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Interview With University Hospitals CEO Tom Zenty: Diversity Leader, Innovator, Community Citizen

CEO Thomas Zenty, University Hospitals, discusses diversity leadershipDiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti recently interviewed Thomas F. Zenty III, CEO of the Cleveland-based hospital system. (University Hospitals is one of the 2012 DiversityInc Top 5 Hospital Systems.) Zenty discussed the dramatic impact of the Affordable Care Act and how the hospital’s diversity efforts in the workplace and the community are helping it survive. Read this article and other CEO interviews in our digital issue, and sign up for DiversityInc magazine.

Zenty spoke on this topic at DiversityInc’s event last month, Diversity-Management Best Practices From the Best of the Best. Click here for video of his talk.

Luke Visconti: What is the intersection of solid diversity-management initiatives and the reduction of healthcare disparities?

Thomas F. Zenty III: Many studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between people of diverse backgrounds being willing to seek care and knowing that people who look like them will actually be providing that care. So the intersection between diversity and disparities is rather significant. We want to make certain that we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that people of color will be able to work in our organization, hold positions of leadership—caregivers, clinicians and support staff—in order to make people of all backgrounds, colors and faiths feel comfortable coming to University Hospitals to receive the world-class care that we provide.

Visconti: How is diversity and inclusion a competitive differentiator for a hospital?

Zenty: There is no better way to gain the pulse of what’s happening in the communities that we serve than by having people who live and work in those communities actively engaged with us at every level. From an employee perspective, it’s critically important that we have people of diverse backgrounds who will bring skills, talents, perspective in order to help us to do a better job as we look to achieve our mission. We think it’s critically important for diversity to be well represented across our entire health system at every level, be it gender, religion, race, color. In fact, we’ve recently reached out to the Amish community because one of our hospitals has a very large Amish population, and we realized that we did not have a member of our board who was of Amish descent. As a result, we added a new Amish board member to our hospital, and he’s brought a lot in terms of a better understanding of the Amish community and the healthcare needs of that community.

The point is we need to look into the community to better understand who are the communities that we serve? Who best represents those individuals within those communities that we serve? And how can we engage them at every level, either as employees, as members of the board, as leadership-council members? And we want to make sure that we’re engaging everyone in the communities that we serve.

Visconti: You’re very personally involved in the community. Why?

Zenty: It’s critically important for an organization of our size in a community of this size, as the second-largest private employer in Northeast Ohio, to make certain that we’re going to be focused on diversity at every level within the communities that we serve. Our organizational values include excellence, diversity, integrity, compassion and teamwork. And diversity is one of the key components of the cornerstones of the work that we do every day in taking care of our patients and meeting our mission. As the leader of this organization, it’s critically important for us to be actively engaged in community activities to make certain that we’re not only aware of what’s happening in the community, but play a leadership role in advocating on behalf of many different agenda items. One of the key ones, though, is in the area of diversity in Northeast Ohio.

Visconti: University Hospitals has a 100 on the Corporate Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign’s index of equality for LGBT people. Why is that important to you?

Zenty: The LGBT community is very important to us for all the other reasons that I stated in all the other populations that we serve. They’re very much a part of our community. We want to make certain that they’re recognized and represented. They have actually recognized us for our work in this regard, which we’re very pleased about.

Visconti: Your chief diversity officer reports directly to you. You also have hands-on interaction with people who are responsible for delivering results in diversity management. How important are these two things?

Zenty: It’s critically important that the chief diversity officer reports to the chief executive officer. Donnie Perkins is our chief diversity officer and does an excellent job in the role. However, it’s also important to note that we have a very close working relationship with Elliott Kellman, who is our chief human resources officer, because so much of what we do in workforce planning and workforce development is structured around the importance of diversity at every level in our organization.

In our organization, we selected the top 24 people from within our health system to be part of an education-and-training program in conjunction with Case Western Reserve School of Business. We’ve engaged 13 physicians and 11 non-physicians who were at senior levels in our organization who we feel have the potential to grow and develop in the years to come within University Hospitals’ health system. They were selected on the basis of their accomplishment. They were selected on the basis of diversity. They were selected on the basis of their ability to grow and develop within our organization. It’s an 18-month program, but we’ve seen great success thus far. One of those individuals has already been promoted to a new senior position that was recently created in our organization.

But at the other end of the spectrum, we’re also concerned that we don’t have enough people of color in our management ranks. So we put together a mentorship program, which will include people at the senior administrative level who will choose people who have promotional capability within our organization, who will be working with each of us to make sure that they will be given the opportunity to grow and develop within our organization in both non-management as well as in management roles, so that we can encourage more people of color to get actively engaged as supervisors, managers, directors, vice presidents.

Visconti: How are you holding your senior team accountable for diversity-and-inclusion results?

Zenty: Our senior team is very actively engaged with Donnie’s leadership in making certain that we are focused on diversity at every level within our organization, looking at the healthcare needs of the people who we serve, making certain that our employees are given equal opportunity for promotion and growth within our health system, making certain that people who are in middle management have opportunities to grow into senior-management roles, and making certain that we are focused on doing everything that we can to prepare the next generation of leader who will be people of color and of diverse backgrounds. Likewise, it’s important to mention that our board has been focused on diversity over the past many years. And I’m pleased to report that the Council on Economic Inclusion has awarded us for two years in a row recognition for the diversity of our board. If we receive it a third year in a row, we’ll go into the Hall of Fame, and we’re hoping that that will be achieved. This actually starts at the top, beginning with our board, and then filters throughout our entire organization.

Visconti: What do you see as the greatest challenge facing University Hospitals? And how does diversity and inclusion factor into the solution?

Zenty: The greatest challenge will be how to address the changes that we’ll be facing under healthcare reform. One of the key things that we will focus on in the area of diversity is to make certain that the 32 million more Americans who will now have access to healthcare insurance that didn’t have it before, that they will be well represented both within the communities that we serve as well as well represented in the patient populations that we care for. We have a number of very strong specialty clinics that will focus on the needs of specific elements within our population. But we want to make certain that as we see this influx of new patients arriving, we clearly understand what their needs will be—which is more than just episodic acute-care needs, but the continuum of care of services that we’ll be able to provide to them in the years to come.

Visconti: I found University Hospitals’ website to be exemplary in its ability to communicate your mission, your values, how diversity ties into all of this, your corporate citizenship, your engagement with the community. Why is it so important to communicate this?

Zenty: University Hospitals really wants to be a leader in the area of diversity. We’ve been in existence since 1866. We’ve been a very active and vibrant part of this community for that same period of time. And we want to make certain that we’re going to be leaders in the area of diversity—to set the example, to set the tone toward diligently making great things happen in the world of diversity, and to make certain that we’re going to focus not only on the needs of our patients, but also on the needs of those within our organization, to make certain that everyone will be able to realize their fullest potential.

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