3 things to consider when building an inclusive environment

We hear leaders talk about the events of the past year as being a technology and innovation accelerant – I'd say the same can be said for the push for greater diversity, equity and inclusion in support of an organization's people, and the people they serve.

I came into my new role at Stanford Children's Health one year ago right as the pandemic took off – which added layers of complexity and challenges that we'd not quite seen before.

My true passion is helping organizations deliver on the promise of understanding, supporting and elevating the next generation of health care leaders – and creating a truly inclusive environment where both the employee and patient experience is second-to-none. Coming onboard, I focused on working with leadership to ensure we were an accessible resource for staff and patients, especially during a turbulent time when our environment was changing so rapidly.

As I reflect on the past year – and how in awe I am of our people and communities who navigated the pandemic together – here are three things I considered when promoting inclusivity, closing disparity and inspiring the future of health care. And, ultimately, empowering our people for the betterment of our patients and families.

How can organizational leaders create a truly diverse and inclusive environment?
It starts with authenticity. It is the only way to build a culture where there is comfort among the workforce. Comfort is a safe environment where there is no shaming or blaming when people express their opinions or put themselves out there with an idea or suggestion.

During the events of the past year, this concept of authenticity and comfort took on a new meaning. Video calls became gateways into homes and families; people carried the weight of long days and sleepless nights juggling work and home lives; our industry was scrambling to support our communities while also having to learn as we waded waters together.

How individuals treated each other in the workplace and engaged with one another was the barometer for true diversity and inclusion – which includes thoughts, actions and ideas.

At the heart of authenticity and comfort is conversation – and, subsequently, listening. Leaders need to be and feel authentic, and meet people where they are. When having a conversation, they should see each person individually. When you first engage with someone, try to notice something to spur a conversation or show up in a way that does not make the engagement feel forced. One of the ways Stanford Children's Health president and CEO does this is by encouraging “eyes up” when walking the halls so people see each other as equals.

If leaders cannot show up as their authentic selves, how can they expect to create an environment where their caregivers and patient population feel comfortable doing the same? We have to drive action by doing. Doing is the only way to disarm engagements, break down barriers holding back conversation, and tell our stories that reflect our true selves.

I have found it eye opening to see how much you can learn with this type of culture in place. During my first year at Stanford Children's Health, I have spoken with so many employees that endure very long commutes, for example. There is definitely an element of health care that can only be performed in person, but that should not stop our conversations around the power of digital and telehealth to reimagine workflows for our caregivers and patients. We are actively talking about how we can achieve this balance and drive greater engagement in our communities through these emerging channels.

How are leaders helping alleviate disparity?
We often think health care is a series of individual choices – but as the pandemic has highlighted, it is about much more than that.

As a leader in HR, I approach every conversation by listening first and not making any assumptions. It is important to me that we build a culture where patients are seen without judgement and curiosity, and receive the same level of care regardless of background; a culture where each care provider can bring their unique perspective while attributing in line with an organization's overall care goals. We encourage members of our community to feel comfortable speaking up and challenge what they are hearing as long as the betterment of our patients or our providers is the end goal.

One of the ways we are creating this space at Stanford Children's Health is through focus groups. To ensure that all groups are heard, each needs a seat at the table. An example was a recent focus group we had addressing care barriers and perceptions of treatment with our LatinX community. By creating a safe space built on the principles of openness, authenticity and comfort, we were able to foster an environment where people felt comfortable sharing for the good of the organization. It is important now more than ever to speak up for colleagues and bring them into the conversation. While it can be an uncomfortable conversation, we need to make it a safe one.

For me, that's where listening can then be turned into informed action. Using the information gleaned, supported by lean management principles, we can be confident in reviewing our internal processes to question how and why things are done to serve this population. By building efficiencies into systems, we're giving our caregivers and patient groups back valuable time to share these experiences and partake in the conversation.

How can organizations serve today but inspire diverse future leaders?
In my first year, one of the shining lights through much of the gloom was how strong the desire is for mentorship and for employees to be seen within an organization. People came to show up for our patient population (and bring their whole selves to work) each and every day. We should continue to support these amazing individuals – the future health care leaders – and provide the right encouragement for them to elevate their roles.

Health care, and particularly pediatric health care, is a calling – it is not just something you show up to and check a box. It is stressful, emotional, and an industry that has been thrown more curveballs than not over the past year. Through town halls or focus groups, future generations of the workforce can be inspired and have the visibility and encouragement to elevate their roles. This is one of the ways we're committed to inspiring future leaders at Stanford Children's Health – and a diverse group of leaders to usher in new thoughts and ideas. What comes of the focus groups (and even interactions where barriers are broken down) is honesty and passion – and I believe the time to be intentional with these actions is now.

While there will likely forever exist a distinction between work and personal lives, it would not be possible for our people to serve the way they do without being able to be their authentic selves. This is where comfort and support plays such an integral role in building the environment for these individuals to shine, to create a safe space for thought-provoking or challenging dialogue, to ensure we as leaders are hearing our population to most adequately address their concerns.

The events of the past year showed us that organizations should encourage dialogue around these types of narratives – we are all doing important work and likely have some sense of calling. Through building this culture, I feel that sentiment come through in conversation. A recent example would be a budding young nurse of color, who stepped forward to share his story and his passion for his job, and his patients. Breaking down a “perception” barrier and putting himself out there showed me there is huge potential for the next generation of leadership, and a need and desire for mentorship – and for people to find time to be seen and heard throughout the workday.

Conversations with leaders and setting aside time for focus groups is a great way to facilitate this exchange.

Inclusivity, alleviating disparity, and inspiring future generations of leaders should all be front and center for health care organizations. Health care is not without its challenges right now, but I remain encouraged by the progress made and look forward to continuing to create a welcoming environment for both our staff and patients.

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