How AdventHealth's CHRO Olesea Azevedo determines whether diversity and inclusion efforts are real or window dressing

Olesea Azevedo, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based AdventHealth since 2016, has focused on identifying meaningful diversity and inclusion efforts with a passion for ensuring each person is seen and heard for who they are.  

Ms. Azevedo previously served as vice president of human resources for Florida Blue/Guidewell in Jacksonville, Fla., and before that as assistant vice president of HR and employee communication for Baptist Health South Florida in Miami. 

Here, Becker's Hospital Review's Molly Gamble caught up with Ms. Azevedo. 

Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and style. 

Molly Gamble: How do you distinguish needle-moving, successful diversity efforts from window dressing? What are some "tells" that an effort is rooted in reality and designed for results versus virtue signaling? 

Olesea Azevedo: I think we're all asking ourselves those questions. What really moves the needle, and what do organizations do with good intention but perhaps the outcomes aren't where they need to be? If we look at overall healthcare benchmarks related to minority and gender representation, while we’ve made progress, the opportunity is still significant.   

I had an opportunity to work outside of healthcare and at one organization, we had a pretty large diversity and inclusion team. When a new CEO was appointed, he reduced the D & I team and left two people. People said, "How could you do that? You don't believe in D & I!" His philosophy was that diversity and inclusion does not belong to any one department — every one is responsible for it. While the D&I team still focused on setting the aspirations and program development, leaders created experiences for their teams each day that were supportive of those aspirations and goals. 

MG: So this CEO saw a formalized diversity and inclusion department as a risk, in that other leaders in the organization may come to think of diversity and inclusion as "that department's job" and not their own. What does it look like when a company treats diversity and inclusion as an organizationwide responsibility? 

OA: What's window dressing in my mind is a value of diversity and inclusion that is stated and not lived. When I say lived, to me that looks like every single leader having ownership and responsibility for not just creating a diverse environment from the standpoint of representation, but of inclusivity as well. Those are two very different things. 

At AdventHealth as we reenergized our culture framework, we updated one of our values from diversity to inclusion. We also created service standards — keep me safe, make it easy, love me and own it. These service standards are intended to be lived out in how we interact with each other and consumers. We aspire to show care, compassion and make authentic connections, and as a result we're going to create not just an incredible environment from an experience standpoint but one that is diverse and inclusive. 

What's not window dressing is creating an environment where all leaders own it. That means the culture needs to be supportive of diversity and inclusion, and there should be associated plans and action items linked to it as well. The right rewards and incentives should be in place to help leaders make that part of their daily work and responsibility. 

AdventHealth has looked at measuring representation in terms of minority and gender for each hospital compared to the community in which it serves. Our incentive at an executive level has been aligned with that measure for many years. It works. Compared to the healthcare industry benchmark our organization has seen positive trends over the last 5 years, but as our mission calls us, we aim beyond current benchmarks to ensure representation is reflective of our promise to deliver whole-person care to each person we come in contact with. 

MG: What is one ineffective method that a company can deploy to strengthen gender equity in its recruitment, hiring, pay and/or retention? Can you share an example that shows how or why it falls short? 

OA: We have wrestled with having a women-only leadership development program. We have built a Leadership Institute, and with an experiential executive leadership program that has 45 to 50 participants annually. We are very thoughtful about having the right mix of participants in that group, including role, race, gender and more. At the women's leadership forum, we had a robust conversation on whether we should have a women-specific executive leadership program, and we decided not to do it. 

The executive leadership program requires participants to come together for several days over an 18-month period. It is very intense with significant team work in between. When the first cohort met, we saw women sitting with women and men sitting with men for the first two sessions. On the third session, we were ready to take a photo of the group. The message we had prepared was, "Okay, you have to mix it up." But by the time that photo opportunity arrived, everybody was mixed up. It happened naturally. With the right opportunities to connect, those relationships naturally strengthen and advocacy for each other emerges. We have had more than 60 percent of participants in our executive leadership program advance in the organization.

We recognize that women do not lead in a bubble. They lead in a team, and hopefully one that is diverse. We've had women-driven events that have been insightful and supportive. However, we decided to pursue a path where our women leaders are purposefully developed as part of a diverse cohort. 

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