With the frequent discussion surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as an organizational imperative in healthcare, it is in the best interest of healthcare leaders to prioritize creating a workplace where DEI can flourish.
Employees from the staff level to the C-suite want to be fully accepted, embraced, and valued for their unique characteristics. But the benefits of organizational DEI efforts extend far beyond individuals feeling a sense of belonging and well-being at work.
DEI impacts every facet of a healthcare organization, leading to greater excellence as a whole, improvements in staffing outcomes, and perhaps most importantly, better patient care outcomes. Indeed, it is a greater risk to neglect DEI than to undertake initiatives to enhance the diversity of your communities, advance equity, and improve inclusion.
We may ask ourselves, “Who wouldn’t want to work in a place where diversity, equity, and inclusion are the norm?” But this ideal far exceeds the goals of the U.S. Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, when the ideas behind DEI first emerged. At that time, activists sought the bare minimum of equal legal rights and social tolerance. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other key laws helped remove some of the legal barriers to equal treatment, and social perspectives began to change.
By the 1970s and 80s, equal legal rights had become the baseline as multiculturalism emerged. Activists no longer settled for social tolerance and instead demanded recognition, respect, and celebration of non-majority identities. The struggles for racial equality and women’s rights continued alongside increased awareness of additional dimensions of diversity, such as sexual orientation and gender identity, disability status, immigration status, and other marginalized identities.
In the decades since then, rapidly changing U.S. demographics have further altered how we view diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workplaces and in society. Evidence pointing to a multitude of positive benefits of DEI for everyone — not just those seeking to attain equal rights — has led workplaces across the nation, including healthcare organizations, to adopt DEI initiatives.
DEI Is an Indicator of Organizational Excellence
Let’s examine some of the effects of launching DEI initiatives in your organization. Just by beginning a policy or program, you confer meaningful benefits. When the program starts to yield measurable results, you will make even more progress. In a competitive marketplace, DEI is a must. Our most recent annual healthcare training survey showed that a majority of healthcare and public safety organizations now participate in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
- Every policy change, new resource, or improved process involving DEI signals to your staff, peers, communities, and customers that you value diversity, equity, inclusion. For example, a prominent paragraph on your recruiting web page stating that you value DEI as part of your application process demonstrates that your organization seeks to attract diverse applicants. Talented candidates may choose you for this reason. With more talent to choose from, the caliber of your staff will rise.
- Independent ratings organizations increasingly include DEI as a factor in their evaluations. Having at least a minimum of DEI measures in place may help ensure favorable reviews, partnership options, public recognition, funding sources, and other opportunities. For example, the Global ERG Network publishes a list of Diversity Impact Awards for organizations with outstanding employee resource groups. Numerous hospitals are among the recipients.
- As the healthcare marketplace becomes increasingly more global, it helps to have diverse representation within your organization. Do you serve or have a presence in international markets? Without a diverse staff, you may be at a disadvantage. In addition to knowledge of different cultures, diverse teams are often more productive and creative than homogenous ones.
- DEI education is one of the most effective ways to instill the values of DEI across your whole organization. A robust training program can ensure that everyone understands the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion, why they are important, and how they should incorporate them into their daily work. Your team members may initially be at different levels of their understanding of DEI concepts. Providing high-quality learning modules and updates will bring everyone up to a proficient level and keep your staff current on emerging topics.
DEI Improves Staff Recruiting, Retention, and Well-Being
Once you’ve launched your organizational DEI initiatives, whether you begin with a statement of values, revised process, training, or other tactics, you can begin to benefit from your efforts in the areas of recruitment, retention, and overall satisfaction of your employees. Research shows that DEI improvements correlate to gains in productivity, quality, and innovation.
- While it may seem that your DEI efforts are an extra step or value-add for your employees, it is more accurate to view DEI as meeting all employees’ needs. Initiatives such as lactation rooms, gender-inclusive restrooms, flexible holidays, and prayer spaces are not just nice features but necessities for those who require them. An understanding of the hardships that some of your employees face without these efforts illuminates how they improve your staff members’ daily lives and impact their work.
- In addition to investigating what could be missing from your employee programs and benefits, you should also take a close look at how your existing policies or processes might be exclusionary. It may be less a matter of adding something new than fixing something that is inadequate. For example, are all of your physical facilities and virtual services accessible for persons with disabilities? Do you offer translation services for staff whose first language is not English? Do you have a chief diversity or equity officer to assess and monitor your organization’s policies and processes?
- To eliminate possible inequities, review your salary data across demographics. For example, our 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report revealed that nationally, the median salary for a male RN is $14,000 higher than the median for female RNs, even though nurses who identified as male only comprised 9.5% of all nurses. Take a hard look at any pay discrepancies and rectify them.
- Other types of DEI initiatives to consider to strengthen staff recruitment, retention, and well-being include assessments, surveys, and focus groups to determine areas of need; goals and accountability measures; employee network or support groups; and mentoring. Does everyone have access to opportunities in your organization? Who sits in positions of leadership and why?
DEI Raises the Bar for Quality of Care and Patient Outcomes
The way your organization cares for its staff is directly connected to the care your staff provides to patients. DEI as an organizational value carries over to patient care in significant ways. Researchers have examined this linkage and shown that it is critical to have diverse representation among providers and care teams. Without diverse providers, care quality can be at risk.
- Even if clinicians believe they are providing equitable care to every patient, hidden biases can creep in, unconsciously affecting care quality. A University of Pennsylvania study revealed, for example, that when providers and patients were of the same race, patients reported both higher satisfaction with their care and better health outcomes. It is difficult for non-diverse teams to detect bias and the health disparities it may cause over time.
- A lack of experience in treating patients from certain groups can create an invisible bias. Providers may not realize they are neglecting to ask the right questions. Some may not consider or even accept the care needs of those groups. For example, LGBTQ patients have reported that some providers overlook their health concerns or even refuse to treat them.
- Shortfalls can also occur when care teams fail to consider how social determinants of health can shape patients’ circumstances. Social determinants include income, education, location, support, resources, and other social factors. They account for about 75% of a population’s health status, while biological factors only account for about 25%. For example, a low-income patient might not be able to afford a recommended course of treatment. Educating your staff about diverse backgrounds and hiring staff with diverse backgrounds can help prevent these oversights.
DEI in Healthcare Organizations: 3 Dimensions of Excellence
As you consider how to move forward in the areas of organizational, staff, and care excellence by fully integrating DEI efforts, see our infographic that illustrates all three dimensions.
You’ll also learn about the six stages of cultural competence and how a perspective of cultural humility can help your teams achieve true inclusiveness by using skills they already have.
In our DEI toolkit, we include in-depth resources that enable your organization to move forward with DEI initiatives. Relias can help you create a more inclusive climate that will strengthen staff retention and improve patient outcomes.Access the Toolkit →