Embracing diversity is an imperative for every industry and business, but its impact on healthcare is particularly sweeping. If we are to treat all types of patients comprehensively and personally, clinical and non-clinical leaders alike must champion diversity and all that comes with it.

In challenging times, like the COVID-19 crisis we are currently living through, the critical need for a diverse workforce is most obvious. While embracing diversity is necessary in all situations, disasters make it incredibly clear how much we need people of all different ages, backgrounds, experiences, races, religions, genders, and more to bring their perspectives and skills together in order to help and heal their communities. The virus doesn’t discriminate—and to defeat it, the industry can’t be biased either.

Taking a close look at diversity in the workforce from a healthcare perspective is the purpose of this post. We start by defining the term diversity, then list its benefits and challenges, and end by recommending ways to help you put diversity to work successfully in your organization.

Diversity Defined

Diversity is not as easily defined as you may imagine.

Traditionally, it has been based on demographic representations that include race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.

The millennial generation, however, has advanced a newer, more inclusive definition that views diversity within the context of experiences, opinions, and thoughts, stated a report by Deloitte University and Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative.

Further, millennials believe that "programs aimed at diversity and inclusion should focus on improved business opportunities and outcomes as a result of the acceptance of cognitive diversity, specifically individualism, collaboration, teamwork, and innovation," the report said.

That is not unlike the definition offered by Ross Ott, chief human resource officer for SCP Health.

"Diversity is an ethereal concept that's less about skin color or gender and more about recognizing the differences that exist in all of us and how we show up with those to affect a better outcome," he said in an interview.

While accepting each other’s differences and unique qualities is the best way for humans to interact in general, business outcome is a key reason to embrace diversity in the workplace specifically, says Ott.

"We can define diversity in terms of the outcome we're trying to get to — better patient care, or better operational or financial results," he said. "Diversity efforts are most successful when there is a compelling reason, a business priority, and company focus. It leads from being a business-first initiative, not a back-office push."

Benefits of Diversity

The benefits of diversity in all its variant forms are immense, and, according to a Hult International Business School article on workplace diversity (quoted below), can lead to outcomes such as more innovation, better talent acquisition, and increased productivity.

Innovative Thinking

“Diverse cultural perspectives can inspire creativity and drive innovation.”

"Hiring individuals who do not look, talk, or think like you can allow you to dodge the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovative thinking," said Harvard Business Review (HBR).

Instead, having a team of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives can facilitate a broader range of solutions.

"Non-homogenous teams are, simply put, smarter,” is how HBR summed it up.

Talent Acquisition

“A culturally diverse talent pool allows an organization to attract and retain   the best talent.”

A survey by Glassdoor found that 67 percent of people consider diversity an important factor when deciding where to work.

“In a competitive global job market, demonstrating your business is invested in fostering a multicultural and inclusive environment can make you stand out to the right candidates,” Hult said.  

Not only that but also making diversity a vital part of the recruiting process will broaden your talent pool of prospective employees. Also, diversity has been shown to improve retention and reduce the costs associated with employee turnover.

Employing a diverse workforce has long been a priority at SCP Health.

"I’m just incredibly passionate about this subject, and it’s important to me that we recognize human equality in all that we do," said Kindrick Benoit, human resources and diversity manager at SCP Health. He specializes in helping our employees recognize diversity initiatives.

"The business of medicine reaches everyone — all cultures, all races — so diversity initiatives must be an ongoing conversation because of the line of work we do, period," he said.

Productivity

“Diverse teams are more productive and perform better.”

Working in homogeneous teams can be easy to fall into, but can cause a business to settle for the status quo. On the other hand, the more diverse the teams, the more creative and productive they are likely to be.

"Diversity...can breed healthy competition, stretching a team in a positive way to achieve their best," Hult said.

Diversity Challenges

While the benefits of diversity are vast, challenges to working on or leading a diverse team are real and cannot be ignored.

