Wayne Bruce, CEO, Ccentric
The world of healthcare is evolving, and will only continue to do so in the face of rapid technological disruptions, globalisation, as well as generational shifts and the changing expectations that come with the rise of the millennials (and beyond). These, coupled with the age-old disparity in the health statuses of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, are increasingly challenging hospitals and health systems globally to prioritise diversity in the workplace.
From age to gender and cultural differences, the most diverse workplaces are known to drive some of the greatest levels of productivity, creativity, innovative thinking and synergies between teams. In the case of the healthcare sector, the benefits can be even more pronounced and far-reaching.
Aside from strategic benefits, contextual knowledge brought about by diversity is also critical in helping health professionals better understand the values and beliefs of the communities they serve. In fact, the patient-provider relationship has an obvious knock-on effect of the quality of care delivery.
What diversity truly means today
But what exactly does ‘diversity’ truly entail? While the term traditionally referred to people of different ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds, its parameters have grown considerably with time.
Today, diversity covers a much broader range of factors including socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, values and beliefs. It is precisely this wide variety of perspectives, thoughts and ideas that creates a massive competitive advantage for diverse organisations.
With so many considerations, fostering diversity these days is clearly no mean feat.
The good thing is – health organisations are already recognising the benefits that come with a diverse leadership and workforce, with many increasingly looking to create Head of Diversity roles for the sole purpose of driving and reinforcing differences within their teams. The role’s principal focus is to cultivate a workforce that is reflective of today’s diverse patient population.
One of the prime advantages of diversity is its ability to build a world that places the needs of patients at the centre of care delivery. Studies have shown that when patients are treated by professionals with similar backgrounds and beliefs, the ensuing interactions do lead to improved health outcomes.
Therefore, as much as leaders need to reflect the diverse nature of the communities they serve, so do frontline workers and the wider organisation.
Diversity vs. Inclusion
The benefits of achieving diversity in healthcare are evident. At its core, it has the ability to add value to both providers and the public – to ultimately bolster a patient-centric environment.
Nevertheless, diversity is nothing without inclusion. This includes the ability to make employees feel safe, trusted and respected – such that every employee’s input is valued and every single one of them believe they have the opportunity to make a contribution in their own right.
Leaders can build a diverse workplace composed of people from various demographics, backgrounds and beliefs; but if employees feel the need to hide or give up important aspects of who they are at work, the organisation will not derive any benefits from the diversity forged.
Only when healthcare leaders build a sense of inclusion into their cultures, will they be able to realise the benefits of a diverse environment. How exactly can this be achieved?
Four-step rule to fostering diversity and inclusion in healthcare
Healthcare leaders play a vital role in fostering diversity within their organisations. There are several key ways to make this happen:
The first step is to talk. Leaders must clearly explain why diversity matters, as well as the benefits it can bring to the team as a whole. Demonstrate what a diverse organisation should look like so employees can work towards the same goal, and showcase how everyone – whether culturally diverse or not – has a part to play in fostering diversity.
- Walk the talk
Attitude and actions reflect leadership. Aside from communicating how and why diversity is vital, leaders must also be able to lead by example and model the behaviour they ask of their people. This way, employees feel more engaged and compelled to do the same.
Employees are more likely to practice inclusion when leaders create a climate in which differences are explored, valued and celebrated. Leaders must encourage the expression of diversity in constructive ways and avoid shying away from tough conversations.
Lastly, inclusive policies and practices play a critical role in fostering the right behaviour. Leaders should do their part to create inclusive norms for the organisation, and ensure that they are being applied fairly and consistently.
Ultimately, diversity and inclusion requires ongoing work across the board. While leaders play a critical role in driving this, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and a concerted effort is required to effectively progress beyond diversity to inclusion.