Look to Gen Z for blueprint on diversity, better health outcomes, Stanford Children's exec says

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Rick Idemoto, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford Medicine Children's Health, recently discussed how a more diverse workforce will drive better health and financial outcomes.

Question: Can you speak to how there are tangible financial results in having a more diverse workforce? Is such diversity having an actual effect on the bottom line?

Rick Idemoto: There is seldom an organization across the country that doesn't benefit — or hasn't seen a benefit — from a more diverse workforce. There are numerous studies that demonstrate positive associations between diversity and financial performance — and show that patients generally fare better when care is provided by more diverse teams. Where we should be looking is ahead. Generation Z is more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations. The workforce and patient population of the future will continue to be more diverse. Organizations that do not represent a diverse demographic will be restraining their potential to provide better health care and patient experience. Stanford Medicine Children’s Health is continuing to invest in areas to improve healthcare and a more inclusive workplace.

That can be in the form of hiring more people with diverse backgrounds, creating accessible spaces for everyone to use, utilizing the latest technology and investing in evidence-based research.

Q: Do patients fare better with staff/physicians of similar race and culture background? Is there a known benefit to that?

RI: Investing in a diverse workforce increases your organization's range of skills, talents and experiences. This benefits not only the organization and working group at large, but patients and patient experiences as well. It's important to make sure that your workforce reflects the community it serves. This extends to the services that organizations like Stanford Medicine Children's Health offer as well. For example, translation services that help staff and physicians of all different backgrounds and cultures better connect with patients.

Q: What is the biggest hurdle for diverse healthcare workers in the workplace? What are the main hurdles for patients?

RI: The healthcare industry uses broad definitions when identifying individuals and groups of individuals. This is sometimes necessary when you're talking about classifications, or writing regulation, or other protocols. To give you an example, my family has been in the United States for four generations. I am proud of my heritage, but it's somewhat strange that I get asked questions about where I'm from, my background or my ethnicity based on their assumptions. As is the case with many other geographies or populations, we're seeing an increasing number of breakoffs or unique subgroups within minorities. And these groups may have cultural, behavioral and socioeconomic differences. These are the elements that impact care and care providers. The goal for any organization — as it is with Stanford Medicine Children's Health — is to embrace that representation matters.

Q: Is there a clear path for healthcare staff to promotion and leadership? Can you give some details? 

RI: Every organization strives to define a clear path for all employees to grow. It starts with representation at the top. Stanford Medicine Children's Health has an increasingly diverse leadership group that includes Asian Americans, men and women of color and racial and ethnic diversity (including Black and Hispanic). Individuals see a leadership path every day. At Stanford Medicine Children's Health, our team fosters a high-performance and high-reliability culture where employees are encouraged to bring their full selves to work. Why does this matter? Visibility. We have town halls, leadership-led events, employee resource groups, faculty rounds and more. Open discussion is always encouraged. Personally, I smile when I talk to up-and-coming Asian American leaders or the next generation of Asian American workers. I see a lot of myself in them. I did not have a lot of Asian American leaders or peers who acted as mentors to me during my career development. They were few and far between, and I found it more challenging to know when to speak up, when to insert or offer my opinion, when to ask a question and all types of learned practices that many groups take for granted. By instilling these practices, our staff are better positioned, and the playing field is leveled. We create a structure so that, no matter your background, race or ethnicity, people are afforded career opportunities.

Q: Please let me know of specific steps Stanford Medicine Children’s Health has taken to promote more opportunities for a more diverse healthcare group.

RI: There is a lot of work that our team is doing to build an inclusive environment. Macro decisions and initiatives are important, but organizations should never forget the small things, too. The more comfortable healthcare workers feel in the workplace, the longer they will stay with your organization. For example, our president and CEO at Stanford Medicine Children's Health walks the hospital halls and encourages everyone to be "eyes up" when in public areas. Why? Because you see each other as equals working towards a common goal of providing great care outcomes. Similarly, our focus groups provide a platform for, and inspire, future leaders within the Stanford Medicine organization by leveling the playing field, breaking down barriers and encouraging dialogue. These are opportunities our workforce now has that my generation may not have had back in the day. Our HR division is committed to attracting new and diverse talent and offers a stronger hiring proposition for candidates. And with a more diverse and inclusive workforce, a higher positive effect will be had on an organization's bottom line.

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