Diversity in the Hospital C-Suite: Walk it Like You Talk it

Molly Gamble (Twitter | Google+) - Print  | 
Cultural and gender diversity is a laudable goal, especially for organizations' C-suites, which have traditionally lacked variety in this respect. Many healthcare leaders associate a diverse leadership team with improved patient satisfaction, more successful decision-making, achieved strategic goals, better clinical outcomes and stronger financial performance. Yet, despite the beneficial connections, only about 25 percent of healthcare leaders feel minority executives are well-represented in their organization's management, according to a recent WittKieffer survey.

There seems to be a paradox within healthcare, an antinomy in which executives uphold diversity as a business value, yet fail to ensure its personification in their own team or board. Only 15 percent of professionals felt the diversity gap in healthcare leadership has closed, according to the survey, suggesting a considerable amount of work remains.

So why do CEOs talk-the-talk but slow down when it comes time to walk-the-walk? "You know as well as I the many demands on our health system right now. There are many boards and CEOs who are spiritually and strategically committed to this work, but they have so much on their plate," says Jim Gauss, chairman, Board Services Practice at Witt/Kieffer. "[Diversity] has to fit in the larger context of a health system's or hospital's business case," he says.

Here are five points on how a diverse leadership team, aside from being right in principle, is beneficial for a healthcare organization's  business, and three best practices for organizations bolstering their diversification efforts.

Five ways leadership diversity connects to health system or hospital business strategy


1. Improved patient satisfaction. Roughly 62 percent of healthcare leaders believe cultural differences among healthcare leadership can improve the patient experience. A culturally diverse board and executive team can enhance an organization's public image and improve credibility. A good rule of thumb — and effective conversation-starter — is to compare a hospital's board and leadership team to the population it serves. "The best organizations are doing this: putting mirrors up to themselves and asking if they really reflect the communities they serve," says Mr. Gauss.

2. More vetted decision-making. Sixty-five percent of healthcare CEOs believe understanding cultural differences support successful decision-making, according to the survey. In this realm, the term "diversity" not only refers to demographic attributes, but also diversity in thought, education and skills. "I'm working with boards to bring in diversity of thought and perspective, first and foremost," says Mr. Gauss. "It doesn't always mean we're talking about diversity in the narrow sense."

3. Accomplishment of strategic goals. About 54 percent of healthcare professionals agree that diversity in recruiting allows their organization to reach their strategic goals. A difference in perspectives and cultural understandings unveils new angles for organizations to explore when setting strategic goals, planning for how they will be reached and how they will affect various components of the delivery system and communities served.

4. Improved clinical outcomes. Healthcare systems that have textured and varied understandings of patients' ethnic backgrounds, linguistic needs and other cultural perspectives are associated with more competent care and better clinical outcomes. Forty-six percent of healthcare professionals believed diversity in leadership leads to improved clinical outcomes, according to the survey.

5. Improved bottom line. Nearly 40 percent of survey respondents indicated a diverse leadership team is more likely to improve a healthcare organization's bottom line, due in part to the combination of values previously listed — better outcomes, improved efficiency, greater patient satisfaction and enhanced credibility. "It may still be a few years away before this becomes abundantly clear, but I'd say you'll see a lot more people on the financial side of the house paying attention to [diversity]," says Mr. Gauss.

Three best practices for hospital diversification efforts


1. Infiltrate values of diversity throughout the entire organization. It's one thing to recruit diverse candidates to a healthcare organization's board and management, but the hard work lies in instilling the value throughout every level of the organization's culture. Some organizations have been successful at this, and Mr. Gauss says those hospitals and health systems are now held in high esteem among healthcare professionals. "Those are 'magnet' organizations for diverse candidates — those that do good work are then sought out by diverse candidates," he says.

2. Rally support from the board and C-suite.
The organizations Mr. Gauss deemed most successful in diversifying their leadership are those that aggressively planned programs and goals around the effort. CEOs and boards can solidify ideas and goals about diversity and make them a successful business strategy. "I think the most fundamental issue of all is that those organizations that do the best work in this area undoubtedly have strong board and CEO support," says Mr. Gauss. "Without proper CEO and board support, a lot of things don't happen."

3. Consider what works best for other organizations. Not all diversity initiatives are successful. In the survey, only 37 percent of respondents said their organization's cultural sensitivity programs were effective, whereas 94 percent of respondents agreed that mentoring programs were an effective best practice to cultivate organizational diversity. Diversifying a leadership team or culture can take three to five years as it is, leaving little time or space for hamstrung initiatives. Other practices respondents deemed effective in the survey include seeking ways to move individuals from college and/or healthcare jobs to healthcare administration; obtaining employee feedback on diversity efforts; developing ongoing minority leadership training programs; and networking with diversity organizations.  

More Articles on Leadership Diversity:

Survey: 13% of Healthcare Professionals Think Hospitals Have Closed Diversity Gap
Multi-Generational Leadership: How to Bridge Gaps in Age and Understanding
Shattering Glass Ceilings: Women in the Hospital C-Suite


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