The Current Situation
The under representation of diverse leaders in senior leadership and clinical/research roles within the health industry is a hot topic as the industry responds to the implications of diversity and inclusion initiatives falling short of reaching their intended outcome for senior roles.
More than 90% of companies report having gender-diversity according to Diversity Best Practice (DBP) 2017 Inclusion Index. However, there’s a caveat. The data reveals relatively equal gender representation up until the senior manager level - where male representation jumps 16% and female representation falls 14%. Healthcare organizations are no exception, according to Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarking Survey. The data reveals that while 89% of healthcare organizations state Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) as a value or priority, the data reveals those priorities are far from being met. A recent review of the industry’s D&I data supports this notion:
Health Industry Data
- Modern Healthcare reported that underrepresented groups represent just 26% of hospital CEO positions despite holding 75% of healthcare.
- Across the five largest payers, on average diverse leaders make up only 24% of their executive leaders.
- Modern Healthcare reported that women represent just 26% of hospital CEO positions despite holding 75% of healthcare.
- In Fortune 500 companies in healthcare, diverse leaders make up merely 21% of executive roles and 21% of board.
- Out of the 100 Great Healthcare Leaders to Know in 2017, published by Becker’s Hospital Review, only 28 were from an underrepresented group.
- Modern Healthcare’s 50 Most Influential Physician Executives and Leaders included a mere 14 from an underrepresented group.
- The percentage of diverse executive directors in the pharmaceutical industry is only 7.7%.
The Case for Change
Diverse leaders are underrepresented in upper level positions across the health industry. A discrepancy between the prevalence of these leaders in the talent pipeline and absence of equal representation in advanced leadership roles highlights the need for organizations to consider the strategic, structural, and cultural components potentially impacting diversity and inclusion initiatives.
The under representation in leadership roles is not just a representation of inequality, it is bad for business. D&I Research by MIT has tied diversity in the workplace to increased performance in terms of bottom-line and Forbes found diverse representation could increase the bottom line 41%. However, the focus on the bottom line and competitive advantage of having equal representation has yet to become a reality at executive levels.
Huffington Post article, Time to Get with It: Creating Successful Women’s Leadership Programs calls attention to an industry wide organizational need to confront the leadership diversity gap and make efforts to appeal and retain underrepresented employees to fully capitalize on a large, untapped, pool of promising talent. Beyond hiring or promoting more diverse employees for leadership roles, diversity and inclusion initiatives should include solutions aligned with a more expansive and holistic leadership development approach. Best practices to expand diverse employee leadership development include two critical areas of focus: sponsorship & mentorship and cultural change. Leadership development programs need alignment with and reinforcement from organizational diversity strategies to build a culture of diversity and inclusion across the institution.
Sponsorship & Mentorship.
Including diverse leaders in succession planning requires current leaders to be actively engaged in mentoring (i.e., offering one’s advice and support) and sponsoring (i.e., actively investing in one’s career success) diverse high potential leaders throughout an organization.
Sponsorship has been found to be a particularly effective strategy for expediting a high potential leader’s career trajectory. Sponsorship and mentorship provide candidates with greater access to advancement opportunities. Inclusion of sponsorship and mentorship in diverse leadership development programs offers an impactful and competitive advantage for fixing leaky pipelines and showcasing the high potential talent that exists within an organization.
Attention to the culture is crucial for effectively implementing D&I solutions. A Harvard Business Review article which surveyed underrepresented groups working in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) revealed how expectations and stereotypes are systemic challenges and barriers to authentic collaboration. A shift in perspective is needed on a cultural level for D&I initiatives to have an impact and eradicate barriers like racial or gender based stereotypes.
Building an inclusive culture requires commitment from current leadership to look at how the organization’s expressed values align with their lived values. Research suggests that measurable goals should be established for building equity across talent management practices to foster developing leadership potential from all sources of untapped talent.
In a recent interview with Medical Economics, internist and American College of Physicians (ACPT) president Ana Maria Lopez discussed the power of collaboration as an opportunity to address equality in medicine. Lopez highlights the advancement of diverse leaders in medicine with gratitude for those who paved the way. Addressing the inequality issues still at hand, Lopez spoke of how focusing on leadership development of underrepresented groups is not just about meeting a quota; but rather about sharing perspectives and learning from one another as the research suggests.
Likewise, the diversity gap in leadership roles is not about how underrepresented groups are showing up as leaders. To continue to address the diversity disparity issues based on this notion misrepresents the problem and will not solve the disparity in senior leadership positions. Change cannot happen in a vacuum. In contrast, understanding how the diversity gap is a systemic issue allows for organizations to consider the need for a more holistic approach to make real and lasting change that is desperately needed.
To build an adequate pipeline of diverse leaders for the future and ensure diversity and inclusion at all levels, organizations across the health ecosystem should consider a multidimensional approach which tracks metrics. Consider the following:
Targeted Assessment & Coaching. Offer individual executive coaching to high potential leaders to enhance their overall leadership capabilities and build the capacity to respond constructively to diversity and inclusion challenges through self-advocacy.
D&I Coaching for Sponsors. Invest in individual and group ‘sponsorship coaching’ for managers and executive leaders to learn and support one another in sharpening sponsorship efficacy. Being an effective sponsor, in and of itself, requires skill in challenging, stretching, showcasing, and promoting up-and-coming leaders. Be sure to involve the organization’s lead for succession planning in any sponsorship coaching programs to ensure that sponsors can openly discuss their protégés and advocate for their expanding
Embed in Onboarding Processes. The traditional approach to leader onboarding and coaching utilizes only the manager in helping with such activities as integrating into the organization, vetting leadership development goals, or tracking overall coaching. By expanding the scope of onboarding to include the sponsor of a diverse high potential, the new leader will have an advocate invested in thier career success. In doing so, D & I becomes an embedded value in the culture.
Talent Management. Be sure to include D&I competencies (aka leadership behaviors that support D & I) in your organization’s talent management processes. Set clear targets for assessing, selecting, developing, and promoting diverse leaders at all levels within the organization.
Team Alignment. Help leaders and their teams build a D & I culture and commitment that promotes high potential leaders from underrepresented backgrounds to senior leadership roles. Bring in an experienced facilitator to assist teams in reaching this desired future state through a clear, stepwise approach that includes: individual and team assessment and feedback, enhancing trust and open communication, clarifying roles and responsibilities, creating a shared vision, resolving conflict, developing clarity of decision making, and fostering continued growth and development.
Elevate the Development of Diverse Leaders. Create a leadership academy focused on high potential diverse executives with the expressed objective of development for inclusion in the next level Integrate a sponsor-protégé component into the program to enhance the protégé’s visibility and consideration for promotion.
Engage your Organization. Consider enlisting the help of motivational speakers who can talk about the benefits, opportunities, and challenges of building a diverse and inclusive culture for underrepresented leaders across the health system.
The Time is Now
Healthcare organizations who invest in building the pipeline of diverse leaders in their organizations receive tremendous value. By and large, diversity shatters groupthink, improves communications dynamics, and reinvigorates companies in ways that make them more competitive. Research shows companies with a critical mass of top-team diversity enjoy significantly better financial performance. Building the pipeline of diverse leaders at all levels takes time, resources, and great attention. However, if healthcare organizations want to reap the rewards of new perspectives, they need to make the commitment now or risk losing their competitive advantage. Long term the answer is an integrated talent management strategy and development of a diverse leadership pipeline. Those that invest now will be preparing the future generation of executives to drive strong and successful healthcare companies focused on enhancing the health and wellness of the communities served.