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Championing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: The 4 Steps to Developing Collaborative Leaders to Improve Health Equity

by The Leadership Development Group

Organizations across the health ecosystem are continuing to increase their focus on strategies dedicated to population health and community well-being by transforming healthcare delivery models aligned to value-based care. Population health and health equity are inextricably linked — the goal of population health is to improve the quality of care and outcomes for a defined group of people, while the goal of health equity is to ensure that all members of a community have an equitable access to be as healthy as possible. Without systemic change, neither of these goals can be achieved.

The deep connection between population health and health equity means the concepts of equity, diversity, and inclusion should be top of mind for all leaders in the health ecosystem. While not synonymous with health equity, internal commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion is an important prerequisite for change. By creating an inclusive and equitable culture internally that encourages and supports diverse voices reflective of the communities served, organizations are better equipped to create the conditions for equitable access to care. In order to increase health equity within the populations we serve, we must first enhance our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion within our own organizations.

HELM Leaders Support Systemic Change

When it comes to systemic change, the fact of the matter is no single person can do it alone. For change to occur on the scale that is needed, stakeholders across the health ecosystem must join together, speak out, collaborate, and unite around the common purpose to enhance health and wellness for all. Organizations that do not focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion internally cannot create health equity. It all begins internally. 

Our Health Ecosystem Leadership Model offers a framework for how leaders can generate collaborative solutions to complex problems like increasing equity, diversity, and inclusion, whether within their own organizations, across entities within their sector, or across the various sectors that comprise the health ecosystem. 

To demonstrate the connection between health ecosystem leadership and the ability of leaders to support systemic change efforts in the areas of equity, diversity, and inclusion, we’re sharing four proven actions leaders can implement. 

1. Envision the Future

By envisioning the diverse, equitable organization they want, leaders can begin to evaluate what stands in the way of that reality. Leaders have the platform and influence to ignite the dialogue that leads to meaningful change. Emotionally intelligent, collaborative leaders take the time to listen, discover, organize, and absorb from others to create a shared vision of what a just and equitable future can look like. With a shared vision, they can align efforts and outcomes.

“In the post-pandemic world, healthcare organizations need to focus on the whole employee- their wellbeing, how they experience the organization, and most importantly, on creating a culture of Belonging. We’ve gone beyond just focusing on Diversity and Inclusion. Belonging needs to be the journey that we are all on. Employees need to be able to be their authentic selves at work and be valued for that. They want to be seen, heard and respected for who they are and what they bring to the table. Leaders need to work to create a culture where everyone feels like they belong.”

— Andrea G. Procaccino, CMT, Vice President, Talent Development & Diversity, and Chief Learning Officer of NewYork-Presbyterian  

2. Align Stakeholders

To create systemic change, leaders need to orchestrate a coherent system of actions taken simultaneously. The multiple actions and policy changes needed for large-scale change require commitment from all stakeholders. Collaborative leaders actively seek connections with stakeholders, take concrete steps to foster trust, and demonstrate respect for diverse experiences and perspectives. This buy-in and trust are crucial to taking the first steps toward a more equitable healthcare system. 

“Through the Health Ecosystem Leadership Institute, I have had the opportunity to coach several inspiring leaders who are blazing the trail for a better, more equitable future for healthcare. It’s been inspiring to see the ways this important work takes place across various organizations and sectors of the health ecosystem.

 For example, a pharmaceutical coachee of mine is responsible for enhancing diversity and inclusion within her organization’s clinical trials process. Much of her work involves aligning with R&D stakeholders across the organization on the importance of diverse and inclusive clinical trials, both ethically and from a business perspective. From there they generate small and manageable shifts in behavior that can have a big impact. Through leading collaboratively, she’s literally helping to create a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive product for her organization — one that meets the health needs of all populations.” 

 — Tracy Duberman, Ph.D., Founder and President of TLD Group

3. Manage Boundaries and Obstacles

When navigating the complicated process of creating systemic change focused on diversity and inclusion, it's important that leaders be prepared to overcome the multitude of boundaries and obstacles that will inevitably be placed in their path. Collaborative leaders support constructive conflict by keeping an open mind, disagreeing respectfully, and tirelessly seeking common ground. Focusing on an opportunity by listening to objections, acknowledging concerns, and staying focused on the vision is critical to resolving and navigating tensions that may stand in the way of achieving a common goal. This requires leaders to be vulnerable and empathetic. In our work with leaders across the health ecosystem we often find that this is their learning edge, to push through the discomfort and begin engaging in difficult conversations. This is where the change begins: with indiviudal leaders sharing, listening, and becoming comfortable with uncomfortable discourse.

“A health system client of ours recently hired a Chief Diversity Officer, a newly created position for their system. After several months in the position, the organization reached out to us for executive coaching support citing concerns over a forceful and polarizing communication style and speaking in the abstract, making it difficult to follow their ideas. 

We were able to bring in an experienced ED&I coach who has been able to ‘hold up the mirror’ for both the Chief Diversity Officer and the organization, helping them to find common ground. Through coaching, the leader gained a deeper understanding of their communication style and its impact on others, while the organization has been able to reflect on important structural elements of the Chief Diversity Officer role and recognize the crucial transformation work needed around unconscious bias and diversity within the org. Being able to work through and overcome these obstacles collaboratively ultimately positions them for longer-term success.” 

 — Rosemary Bloser, MBA, Vice President Client Solutions

4. Act and Learn

As leaders begin to create the conditions for systemic change and enact them, they must be able to move forward despite uncertainties and remain open to making mistakes and learning as they go. Collaborative leaders cultivate a broader sense of belonging, starting with recognition of how current organizational practices contribute to systemic inequities and then shifting how to hire, develop, promote, and sponsor equity, diversity, and inclusion practices. Not only do they learn from existing practices, but they continue to adapt as new processes are enacted. 

“Over the past four years, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of supporting one of our pharmaceutical clients in the design and delivery of three cohorts of a leadership development program aimed at enhancing and accelerating the diversity of their R&D leadership pipeline. Throughout this experientially based program, participants work in diverse global teams (spanning five time zones) and are tasked with making recommendations on key and complex strategic imperatives.  A striking aspect of this program design is that equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) are embedded in the program as a function of who the participants are and the nature of their experiences together rather than as a didactic lecture-type component.

Through this process, participants experiment with different roles (e.g., agenda-setter, devil’s advocate, inclusivity advocate) as they grapple in real-time with the inevitable challenges associated with global teams (e.g., language barriers, time zone challenges, cultural differences) and the diverse perspectives, opinions, and ideas they bring forth while navigating the process of building consensus around a solution. Participants leverage the inherent diversity of their teams to enhance creativity and outcomes. The program does not ‘talk’ about equity, diversity, and inclusion; it embodies it.”

 — Tara Satlow, Ph.D., Senior Vice President Client Solutions    

Final Thoughts

As an organization, we at TLD Group have the privilege of supporting and working with some of the health industry’s greatest leaders and thinkers. We strongly believe that leadership is an important lever in the pursuit of systemic change. Wherever your organization is on the journey to championing equity, diversity, and inclusion- TLD Group is here to support you. 

Contact us to jumpstart your journey towards systemic change.

Topics: Leadership Development, Healthcare Ecosystem, Leadership, Leadership Resources, Diversity and Inclusion, Executive Coaching, Team Development, Collaboration