How to build a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion in health care

December 18, 2018

As U.S. health care organizations compete to hire and retain the best employees in the current “war for talent,” the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is hot.

And rightfully so. Among the next generation of health care leaders, social responsibility and equity are often decision factors when determining whether or not to work for an organization.

In health care organizations, DEI is about a lot more than just recruiting and retaining a diverse employee base. It goes much deeper. The impact of an organizational culture of DEI extends to all aspects of a health care organization. It influences an organization’s reputation in the community. It attracts diversity in external vendors and business partners. And most importantly, it sets the tone for how employees interact with and treat patients and customers from diverse backgrounds.

“The importance and impact of building a culture of DEI in a health care organization cannot be overstated,” explains Constance Hall, EdD, chair of the graduate nursing program in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at Capella University. “It needs to be the cornerstone of how a health care organization operates. When you are treating patient populations, you can’t see just color or age or sexuality. As a health care professional, you need to see the whole person. When you have someone’s life in your hands, that person’s diversity should never be an inhibitor to the care he or she receives.”

Curtis Brant, PhD, associate vice president of Doctoral Affairs for Capella, agrees.

“I can’t think of any industry where DEI is more important than health care,” Brant says. “The consequences are so important and extremely impactful in health care. It’s the obligation of every health organization to take DEI very seriously and clearly state that DEI is a core value for the organization. Everyone who works with or interacts with the organization needs to know that.”

Sounds great, right? But easier said than done, explains Hall.

“For DEI initiatives to work, employees must have faith that this isn’t just lip service from upper management,” Hall says. “Building a culture of DEI must be central to a health care organization’s mission. An organization’s commitment must be genuine, but also be backed by the resources and capacity to make the investment.”

Hall provides the following nine steps to help build a health care organizational culture with DEI as the foundation:

  1. Conduct a deep assessment of your organizational culture in relation to DEI. How diverse and inclusive are you? How do you measure that? Would your employees agree with your assessment? How about patients and others you serve? “Many organizations are fearful of this initial exploratory phase of DEI because they are afraid of what they might unearth,” Hall says. “They shouldn’t be. It’s a healthy exercise if done in good faith.”
  2. Define DEI at your organization. Is everyone in the organization on the same page in terms of what DEI represents? Is it just race? Or does it include gender, age, physical abilities, nationality? What exactly does “equity” and “inclusion” mean? Define it.
  3. Explore your recruitment and hiring practices. Do they explicitly reflect your stated commitments to DEI? What else could you be doing? Are you reaching out to diverse prospective employees effectively?
  4. Ensure your executive leadership is “all in.” Any successful DEI effort needs to have the firm backing and support of top leaders. If it doesn’t, it’s likely to fail.
  5. Engage with your customers and patients. Again, DEI in a health care organization is about more than human resources. It’s crucial to solicit the thoughts and perspectives of your patients and customers. What do they think? How can you work with them in a more equitable and inclusive way?
  6. Know the missions and values of your vendors and external business partners. Do their commitments to DEI align with yours? If not, should you continue doing business with them?
  7. Develop an action plan. DEI initiatives may look great on paper, but unless they are actionable, they have little meaning. Create a working plan with meaningful milestones to bring your plan to life.
  8. Train your people – all of them. From the CEO on down, it’s important to train and educate your employees about what it means to be a DEI workplace. “When it comes to DEI, training should be about more than just buying in to an idea or sharing of policies and procedures,” Hall says. “It should be about helping your employees to develop a genuine sense of empathy and appreciation for those different from them. It’s about feeling.”
  9. Measure your impact. Even with an actionable DEI plan and a well-trained employee base, you will only know if you are having your desired impact if you measure and analyze the results of your DEI efforts.


Learn more about DEI and other relevant topics in health care with Capella University’s online health administration degree programs.

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