One of the most salient challenges is the limited availability of diverse health professionals to fill vacancies left as a result of the growing physician shortage.

Nearly three-quarters of physicians and surgeons are white males who come from high socioeconomic backgrounds, reports St. George University (SGU) Medical School. Asians account for about 20 percent, blacks make up five percent, and Hispanic and native populations comprise even less.

As the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse, health agencies are seeking a workforce that reflects the general population in terms of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background.

Such representation is essential in addressing the needs and interests of the communities that health professionals serve. Absent a diverse workforce, the quality of care can suffer.

“When a patient cannot find providers that resemble them, their beliefs, their culture, or other facets of their life, it may delay or prevent them from seeking care,” SGU said.

Lack of workforce diversity isn’t the only challenge faced by the healthcare community, integrating multicultural teams is another. Individual prejudices or negative cultural stereotypes imposed by the group can act as a roadblock. Working styles or attitudes toward work based on differing cultural values can also impede productivity.

Steps to Embracing Diversity

Embracing diversity starts with how organizations educate and hire.

Education

“Diverse classrooms help students improve active thinking, intellectual engagement, social skills, empathy, and racial understanding — all critical components to a physician's education,” SGU said, adding that  global competence for diverse populations is “exactly what medical schools need to provide for their students, who in turn will provide nuanced care for patients of all walks of life.”

Fortunately, medical schools are becoming more diverse. Women comprised more than half of applicants and enrollees in 2018, according to AAMC, and there is a small, yet steady increase in racial and ethnic minority applicants.

Hiring

Ott said that casting a wide net when looking for candidates can help increase the diversity effort:

"Part of your hospital recruiting mechanism should be leveraging organizations with diverse members." 

Ott also recommends conducting an intake session on every role to understand what it comprises now and in the future.

“Understanding the current team helps us refine our concept around hiring,” he said. “It challenges us a bit to say we look alike, sound alike, and have been together 20 years. This allows us to think differently, to say we could see better results if we brought in someone who looks at things another way.”

Bring new students and employees into an environment where they will thrive.

Hospitals and health systems should seek to create inclusive environments where new hires from diverse backgrounds can share their thoughts and perspectives freely.

Such an effort requires that teams maintain open and respectful lines of communication, continually focus on change and growth, and ensure all team activities, both during work hours and off, are inclusive.

Don’t check boxes; engage personally and continually.

Ott continually emphasized that embracing diversity in healthcare is not a “check the box” mentality, but one that requires a willingness to open the aperture and do things differently.

“Diversity efforts will not work well when there is a problem in search of a solution, but when organizations make the commitment and feel there is value, it takes on an energy unto itself,” he said.

Be proactive in problem-solving

No matter how well integrated or cohesive the team, challenges will surface at times. When that happens, it’s in the team’s best interest to act quickly to bring about a solution — and that responsibility primarily falls on management’s shoulders.

Meir Shemla, a management school professor at the Rotterdam School of Management, writing for Forbes, recommends that managers emphasize team identification.

"High team identification is when members identify themselves as part of a group and feel proud to be a part of it, employees feel that they are not working against each other, but for the same team, the same future, goals and vision," Selma said in the article. "The higher the collective team identification, the more likely team members feel positively about diversity and are therefore more collaborative and successful.”

Conclusion

Serving an increasingly diverse population demands that the healthcare industry make diversity in education, hiring, and workforce practices a top priority. Without it, the clinical outcomes of patients will ultimately suffer.

Diversity, like any other effort, can be a success when there is a compelling platform, Ott said.

“Being willing and open to thinking differently relates to getting back to what you’re trying to do,” he said. “You’re in the care delivery business, so think about who the best talent is to get your organization where it needs to be to deliver the best care — it may not be someone who is a replica of the current team members.” 

Interested in working with or for SCP Health? We’d love to connect with you. For physician jobs, click here. For telehospitalist positions, click here. For other clinical openings and provider jobs, click here. To explore a partnering with SCP Health for hospital performance solutions, contact our business development team