Creating a Fair Workplace While Prioritizing Health Equity

Employers are responsible for creating and upholding health equity and it starts with building trust. 

That was the message from DiversityInc CEO Carolynn L. Johnson as she moderated a panel titled “Building a Diverse Healthcare Workforce: Best Practices for Recruiting, Hiring & Promoting Professionals of Color” at the Center for Healthcare Innovation’s Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity Symposium in New York City last week. 

“On top of building trust, organizations should be intentional with their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts,” said Tracey Volz, Assistant Vice President of Sponsored Research Operations at NYU Langone Health (No. 7 on DiversityInc’s 2022 Top Hospitals and Health Systems list and No. 8 on the 2022 Top Regional Companies list). 

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, DEI “all of a sudden became a thing” at many companies, Volz said. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, NYU Langone Health had kind of a “grassroots workforce” that was focused on culture and inclusion that didn’t exist before. These employees got together and decided diversity needed to be incorporated across the organization, not just in small teams. 

“Over the past few years, we have built a workforce of cultural inclusion in how we hire. And our HR department, we have work groups on cultural belonging, we have a mentorship program,” Volz said, adding that it’s important to have those groups for “people who look like me or like you,” she said in reference to other participants at the healthcare symposium. 

“Being really intentional, present and aware, that matters.”

Ensuring Cultural Awareness

When asked what organizations can do to offer more than unconscious bias training to increase diversity and inclusion at companies, Paul Bousquet, who heads up national oncology partnerships at Roche Information Solutions, said organizations need to define what diversity means to them because that influences how a company measures how it is growing and being more inclusive. 

When it comes to unconscious bias training, Bousquet believes there are other ways to approach diversity. 

“Personally, I hate unconscious bias training, sorry,” he said. “But I think that’s really the tip of the iceberg, and the dream is really to create a culture of belonging.”

There are many ways in which an organization can create a culture of belonging. He said the low-hanging fruit is to have a cafeteria in your workplace that offers a variety of cuisines. 

“Did your organization just make Juneteenth a holiday in the last two years or was it something they really thought holistically about how to treat every person in their environment so that they really do belong where they are working?” Bousquet asked. 

He said companies should also “lean on business resource groups kind of like a sounding board” and ask if those groups think different initiatives that relate to DEI make sense. 

Companies also need to prioritize meeting people where they are. 

Bousquet referenced Genentech Chief Diversity Officer Quita Highsmith’s three B’s for meeting people where they are: the bishop, the barbershop and the beauty salon.

“I call it the four B’s: it’s the bodega, the barbershop, the bishop and then lastly the beauty salon,” Bousquet said. 

“When you meet people there, those are future patients. You are building trust for those patients but you’re also building trust for your employees. You’re not in the ivory tower anymore, you’re in the places where patients are being affected the most. And that really creates a culture of belonging, which takes it much beyond unconscious bias training and really makes every person feel they belong at the organization and that they can contribute at the highest level.”

Keeping Focus in the Face of DEI Attacks

During the panel, an audience member asked for strategies to mitigate DEI being the “flavor of the month” at companies. In response, Johnson shared an attack DiversityInc faced in October when Laura Ingraham of Fox News said negative things about the company and one of the companies that ranked on our Top 50 list. It was the first time she had experienced an attack like this in her 20 years with DiversityInc. 

“I had concerns,” Johnson said. “I had concerns because the majority of my workforce are women who are not coming to my office every day, they are throughout the continental United States, and so after I stop seeing red, I paused and said, ‘wow, you’re doing beyond a good job. You’re doing a fantastic job. You’re having an impact and they see it. And now the fear tactics are going to begin, but stand firm, continue to do what you’re doing because this is your purpose.”

To continue to get buy-in from leadership for DEI, Johnson said you have to pay attention to what the people who oppose you are saying. 

“If they are not mentioning you at all, maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe you need to do more. Maybe you need to square your shoulders and really figure out what the people you represent, the people who don’t have power that you have amassed, what can you do to make sure they’re not the focus of tomorrow’s attack? 

“I welcome that. Now, I don’t want to get hit upside the head while I am walking down the street, that is not what I welcome, but I do welcome people paying attention to the fact that we are actually accomplishing our mission.” 

When thinking about organizations that truly prioritize DEI, it’s important to remember the organizations who started talking about it “versus the organizations who have been talking about it all along,” Johnson said. 

“If it is critical to the businesses’ success, no attack is going to change that.”

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