Even if you are confident that your organization is effectively addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), there are likely opportunities to do more. “Perceptions matter; and if one person thinks a group or organization isn’t inclusive, we’re failing. We can always do better. We need to keep our minds open, be introspective, and recognize and overcome biases,” said Rajeev Kumar, MD, CMD, FACP, chief medical officer at Symbria in Illinois. “The work starts by empowering people who need to speak up. Unless we empower every member of our teams to speak their minds, we won’t identify opportunities and make change,” he suggested.

What Is DEI?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are three separate concepts, but they are interrelated:
Diversity. This involves the presence of differences including gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, age, socioeconomic status, and other factors.

Equity. This involves promoting justice, fairness, and impartiality in treatment, rules, policies, procedures, resource distribution, etc.

Inclusion. This is the outcome of efforts to ensure diversity and equity and creates an environment/culture where people feel fully welcomed, engaged, and respected.

“Diversity is a mainstay in our world, and it is an essential requirement to promote equity and enable inclusivity. It is important to understand how these three concepts are interconnected. The three work masterfully together,” said Anna Fisher, CMDCP, CDP, QCP, director of education and quality at Hillcrest Health Services in Nebraska.

Employees Care

Even if your employees aren’t talking about DEI, it is likely on their minds. As Kumar said, “They see things Rajeev Kumarlike social injustices and the targeting of minorities in social settings. They may be frustrated at work and feel disengaged or marginalized.” When this happens, it’s not particularly surprising that they are tempted by higher wages at hospitals and other settings.

Employees consistently say that they care about DEI. For instance, in one national survey nearly 80% of workers said they want to work for a company that values DEI. However, it’s not that simple. While 60% of workers said they approve of organizational leaders speaking out about social and political issues, only 36% reported that they’re comfortable with their own leaders expressing their views. (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/04/30/diversity-equity-and-inclusion-are-important-to-workers-survey-shows.html)

To get a sense of what employees—as well as residents and other stakeholders—want from DEI efforts, it takes some talk. Fisher suggested, “We need to have increased dialogue. You need to get to know your staff, your resident population, and your customer base. Create this conversation and understand that it may not be comfortable for everyone. We need to make it clear that we are committed to supporting diversity, ensuring equity, making inclusion a key part of our cultures, and celebrating the rich differences that exist in our society and our facilities.”

Employers Respond

If you don’t yet have DEI on your radar, you are behind the curve. In a national survey conducted last year, 95% of employers said they had introduced new DEI measures during the previous year. These efforts have taken different forms, such as DEI plans, employee resource groups, and addressing DEI in strategic plans.
However, while employers said they’re addressing DEI, nearly half (45%) reported that it’s difficult to find diverse candidates for open positions. At the same time, only 16% of employers said they’ve engaged community or vendor partnerships to help increase diversity on their teams. These entities, such as women’s leadership organizations or minority professional groups, can be valuable sources of diverse job candidates. (https://www.hrmorning.com/articles/dei/)

Clearly, addressing DEI means more than a general approach or even a single policy or strategy. However, it is important to start the journey with a commitment. As Fisher said, “When you have intent, that makes for a smoother road to equity and inclusion.” Kumar added, “DEI can be part of who we are. We can create greater awareness through education. We can look at our principles, behaviors, and attitudes that impact policies and service delivery. We can encourage learning between providers and communities, teaming up with local, regional, and state agencies for support.” Fisher further stressed, “DEI can’t be done in a silo. It calls for a collaborative effort.”

Kumar said, “You have to start by including everyone in your community interested in finding out more about issues related to DEI and identifying ways to look for inequities and biases.” The first step, he suggested, is looking inward at our own behaviors and how we design our policies and procedures. Then we need to find ways to tease out biases and inequities throughout our organizations. There is no other way around it. Unless you look for these things, you won’t find them.”

Assessing Bias

There are several steps you can take to assess biases in your organization. These include:
Retrospective approach. Review historical data on key indicators (such as the representation of different identity groups in the hiring process) that may provide evidence of disparities and biases.

Reactive identification of biases. Create a safe process to enable employees to report negative experiences or biases they witness. Understand that this will only work if you have created a culture where people feel safe reporting concerns and are confident that there won’t be negative repercussions.

Proactive identification of biases. This may be low hanging fruit and an easy place to start. It involves reviewing processes, policies, and best practices that are likely to influence employee experiences and satisfaction. Understand that just about any process, policy, or practice can be a source of bias, so make sure they’re all included in your review.

You may want to establish a DEI workgroup to conduct research and surveys, review materials, and draft strategies and recommendations, Kumar suggested, adding that an experienced external consultant can help look for inequities and biases in an objective and efficient manner.

DEI in Action

Of course, it’s not enough to develop DEI plans or initiatives. You need to make sure your employees know about them, understand what they mean to them, and see that management is fully behind these efforts. This means including news and information about your DEI efforts on your website, in employee newsletters, on your social media platforms, and elsewhere. People shouldn’t have to search for your DEI plans, policies, and values. They should be visible, clear, and consistent.

“Leaders need to stand up for DEI and model a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Kumar. “We need to build career ladders, ensure commensurate pay, etc. These are good ways to attract, retain, and empower our teams.”

Ultimately, Kumar said, “It is about empowering our staff. If you don’t seek them out, you may not know if they are experiencing something or having a problem. Make sure they know there won’t be repercussions.” He added, “We need to be receptive to their complaints and encourage them to come forward so we can act on them.” ​