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4 lessons to increase diversity in your organization

By Sophia Duke-MosierAneesha RajRachel Zuckerman

January 6, 2022

    Advisory Board recently hosted our first Innovation Showcase: Strategies to Advance Diversity. Eight finalists shared how they're successfully increasing the diversity of their workforce to better reflect their community in clinical and leadership roles.

    The audience and expert panel assessed the finalists on four criteria: impact, creativity, design, and sustainability. The winner of the showcase (and a $10,000 award from Optum) was Family Care Specialists (FCS) Medical Group for their programs to increase the supply of Latinx health professionals.

    While there could be only one winner, all eight finalists offered valuable insights. Here are the top four lessons we learned:

    Mar. 2 webinar: How to build a diverse clinical workforce

    1. Meaningful progress takes time, so stick with it.

    Many institutions have vowed to confront racism, especially since the tragic 2020 killing of George Floyd. For instance, some have hired DEI leaders or launched new strategic plans. Unfortunately, these efforts can appear reactionary at best and insincere at worst—especially when they're short-lived. This is not to say that an initiative born from a crisis is destined for failure. Moments like the Covid-19 pandemic or 2020 racial justice movement can be powerful catalysts for action. But you need to make long-term investments in these priorities to see results.

    The showcase winner, Family Care Specialists Medical Group, demonstrates the value of sustained commitment. FCS' leaders have spent over 30 years designing a comprehensive pipeline for health professions. They've built partnerships with local K-12 schools and colleges, launched a virtual mentorship platform, and created a family medicine residency program. So far, FCS has graduated 226 family medicine physicians, 65% of whom are under-represented minorities.

    2. Own your organization's shortcomings—failing to acknowledge them prevents progress and inhibits trust.

    All our finalists studied disparities in representation in their workforce and shared the results openly. Being able to identify and talk about this issue is critical to building a more equitable workplace. But sharing this information can be hard for leaders who fear that admitting these gaps exist will harm the organization's brand or put off potential candidates.

    The truth is, these disparities exist whether you acknowledge them or not. Failing to acknowledge them not only hampers your ability to make progress, it also inhibits trust with affected communities.

    One of our finalists, Legacy Health, has taken a particularly striking approach to embracing honesty and acknowledging shortcomings. Legacy shared the results of an analysis that revealed its leadership team did not reflect the racial and ethnic demographics of their community.

    To address this gap, Legacy instituted a new requirement for all external leadership hires: the candidate pool must include at least two people of color. Many organizations with a requirement like this also require diverse interview panels.

    But based on feedback from employees of color, Legacy decided against changing their interview panels to avoid "tokenizing" non-white team members and to avoid disguising the fact that their current leadership team is predominantly white. Instead, Legacy engages sincerely with candidates about the underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in leadership and the organization's plan to change this.

    3. Design with—not for—people who are systemically marginalized.

    Too often, initiatives designed to support equitable opportunities for marginalized groups of people—such as Black individuals or people from low-income backgrounds—are planned and implemented without meaningful involvement from the targeted group itself. To advance racial equity, white leaders and predominantly white organizations must acknowledge and leverage their power and privilege to change the environments that put them in power.

    However, these leaders must be careful not to view themselves as saviors who know what's best for other people. To avoid this, leaders must listen to and following the examples of people who have historically been overlooked or excluded. The finalists in our showcase viewed themselves not as benefactors but as deeply embedded community partners whose success is dependent on the success of the whole community. With this mindset, the finalists focused on creating true two-way partnerships.

    Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL), for example, conduced listening tours to hear directly from their 100 culinary associates, nearly 90% of whom are recent immigrants, mostly from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The culinary associates expressed a need for more equitable opportunities for advancement, particularly for Black and Latinx employees, which led to the creation of HSL's Culinary and Hospitality Immersion Program (CHIP).

    CHIP offers entry-level staff the opportunity to advance within their respective careers by providing clear competencies and standards for promotion, on-shift training, and peer mentorship. In the first year of the program, HSL saw a 90% increase in entry-level culinary staff promotions.

    4. Move further upstream to increase the diversity of talent entering health care.

    Health care organizations' efforts to increase diversity can sometimes lead to a zero-sum game, with many institutions competing for a limited pool of certain talent, such as Black clinicians. You may recruit another Black doctor to your organization, but that means another organization loses a Black doctor. That doesn't have to be the case.

    Our finalists looked upstream to expand the limited pool of candidates and address the root causes that limit representation in health care. For example, Dayton Children's Hospital launched a work-study program to increase the number of Black employees entering nursing school. Our finalists also demonstrated the potential of working together as an industry rather than competing as individual organizations. Montefiore Medical Center, for example, measures the success of their community workforce programs not by how many participants are hired at Montefiore specifically but by how many participants end up employed in health care overall.

    Want to learn more? Check out summaries of each of the eight finalists along with their presentation slides.  And register for a virtual presentation and live Q&A on March 2 to learn directly from Dr. Hector Flores about Family Care Specialists’ impressive work.

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