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Diversity and Inclusion as a Tool that Healthcare Leaders Can Utilize for Real Change

By Audra Davis, PsyD

Dr. Davis is an Organizational Psychologist and Managing Partner at The Exeter Group, a healthcare consulting firm based in Chicago that helps organizations improve outcomes for patients, employees, and communities.  She is also a member of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

A focus on diversity (differences among people) and inclusion (people feeling valued) in healthcare is germane to cultural competence (meeting the social, cultural and linguistic needs of all patients). If not, healthcare organizations may be challenged to provide quality patient care that is equitable, in environments that welcome all. Unfortunately, diversity and inclusion work is often performed in silos, is not based on an integrated strategy, and has no identified measures. These challenges manifest in well-meaning activities, with little to no impact on internal and external stakeholders.

Leveraging data, particularly workforce, patient and community data, is a silver lining and powerful tool for understanding an organization’s strengths and opportunities with respect to diversity and inclusion. True, health care leaders collect a lot of data. However, are they collecting the right data, analyzing it a manner that leads to meaningful findings, and measuring outcomes to advance the organization’s strategic objectives? Are they reducing employee and patient disparities, and improving financial performance?

Here are two examples that highlight this connectivity. Example 1: A CFO wanted to find out why the hospital with the highest Medicaid population in the system had longer length of stays. He learned that patients had a late discharge because they waited for lunch. The hospital met vulnerable patients’ needs (by providing a sack lunch along with breakfast) and met the facility’s financial needs (by lowering length of stay). Example 2: A CHRO looked at termination data by subgroup and found that a group of minority employees at one facility had the highest involuntary termination rates for tardiness. Further examination highlighted that transportation was the greatest barrier for this group of employees. The CHRO changed the tardiness policy, educated managers on implicit biases, and worked with public transportation to improve functioning. The result was a decrease in terminations, which decreased loss productivity and recruitment costs. Both examples highlight that with ‘good data’, diversity and inclusion can move beyond ‘feel good’ activities that may not lead to an organization’s success.

The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) has elevated its longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion by incorporating it as a core value and strategic initiative in the organization’s strategic plan. Chicago Health Executive Forum (CHEF) is a local chapter of ACHE. Its hardworking Diversity & Inclusion Committee was established to develop policies and initiatives that foster an inclusive environment within CHEF. Our committee recognizes that an inclusive environment can enhance the quality of healthcare, improve hospital/community relations, and positively affect the health status of society.

To this end, we constantly provide knowledge and tools that better equip healthcare leaders to be diversity and inclusion ambassadors in their respective organizations. For nearly three years, we have focused on increasing both our diverse new membership and attendance at CHEF events; both are imperative for our overall success. The Diversity & Inclusion Committee also supports the career advancement of our membership and continues to increase our strategic relationships, develop the next generation of leaders and build long-lasting relationships with the following Healthcare Societies:

  • National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE)
  • Asian Health Care Leadership Forum (AHCLF)
  • National Forum for Latino Healthcare Executives (NFLHE)
  • Lesbian, Gay, By Sexual, Transvestite and Queer (LGBTQ)
  • Institute for Diversity & Health Equity (IFDHE)
  • American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)
  • First Illinois Healthcare Financial Management Association (FIHFMA)

I encourage you to join us on this important journey. We can use your diverse talents, perspectives and experiences to impact change. To become involved, you first must join ACHE (visit, which includes membership to CHEF. Then you may join the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, or one of the other standing CHEF committees (Membership and Advancement, Education and Networking, Communications, and Sponsorship and Networking). Please visit chefevents to identify a connection avenue.

I leave you with a few items to consider as you go about your day as healthcare leaders carrying the diversity and inclusion torch. Challenge yourselves and others in your circles to consider these questions to elevate thinking and acting around diversity and inclusion. After all, our colleagues, patients and communities deserve more from us.

  • Broaden diversity beyond race/ethnicity and gender. What other diversity dimensions (employees and patients with disabilities, LGBTQ, etc.) should you examine?
  • Collect and analyze data by subgroup. What themes emerge when you look at data by groups of patients and employees?
  • Look for hidden biases. Where are the hidden biases in your organizations that may show up as disparities?
  • Share responsibility. How can all leaders support diversity and inclusion in their respective departments?


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