Healthcare leadership diversity improving, but there's a long way to go

Healthcare executives believe they're closing the diversity gap in their leadership ranks--at least, that's what they think if they're white and male, a new survey finds.

Overall, a higher proportion of executives feel they're closing the gap than in previous surveys in 2006 and 2011 by executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. But there's a "stark contrast" on opinions based on gender and ethnicity, firm senior partner and board member Oliver Tomlin III told Hospitals & Health Networks.

While 57 percent of Caucasian respondents think healthcare organizations are effectively closing the leadership diversity gap, only 26 percent of racially and ethnically diverse respondents agree. And while 48 percent of male respondents agree, only 32 percent of female respondents see the gap closing, according to the Witt/Kieffer report.

However, overall,  fewer than 20 percent of the executives agreed that healthcare leadership teams are as diverse as they should be--26 percent of Caucasians and 10 percent of non-Caucasians. And women and minority executives interviewed for the survey acknowledged improvement.

 "It's being recognized that [diversity is] a necessary characteristic within the industry and at different institutions," an Hispanic vice president at an academic medical center says in the report. "It's being proven that diversity brings value to the organization. But there's still much more to create awareness and become part of the culture."

Two-thirds of respondents said that diversity recruiting allows healthcare organizations to reach their goals, including achieving population health initiatives. Nearly 7 in 10 agreed that having a diverse leadership team supports successful decision-making and that a diverse workforce enhances equity of care.

The executives also said the biggest barriers to success are lack of commitment by top management, lack of diverse candidates and lack of commitment by boards of directors.

Some organizations are successful in increasing diversity. The Henry Ford Health System in Detroit was recognized earlier this year by the American Hospital Association for reducing healthcare disparities with steps that include increasing diversity among its leadership team.

It makes good business sense, some experts contend. Culturally competent healthcare organizations will be better poised to compete in an increasingly customer-centric, patient-centered environment based on life-long relationships between providers and patients, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- download the survey (.pdf)
- read the H&HN article

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