The future of healthcare is diverse

From a global pandemic to social unrest, this has been a difficult time for many Americans. Given the social injustices faced by people of color, as well as members of other historically marginalized communities, there is a renewed sense of purpose and drive in the health care industry to evolve and make significant advances in our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) practices.

 

The protests that we have seen globally over the past few months have created a platform for all industries, including the health care industry, to have more meaningful discussions that hopefully can help us move closer toward creating a more just and equitable society. But industries cannot change until the people in them do.

As a teenager, I remember seeing the movie Do the Right Thing with a friend of color. I remember walking out of the theater with him, neither of us saying a word to each other because of the impact of what we had just seen. This summer, I watched that movie with my four teenage daughters. Thirty years later, it is heartbreaking to know that society has not changed all that much. It is now clearer than ever that having uncomfortable conversations about racism, hate, and addressing biases must be embraced in today’s society.

Upon my arrival at Stanford Children’s Health, I knew it was important to focus on DE&I initiatives that would benefit our organization, from the leadership to our frontline staff. In health care, recognizing diversity and the strengths and challenges it brings is vital. A diverse group of leaders will always make a better decision. Language, culture, and ethnicity can easily create barriers for individuals every day, and in an industry where every second could mean the difference between life and death, delays and obstacles can be costly.

The failure to deal with structural racism has predictable results. DE&I starts with how individuals treat each other in the workplace; in a children’s hospital it also dials down to how staff interacts with patients and families. Diversity is not something that can be created overnight—it requires leadership that is dedicated to increasing cultural awareness and inclusion.

In alignment with the goals of the American Academy of Pediatrics, we seek to “increase the awareness of the importance of diversity; and to encourage the incorporation of the principles of cultural competence into all aspects of pediatric education, training, and practice.” Enhancing the industry’s collective and individual understanding and acceptance of DE&I will provide increased opportunities to deliver the best patient care.

Here are three ways that health care organizations can promote and encourage DE&I, starting today and into 2021 and beyond.

Create specific governance councils or committees

Councils and committees celebrate the diversity of organizations and create community teams to support health equity and inclusion. From leadership to frontline hospital staff, DE&I committees need to be created across an organization: DE&I for the workplace and workforce, DE&I for patients and families, and DE&I for the community.

Governance councils serve two purposes. First, they equip change leaders with a road map to begin new efforts or to enhance existing ones. Second, they provide methods and tools to effectively engage faculty and staff to create healthy working and learning environments with an emphasis on addressing racism and bias, opening and improving communication, strengthening workplace collegiality, implementing educational reforms, and sustaining a culture of accountability.

At Stanford Children’s Health, our revamped governance committee was formed last winter to help foster DE&I programs for the workplace, patient care, and our community. With an open letter from our CEO, Paul King, we invited members from across our enterprise to join the subcommittees where we are driving our ability to provide equity for all and empowering team members to have a voice. At the core, these committees should focus on education, specifically around social justice, and health disparities. They help build community through fostering inclusion and collaboration across the greater health care community.

Solidify unconscious bias training

Unconscious biases are universal and impact our day-to-day decision-making. With appropriate training, organizations can focus on pushing cultural boundaries in the company and have real conversations with their employees. Through established governance councils, organizations have the opportunity to broaden the availability of unconscious bias training as a step toward strengthening the industry’s ability to hold important conversations about DE&I and develop a higher level of awareness that will help mitigate the potential for bias.

In unconscious bias training, participants can explore their own privilege and biases through activities focused on team formation. By being guided in group activities, they can reflect on their visible and invisible identities, and how these apply to their decisions in their day-to-day jobs. Training sessions provide strategies to address unconscious bias and develop a tool kit for helping participants and others address biases that arise in recruitment and team formation, both in and outside of health care.

To start the training initiatives, our leadership and governance councils took part in reading White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo. While uncomfortable for many, the activity helped us to push past cultural boundaries in our company to have real conversations. With unconscious bias training, individuals can identify biases within themselves and recognize how they can be detrimental to our work and personal lives. It is important to learn strategies that can effectively communicate and address unconscious biases throughout an organization.

Promote open dialogue

Difficult conversations and situations are inevitable in medicine, and equipping yourself with tools to navigate these difficult conversations is crucial. Starting at the top, leaders need to set clear expectations and goals for DE&I initiatives and be held accountable for making progress in their teams.

A common theme I find when working on DE&I initiatives is that individuals are afraid to share their experiences. Our diverse employees have told us that there is a fear that they could be penalized, disciplined, or even fired. It is my job, along with our CEO, Paul King, to create a safe work environment and make ourselves available to those who want to have these difficult conversations. Since we started smaller focus groups to support these conversations, a number of frontline staff members have sought mentorship and feedback from leadership.

Governance councils create opportunities for open dialogue across multiple communication platforms through focus groups for frontline team members and leaders. These groups provide people a venue to have real conversations and articulate teams’ DE&I concerns to the highest level. Change can make people uncomfortable, but encouraging these types of conversations can have a real impact.

The health care industry has the power to change and contribute to a more open, diverse, and inclusive society. Think of the countless individuals who enter hospitals and clinics every day looking for help. They include people from every race, creed, sexual orientation, gender, and age—a melting pot of humanity.

To communicate, understand, and treat patients with the best care possible, it is vital that families see themselves within the health care workforce. When we strive for a more diverse and inclusive workplace, it benefits everyone—from leadership to frontline workers and from patients to surrounding communities. We should be a mirror of the communities we serve, from the bedside to the boardroom.

More articles on leadership and management:
How 12 CEOs revitalize themselves
What to do when a hospital leader resigns: A checklist
Michael Dowling: Look to healthcare to remember what decency means

 

 

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