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Promoting DEI in Healthcare

Tackling the broad topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in healthcare can seem daunting from an organizational level — and nearly impossible from an individual staff member’s perspective.

There is plentiful evidence of the long history of systemic racism, gender disparities, and inequitable treatment in healthcare. It can be discouraging to consider what a single person can do to make up for decades of disadvantages. Challenging barriers make it difficult to move forward, even when the intent is there.

But just as one healthcare provider can make a life-changing impact on one patient or client at a time, they also hold the power to impact their workplaces for the better. Individual actions add up to a positive force for change.

In a recent webinar, Rola Aamar, Ph.D., Sr. Clinical Effectiveness Consultant at Relias, and Celeste Duke, SPHR, Managing Content Specialist at BLR, discussed diversity and inclusion strategies to improve both health outcomes and staff retention.

Here are a few of their suggestions relating to positive actions that can advance DEI in healthcare from the individual provider level.

Hiring with Diversity in Mind

Employees often know about job postings for openings on their own teams. In fact, employees can be some of the best ambassadors for their organization. Referrals from your own staff can potentially increase the diversity of your organization by helping to find and bring in talent.

Aamar and Duke noted, “If your goal is to expand your applicant pool, you want to ensure that as many employees as possible are aware of your job postings.” They suggested giving employees regular reminders such as a periodic email linking to current job postings.

How you conduct interviews also has a big impact. Many people prefer in-person interviews so they can assess visual cues. However, phone interviews could provide more objective candidate evaluations for a variety of reasons. They could eliminate some of the unconscious bias that interviewers may unknowingly hold, including visual inferences that have no bearing on competency. They can also provide a more comfortable initial interview experience for applicants.

Regardless of the interview setting, a fair and equitable interview process is one in which you ask each candidate the same questions, cover the same topics, and give the same tests.

Training Your Staff in DEI and Cultural Competence

Before you move forward with educating your staff, review your organizational policies. They should cover the baseline expectations for professional behavior for your workplace. Include rules of conduct, basic standards of civility, and treating others with courtesy and respect. Focused training on respectful communication, personal communication styles, conflict resolution, and active listening can follow.

Consider a mix of delivery methods, perhaps offering an initial group session that outlines the purpose of the training and its importance. Within that session, provide an overview of additional courses, which could be offered online. A later group session could reinforce concepts through exercises and interactions.

Aamar and Duke emphasized, “Flexibility and autonomy help employees fit the training into their work, increasing the likelihood that they’ll approach it with an open, receptive mind and retain the information.”

DEI Training Areas

The four training areas outlined in the webinar to promote DEI in healthcare included:

  • unconscious bias
  • respectful workplace behavior and communication
  • supervisor skills
  • targeted topics

Organizations should consider offering training in all these areas. Unconscious bias and respectful behavior and communication apply to everyone. Supervisor skills are critical to ensure broad adoption across the organization. Targeted topics address the unique problems and issues your workplace may be facing.

Initially, people may be at different stages of understanding the importance of DEI. Aamar and Duke conceded that some employees may never embrace DEI. The organization must make it clear that whether or not they agree, employees are expected to participate in the goals, practices, and training outlined for their positions. Putting together a fact sheet to explain key points could help, in addition to making sure all employees complete the training.

Providing Mentoring for New and Existing Employees

Mentoring is an effective way to provide personalized support for both the mentor and mentee and an effective way to promote DEI in healthcare.

Select Mentors Carefully

Be intentional when selecting mentors. Ideally, they should be solid performers with key attributes, including a positive attitude and patience. Prospective mentors also should be knowledgeable about the company and understand the program’s focus and specific goals.

Make Mentoring Voluntary

Aamar and Duke recommended making your mentoring program voluntary. They noted that anyone who is forced to participate (or feels they must participate to remain in good standing) likely won’t be as engaged as those who willingly volunteer. Make sure to ask whether participants are seeking to connect with someone from a specific identity or cultural group.

Determine Your Focus

Spend some time determining the focus of your mentoring program. Is the goal solely retention, or to increase organizational knowledge and skills? If it’s retention, you could match short-term employees with longer-term employees who can offer insights into how the organization works.

For skill building, potential participants could fill out a questionnaire detailing the skills they have, those they want to improve, and other goals for the program. Use the responses to make appropriate and beneficial mentoring matches.

Specify a Timeframe

The duration of mentor/mentee relationships depends on what you are trying to achieve with your mentoring program and the commitment participants are comfortable making. If, for example, your mentoring program is meant solely to enhance new employees’ onboarding experience, the official mentor/mentee relationship could last six months to a year.

If the goal is to share skills, assess how long it should take to learn and master those skills. It’s a good idea to create a timeline that offers an end point, if participants choose to take it. You don’t want anyone to feel trapped or burdened by never-ending expectations. Often, when a formal mentor/mentee relationship goes well, that relationship will continue in some form on its own after the term has officially ended, at the option of the participants.

Supporting Employees with Network Groups

Another emerging support initiative for many organizations is employee network (or resource) groups. Formed around a specific cultural or identity focus, these groups can provide both formal and informal employee support within a larger organization.

Aamar and Duke cautioned not to create a single, all-encompassing diversity group. A single group would be too general to address employees’ specific needs and interests. Instead, allow employees to create and lead individual groups based on different identities.

“How strongly workers identify with the group helps them feel more comfortable and be more effective at work,” noted Aamar. “This applies regardless of whether a group is based on gender, religion, or ethnicity, for example. If an individual doesn’t strongly identify with the group, neither the employee nor the employer will reap the potential benefits. When employees do feel supported, they are more likely to stay with your organization and share their perspectives.”

As with mentoring, participation in an employee group should be voluntary. This is especially important for groups with an LGBTQIA+ focus, for example, where privacy and safety may be important concerns. When offering this type of support opportunity, only publish names of individuals who choose to disclose their affiliation. These individuals can serve as a resource to those who may choose not to participate but may reach out privately.

Individual Actions Can Lead to Organizational Change

Incremental changes to your hiring, training, mentoring, and support efforts can compound to create significant progress toward improving DEI.


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Pathways: Resources for Moving Forward in Healthcare

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 →

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