Push for diverse hospital leadership begins at the top, Leverage Network CEO says

Increasing diversity and inclusion on leadership teams and governing boards is more of a focus at healthcare organizations as the U.S. population shifts and companies look for new perspectives. While some progress has been made in this area, there is still room for improvement.

The share of black female board members at Fortune 500 companies increased 26.2 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to a study published by the Alliance for Board Diversity and Deloitte. But black women only represent 2.6 percent of total Fortune 500 board seats. 

That's why The Leverage Network, a Chicago-based organization, is dedicated to promoting the advancement of black executives in governance roles and increasing the representation of women and black executives in board positions in healthcare, including providers, pharma, payers, biotech and medical device manufacturers.

These efforts include a six-month fellowship program — developed with sponsoring partners EY Center for Board Matters and Heidrick & Struggles — for black executives seeking board opportunities in healthcare. 

The first fellowship program graduates were 15 black executives, 25 percent of whom were placed in a board opportunity. Eleven black executives made up last year's second class of fellowship graduates, and there are 14 black executives in this year's fellowship class.   

"It's not just about increasing the number of seats held by minorities, but ultimately the impact having a diverse board can have on health disparities and inequities in communities of color served by those organizations," Antoinette Hardy-Waller, Leverage Network's president and CEO, said in a recent interview with Becker's.

"We know when there is a diverse perspective, an understanding and appreciation for the differences in culture, better decisions can be made about how we treat, care for and approach different populations," Ms. Hardy-Waller said.

According to Ms. Hardy-Waller, increasing the diversity of hospital leadership teams and governing boards begins with the top leader at the organization, who must be deliberate and intentional.

"The push for diversity has to start at the top, with the CEO, who has to get involved and be visible in the process. He/she has to establish a culture of accountability within the organization for diversity that is counted and measured," she said.

"It cannot be just an item on a 'to do' list, it has to be deliberate and intentional. Organizations where we've seen the greatest improvements are those organizations whose leadership has been very intentional about diversity," she said.

How hospitals can increase board diversity

Ms. Hardy-Waller recommended that hospitals have metrics that allow them to gauge progress on goals of diversity and inclusion on governance boards. Those metrics should be tied to improvement of the organization, she said.

A healthcare organization she's worked with has an assurance in its bylaws that the board will always be ethnically and gender diverse and will measure that diversity annually, she said. 

"Board diversity has to be an item on the agenda that is measured and monitored on a consistent basis for improvements," she said. "Ensure there are diverse board members on the nominating and governance committees. When looking for new directors, be deliberate about identifying diverse candidates who bring a wealth of experience and expertise, coupled with an understanding of culture that others on the board may not have. Revisit the board bylaws and bake into them the board's dedication and assurance for diversity to better serve minority populations."

Black women seeking healthcare governance roles 

Ms. Hardy-Waller also shared advice for women of color wanting to advance their healthcare careers.

She said women of color must have confidence in the experience, skill and talent they bring to any organization or board, coupled with identifying a sponsor willing to advance their interest in the C-suite and boardroom. This may start with her CEO, who often can position her for career and governance opportunities. Given changing U.S. demographics and the proven business case for diversity in healthcare, she recommended that women of color use their backgrounds and perspectives as a win-win for the organization.

"Black women seeking healthcare governance roles must position themselves to increase their visibility with decision makers and influencers seeking board candidates," she said. "We are smart, experienced, talented and skilled, and now it's about making known those talents and skills for the board opportunities that are out there. Effective networking to help position you in front of leaders seeking board candidates, leveraging relationships and sharing your interest in board work with key influencers are a great start."

Learn more about The Leverage Network here


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