'We've made no progress': Healthcare boards 87% white, Leverage Network study finds

Healthcare doesn't have the kind of diversity needed in its governing bodies and C-suites to address racial disparities, according to a study from the Leverage Network, an organization that promotes Black leadership.

To conduct its study, the Leverage Network worked with the Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan's health equity leadership pipeline collaborative and law firm McGuireWoods to look at healthcare board representation from 2016-18. The study spans 623 board members at 41 of the largest healthcare organizations in the nation, across providers, payers, pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

Results show on average healthcare boards comprised 87 percent white members and 13 percent people of color. Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of the members were male, and only 3 percent were Black women.

"In comparison with surveys and reports conducted by major organizations like the American Hospital Association, which demonstrated in 2013 that minorities held 14 percent of board seats in hospitals and health systems nationally, we've made no progress," Antoinette Hardy-Waller, RN, CEO of The Leverage Network, told Becker's Hospital Review. "All despite the major 'call to action' made by several hospital associations." 

The picture is similar when only governing boards from providers are included. White men held 85 percent of provider board seats in 2018, while Blacks held 13 percent of seats. Seventy-three percent of female board members for provider organizations were white in 2016 and 19 percent were Black. Other minorities held 8 percent of seats. 

"You can't find equity in the work you do if the people in the room don't reflect the communities we say we serve and want to ensure equity for," Ms. Hardy-Waller said. "I contend that there is a direct correlation between health inequities and health disparities and the severe underrepresentation of minorities, particularly blacks, in boardrooms of health systems across the country."

The underrepresentation was starkest at the highest levels of leadership. Black executives held only 8.5 percent of healthcare CEO roles, while women held just 4 percent. The study didn't include a single Black female healthcare CEO. 

"If we truly want to impact health disparities and inequities in communities of color we must first look in the mirror and get our own houses in order. Inequity starts at the top. We must be the ones to change that dynamic," Ms. Hardy-Waller said. 

The Leverage Network said its data is preliminary, and is a step toward generating more specific data on how diversity affects clinical and financial outcomes.

Editor's note: The Leverage Network partners with Becker's Healthcare, and Becker's Healthcare's publisher Scott Becker is a partner at McGuireWoods. However, Becker's Healthcare wasn't involved in the study. 

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