ACHE16: 4 ways to achieve leadership diversity

CHICAGO -- Although the healthcare industry has made some strides in leadership and diversity in hospital management and governance, the growth in the number of minorities who hold executive positions remains slow.

But there are steps that organizations can take to improve leadership diversity, according to speakers at the 2016 American College of Healthcare Executive's Congress this week.

Panelist David Luna, immediate past president of the National Forum for Latino Healthcare Executives and a consultant for Teammates for Health Equity, pointed to a successful talent development initiative by a healthcare system he described only as "Organization X."

The organization's goal was to build its reputation as a developer of diverse talent so that it could attract more of it and better compete for top candidates.

"We all know our healthcare talent marketplace is extremely competitive and ... ethnically diverse applicants are relatively small, so it is fiercely competitive," he said. 

The pilot program included four components:

1. Mentoring: Senior leaders served as mentors and each were matched with a participant. All executives received mentorship training before they met with their mentee. The pairs met monthly; mentors shared their experiences, got to know the mentees and became their "ethical champions." That is, if mentors learned of development opportunities and thought their mentees fit the profile, they would advocate on their behalf.

2. Coaching: Luna said the organization brought in a professional coaching company to work with the participants over the course of 17 sessions and to develop short-range visions and immediate action steps.

3. Manager feedback: The organization used a formal model to help managers give regular feedback to participants.

4. Challenging assignments: These assignments were opportunities for participants to help develop their leadership skills, strategic direction, influence without authority and work across silos on a project meant to add significant value to the organization.

Luna said one participant was a clinical pharmacist and clinical research coordinator of Asian descent who was matched with a mentor who was a chief nursing officer. The coach was a clinical service director. The manager feedback came from an operations manager for special immunology services. For the challenging assignment, the participant developed an antimicrobial stewardship program to decrease the inappropriate use of antibiotics. 

"This program was implemented with the help of the mentor [and] coaches and was incredibly successful. It was a value-add for the organization, money was saved and it changed the behavior of patients. It was a brilliant initiative and a good example of what can come out of this program," he said.

Overall the results of the pilot program were impressive, according to Luna. Although it meant a big investment in time and energy, the costs were low: out-of-pocket costs were under $10,000 a year per each dozen participants. In addition, there was a demonstrated upswing in diverse job applicants. Eighty-five percent of new applicants said they were interested in the organization because of its reputation in diversity. In addition, the organization had improved scores in job satisfaction and retention rates company-wide, not just among minority employees.

Panelist James Lee, president and chairman of the Asian Health Care Leaders Association, also pointed to the work of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit--ranked #1 in Diversity on Inc. magazine's 2015 Top Hospital/Health System list--as another example of how organizations can improve diversity.

The organization uses a candidate pool that reflects goals for hiring minorities and women, he said. The result: A 57 percent increase in minorities who hold top leadership positions and a 44 percent increase in women in top leadership roles from 2010 to 2014.

Henry Ford collects data from more than 90 percent of its patients and embeds the information into equity dashboards that are part of the overall quality and service metrics tracked by all business units to spur innovations in areas such as diabetes outcomes among African-American patients.

It also uses cultural competency as an ongoing training tool to help employees and clinicians provide high-quality care, he said.