How to Build a Diverse Leadership Bench

Q&A with Baptist Health South Florida

Health care organizations serve increasingly diverse consumers. Yet nationally, health care’s leadership ranks fall far short of reflecting this diversity. This is especially true with respect to gender and racial diversity in the C-suite. Since a more diverse leadership bench can better anticipate and meet the demands of diverse consumers, increasing leadership diversity has become a priority for many health care organizations.

We spoke with Ricardo Forbes, Chief Diversity Officer, Baptist Health South Florida, to learn more about how Baptist Health is actively working on building diverse leadership teams.

Read on to learn about the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts, including:

Defining a diversity and inclusion strategy

Q: Let’s start with the basics. How do you define diversity and inclusion (D&I)?

Ricardo: People often conflate the terms, but diversity and inclusion are two different things. While diversity is having a number of different identities represented, inclusion is about welcoming and supporting those different identities. Diversity is important, but the active ingredient is inclusion. In any organization, you should have both.

Q: Increasing D&I can be the “morally right thing to do,” but how do you talk about the impact of it on business strategy?

Ricardo: Diversity and inclusion is a powerful way to be competitive in the market. For example, increasing diversity to reflect the patient population can be framed as a way to enhance patient revenue and increase patient safety. We make sure we have staff who are certified as interpreters. It’s important that information relevant to a patient’s care is communicated in their first language. This is relevant to both the patient experience and patient safety. When you frame D&I as a business imperative, leaders are more likely to see the efforts as an opportunity rather than an imposition.

Q: For many organizations, there may not be enough representation of women or people of color in middle-management to pull into the executive ranks. When you’re looking to increase diversity in senior leadership, what do you focus on first: Increasing the number of diverse staff or diverse leaders?

Ricardo: We err on the side of starting at the front line. This is because Baptist Health has the unique advantage of having a very diverse workforce to start with. As a whole, our workforce is 78% minorities, which is reflective of Baptist Health South Florida’s surrounding community. Because we are a very highly rated place to work, there has been little movement amongst the senior leadership ranks. For that reason, the focus is on creating a pipeline for the future, which is done through selecting high-potential talent (ideally reflective of the patient demographic mix) and putting them in leadership development cohorts and stretch projects.

Q: Where should the Diversity and Inclusion department live? In other words, if someone is overseeing this function, who should they report to?

Ricardo: I’ve been the point person for diversity for the past six years. I report to our Chief Administrative Officer who reports to our CEO, so I’m two steps removed from the top, which gives me leverage in the organization as a whole. Our CEO has endorsed our diversity efforts from the very beginning—people know that it’s coming from the top.

That said, I also believe the diversity initiative needs to be a stand-alone department – that is, not housed in HR – so that it can keep everyone, including HR, accountable. HR has so many initiatives and processes to do on an everyday basis that diversity can become one of many priorities (and therefore diluted or less urgent). By having diversity as a separate initiative, leaders give it the attention it needs, and it becomes more integrated into the organizational culture. The key to success is that the department is “a stealth department” that is weaving diversity into the fabric of the organization; being invisible is part of the secret to being successful.

Developing diverse leaders

Q: Ricardo, BHSF chose to intentionally build diversity into its existing high-potential leader program rather than build a separate cohort. How has the Baptist Health Leadership Experience served to elevate diverse talent?

Ricardo: The Baptist Health Leadership Experience (BHLE) has been a mechanism that has helped elevate diverse talent to the director and AVP levels, particularly because of the exposure to senior executives that participants get. The yearly leadership development program has 6 cohorts, made up of individuals from different entities, and each cohort works on a project that stretches their skills and talents. Each cohort must come up with an action plan to tackle a project sponsored by a senior leader and present their findings to the interested group (administrators or senior leaders) and occasionally present to the Board of Governors as well.

Q: What resources do you provide to support diverse staff?

Ricardo: We have a Diversity Council that meets quarterly to discuss issues related to diversity and inclusion—this council is made up of leadership from each entity, and the report that come out of this quarterly meeting is shared with the CEO and leadership of each entity. We also require all of our employees (including physicians that work at our organization) to watch a cultural competency video in order to foster the type of environment we want BHSF to embody, for both our patients and our staff.

Guarding against bias

Q: We know bias is inherent to human nature. What can you do to guard against the unconscious bias that occurs when evaluating diverse talent?

Ricardo: For us, it’s a matter of leaders checking each other in talent reviews if there is no representation of diverse talent being presented for the BHLE development program. HR helps in talent management sessions, making sure that we are effectively, without any bias, giving people the best opportunity for evaluation. We won’t put someone in the program just to make sure there is representation; we make sure we are hiring the best people, giving people opportunity for development, and providing coaching. In essence, building the diverse pipeline starts with hiring, developing, and giving this talent exposure. Our CAO also keeps an eye on the cohorts and often reminds leaders to keep diversity in mind.

Measuring progress

Q: What are you doing to track progress on diversity and inclusion goals?

Ricardo: Right now we are measuring diversity and inclusiveness in hiring with the following metrics: the number of diverse applicants, the number of diverse applicants interviewed, and the number actually hired. On a quarterly basis, we look at the proportion of diverse employees being promoted.

It’s important to note that a “diverse pool” needs to have the required qualifications and talent. Sometimes a pool looks diverse but applicants do not have the necessary qualifications, so the true candidate pool that can be considered is actually not that diverse.

Aside from seeing the diversity of our leadership reflect our workforce and our patient population, success is when diversity and inclusion are fully integrated in the BHSF culture in such a way that it is just a part of the way we do things and not even thought of. Obviously this is very hard to measure, but I’d say much of my success so far comes from the D&I department serving as a “stealth” department.

Q: Does your organization have any formal incentive goals for leaders to increase diversity?

Ricardo: There is no goal or formal metric in place for diversity as things are going well, but I hope that we can move to that in the future (with careful implementation as metrics can often look at the wrong outcome). I think it’s too premature to formally incentivize leaders to increase diversity since there is so little movement in our senior leader levels.

Q: Ricardo, you mentioned that Baptist Health is unique in that it started out with a very diverse group of frontline staff. What should organizations’ commitment be if they aren’t situated in a highly diverse community?

Ricardo: We are located in a predominately Hispanic area, but Hispanic includes many different aspects, as there are a wide variety of cultures from Hispanic countries. This is something we have to think about. Organizations and communities should try to look beyond diversity in the traditional sense. Consider race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, generation, disability, personality type, thinking style, socio-economic status, and veteran status. These are different identities that exist in every community.

Q: How have you seen diversity change in your workforce? And what are your future goals?

Ricardo: We are tracking along well with our goals: 58.3% of managers and above are minorities and 36% of executives are minorities. We are on par with the national average for women in executive roles at 42%. We’ve also received external recognition. We were named by Fortune as #16 of Top 50 Best Places to Work for Diversity in 2015. In 2016, we were also rated #6 of 20 Best Workplaces in Health Care by Great Place to Work.

The goal is to continue to build our mid- to upper-level pipelines so that when senior leadership positions do open up, we can see our numbers continue to increase.

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