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Improving Diversity in Healthcare Leadership

Introduction

One of the current trends in the American democratic society is to make sure that all citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, age, gender, race, and sexual orientation, are provided with equal opportunities and rights. Diversity is a key to improved understanding of other persons, and while a growing percentage of the general workforce in healthcare is represented by different minorities, the situation at HC executive levels is much worse (American College of Healthcare Executives, 2020). The majority of leading positions are held by middle-aged white men, which is a significant problem that has serious consequences, including deterioration in healthcare quality. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to discuss the lack of diversity in healthcare leadership and determine whether improving minority leader representation can enhance patient satisfaction and the quality of services provided.

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Defining Diversity in Leadership

Before discussing the causes of the lack of diverse leadership, the possible consequences of this problem, and its effective solutions, it is crucial to define the concept itself. Overall, leadership diversity means allowing people from different backgrounds to hold positions at executive levels, ensuring that the majority-minority balance is not upset. In other words, a healthcare organization can say that its leadership is diverse if the individuals vary at least in their age, gender, race, and preferably also in economic background, religion, political leanings, sexual orientation, and some other characteristics. At the same time, in essence, introducing diverse individuals to leadership is not enough. It is also vital to make sure that the whole team is open-minded, tolerant, and aware of the necessity for the executive members to be from different backgrounds. Otherwise, all efforts are in vain because other leaders will not promote the voices of minority representatives, depriving them of the right to discuss their ideas and make decisions.

Statistics

Before stating that there is a great gap in healthcare leadership diversity, it is necessary to analyze statistics and look at the specific number. To begin with, “while minorities make up 32% of patients, they hold 11% of executive leadership positions at hospitals, down from 12% in 2013, according to the AHA Institute for Diversity and Health Equity’s latest benchmark study from 2015” (Livingston, 2018, para. 11). According to the researcher, from 2011 to 2015 years ago, when several programs were created to increase the level of diversity in managerial levels, the situation did not improve dramatically or, in some cases, became even worse (Livingston, 2018). Therefore, it was necessary to put greater effort into finding the solution.

Looking at more recent data allows drawing specific conclusions regarding the current state of healthcare leadership diversity. For example, ACHE’s latest data “show that, while racial and ethnic minorities make up 32% of our U.S. hospital patients and 36% of the population, only about 16% of C-suite executives are racial minorities” (Bowen, 2020, para. 1). Consequently, it is evident that there is a significant gap in healthcare leadership diversity, and the strategy implemented almost ten years ago does not appear to be effective. Generally, there is no solid majority-minority balance in HC executive levels, which has a rather negative effect on services provided.

Analysis of Representative Leadership in Particular Healthcare Organizations

To see the whole picture and determine whether there are HC organizations that make their leadership diverse enough, it is essential to look at the real leaders of large healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. Since it is almost impossible to learn about one’s economic background, religion, political leanings, or sexual orientation, this analysis is based only on characteristics like age, gender, and ethnicity. For instance, in Pfizer, an American multinational biotechnology and pharmaceutical corporation, the leadership is represented by two groups, namely, executive and board members (Pfizer, 2021). In the first team, out of twelve people, there are eight white men and four women, two of whom are Asian Americans, and one is probably Hispanic (Pfizer, 2021). Among the broad members, there are also eight men, including one African American, one Asian, and one Hispanic; and four white women (Pfizer, 2021). All leaders are of middle age or older, meaning that there are no young representatives. Though it is evident that Pfizer makes an effort, it is currently impossible to say that the company’s leadership is diverse enough.

Further, another organization to analyze is UnitedHealth Group – American insurance and managed healthcare company. Its leadership is represented by twelve white, middle-aged men and four women of different ethnic groups (UnitedHealth Group, 2021). Overall, the situation in this company is even worse than in Pfizer. However, if one should choose an organization that is more or less successful in introducing diversity into leadership, that would probably be Johnson & Johnson – one of the largest multinational pharmaceutical corporations in America. In its executive committee and board of directors, there are sixteen male members, including Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and Germans (Johnson & Johnson, 2021). Further, there are eight middle-aged women, including several of different ethnicities (Johnson & Johnson, 2021). Despite the fact that there are also no relatively young representatives, this leadership may be considered diverse because it has an appropriate ratio of whites and African and Asian Americans. Further, even though there are twice as many men as women, in the majority of other healthcare companies analyzed during the research, there are even fewer females.

Importance of Making Leadership Diverse

To make sure that necessary measures are taken to solve the issue, it is vital to spread the awareness of the significance of diverse healthcare leadership. For example, according to Livingston (2018), “companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to outperform peers on profitability” (para. 8). Further, “diversity among staff, leadership and board members is important to improving patient medical outcomes and reducing health disparities” (Livingston, 2018, para. 8). If there are representatives from various backgrounds and with numerous different characteristics, including gender, race, sexual orientation, age, and religion, it is more likely that such a diverse leadership will take good care of all patients without any exception.

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Influences of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement on the Awareness of the Issue

Typically, specific events can bring some issues to a head, and this is what happened when the Black Lives Matter movement became famous and the COVID-19 pandemic began. The former phenomenon increased people’s awareness that some social groups are not treated as fairly as others. In other words, it became evident that the rights of minorities like African Americans, Hispanics, LGBT representatives, and even women are not respected in the same way as the rights of white men. As for the coronavirus outbreak, its damaging impact on minorities increases the necessity of closing the gap in healthcare leadership diversity.

What Should Be Done to Solve the Lack of Diverse Leadership

There are several possible steps that can help address the problem and make HC executive levels more diverse. First, Brooks (2021) insists on “making medical training more welcoming, appealing and attainable for people of all races and ethnicities” (para. 19). If diverse populations are introduced to healthcare work early in their careers, there are more chances they finally become leaders. Further, Goode and Landefeld (2018) suggest that increased awareness and more data can positively affect the situation. Finally, all the changes and improvements become achievable when people involved are ready for them.

References

American College of Healthcare Executives. (2020). Increasing and sustaining racial/ethnic diversity in healthcare leadership. ACHE. Web.

Bowen, D. J. (2020). Sponsoring diversity. Healthcare Executive. Web.

Brooks, A. (2021). Cultural diversity in healthcare: Why it matters, and what’s next. Rasmussen University. Web.

Goode, C., & Landefeld, T. (2018). The lack of diversity in healthcare: Causes, consequences, and solutions. Journal of Best Practices in Health Professions Diversity, 11(2), 73-95.

Johnson & Johnson. (2021). Our leadership team. Author. Web.

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Livingston, S. (2018). Racism is still a problem in healthcare’s c-suite: Efforts aimed at boosting diversity in healthcare leadership fail to make progress. Journal of Best Practices in Health Professions Diversity, 11(1), 60-65.

Pfizer. (2021). Leadership. Author. Web.

UnitedHealth Group. (2021). Meet our leaders. Author. Web.

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