community, but it also makes good business sense.” One important reason is that “Having a variety of opinions and perspectives among top leadership ranks leads to deeper discussions, more thoughtful and intentional strategies, and better decision-making. That, in turn, improves operational performance.” Likewise, “Diversity can be a competitive advance in recruiting, hiring, and retaining quality nurses, physicians and other healthcare professionals, including leaders. Like patient engagement, the engagement of team members and leaders is crucial to recruitment and retention, so diversity should be an important consideration to make all feel welcome.” However, just because diversity is the goal, it still is not that easy to make happen, especially at upper levels of an organization. 

Lack of healthcare leadership diversity

Diversity Nursing also tells readers that “A survey by the American Hospital Association’s Institute for Diversity in Healthcare Management found that while minorities represented 32% of patients in hospitals, they comprised only 14% of hospital board members, 11% of executive leadership, and 19% of mid-level and first-level managers. On gender, despite a healthcare workforce that is 80% female, women occupy approximately 25% of hospital CEO positions. Representation by women of color is in the single digits.”

Solutions for improving diversity

In its policy statement on “Increasing and Sustaining Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Healthcare Leadership,” The American Council of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) encourages that organizations and their executives work to address these issues with measures in the areas of:

  • Recruitment – Employ multiple strategies to identify and attract diverse candidates for openings. 
  • Promotion – Encourage inclusivity by advancing qualified diverse internal candidates and explicitly preventing discrimination against existing staff.
  • Advocacy -- Support diversity focused organizations, mentoring programs, and leadership development initiatives.  

In addition, the group states that “Improving the representation and equitable treatment of racial and ethnic diversity in healthcare leadership requires significant social change, and ACHE advocates adopting a wide variety of approaches to accomplish it.” And important addition to the efforts above is training, especially about the pervasive problem of unconscious bias in healthcare and the need to support a more socially conscious care workforce.

Impacts of increased leadership diversity on patients and staff

The NEJM article linked above tells us that “A review of studies related to diversity in health care showed positive associations between diversity, quality, and financial performance. For example, patients generally fare better when cared for by more diverse teams, and improvements to innovation, team communications, risk assessment, and financial performance are associated with increased diversity.” Also, “Patients and health care providers need to see women doctors and doctors of color leading other doctors. To minimize imposter syndrome and feelings of inadequacy experienced by young health care professionals of color and women, organizations should start early in grooming, supporting, guiding, and helping to set them up for positions of leadership.”

In addition, Harvard Medical School reminds readers about the strong benefits of increased diversity across the healthcare workforce. They write, “Increased representation by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) within the healthcare workforce allows for improved understanding of challenges that exist for myriads of patients, as well as contributes to more inclusive policies, interventions, and programs. Though the majority of the current healthcare workforce is white, it’s critical we strive for change in order to create more culturally mindful solutions for those across various racial and ethnic minority groups.” We are also reminded that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health identifies the following benefits of a diverse healthcare workforce:

  • “Improved access to high-quality care for underserved populations.
  • A larger pool of medically trained professionals and executives, as well as policymakers representative of underserved communities to assume leadership positions in the future. 
  • Greater patient choice and satisfaction. Evidence suggests that racial and ethnic concordance between physician and patient results in greater patient satisfaction.
  • Improved patient-clinician relationships, increased trust, and communication.
  • Increased likelihood of patients accepting and receiving evidence-based medical care. 
  • Improved health.”

Create an inclusive culture to manage and address equity

A workforce and organization that understands the importance of recognizing unconscious bias, diversity in the workplace, cultural competence, and health literacy not only improves peer-to-peer and caregiver-to-patient relationships, but also has the power to influence your organization’s culture, place in your community, and bottom line. Explore HealthStream solutions that support workforce diversity and inclusion.