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Tips for DEI Recruitment in Healthcare

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   January 08, 2021

Larry Griffin, co-founder and partner at Bridge Partners, LLC, underscores the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in recruiting for the C-suite and workforce.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the social and political unrest that took place during 2020 brought to light the significance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). For hospitals and health systems, it's important to implement DEI not only as a part of patient care, but also into the workforce.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) appointed two new leaders last month to expand the organization's focus on health equity and workforce strategies.

Joy Lewis, who previously served as AHA’s vice president for strategic policy planning, was promoted to serve as senior vice president for health equity strategies. In this new role, she will focus on issues surrounding DEI.

In recent years, more hospitals and health systems have been taking steps to include DEI into strategic planning and focus as well.

Most recently, Allegheny Health Network announced in December the appointment of Veronica Villalobos, J.D. as vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, to serve alongside the health system's new chief diversity officer, Dr. Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew.

Johnese Spisso, CEO of the UCLA Hospital System, shared in an interview this month with HealthLeaders how the California-based health system is ramping up its efforts in DEI not only in healthcare, but for the workforce as well.

Related: Women in Healthcare Leadership Spotlight: Johnese Spisso

Providers recognize the importance of focusing on DEI in recruiting and executives should understand the most effective tactics to retain current C-suite and workforce members.

Larry Griffin, co-founder and partner at Bridge Partners, LLC, a minority-owned executive search firm located in New York, spoke with HealthLeaders about DEI in recruiting and his tips for hospital executives.

Larry Griffin, co-founder, partner, Bridge Partners, LLC (Photo courtesy of Bridge Partners, LLC)

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

HealthLeaders: Why is it important for health organizations to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in recruitment?

Griffin: Providers need to understand the culture of the people that that they're serving. As demographics change, the constituents or the customers [change] as well. Internal knowledge about the customers, their cultures, how to communicate, and how to serve them, is what's really important.

A few years back we did a search for a large hospital in the northeast; this was for a head of ambulatory care. They specifically wanted someone who spoke Spanish because the population that they were serving was increasingly Latino. There were communication issues, [and] they wanted to make sure that they were providing the best service that they possibly could to their community.

HL: How can a lack of diverse leadership directly impact an organization's ability to recruit and retain people such as women or minorities?

Griffin: The healthcare industry [is] no different than other industry. If you don't have diverse leadership, the people that are within the organization, from a career standpoint, look up and they say 'Well, will I have an opportunity to pursue my career goals at this organization if nobody at the top of the organization looks like me?'

What happens is that many organizations do a good job of recruiting women and people of color at the lower levels, but their challenges come when they start to talk about retention. People move up to a certain level, they look up, and say, 'Well, nobody looks like me, am I going to have an opportunity to progress within this organization?'

On the leadership side, when they look back into their organization to promote women and people of color, the bench now is weaker than it was before because they don't have any examples up at the top.

Organizations that do a good job in terms of recruiting and retaining typically have diverse leadership, and they've put DEI front and center within the organization as a core value. They've created an organization that has built a brand around DEI so that people want to work there and they want to stay there.

That's particularly important at the senior level, because when you're talking about the war on talent and trying to recruit senior diverse leaders, there certainly has to be a strong mission proposition as far as why somebody would want to walk across the street and join your organization, as opposed to another organization. That whole topic around DEI and the importance of it, the value that the organization places on DEI, certainly is a game changer for some leaders.

HL: If a hospital or health system has a C-suite that lacks diversity, what steps can be taken to change that?

Griffin: One of the things that they can do is, place DEI at the forefront of who they are, of what they are trying to do, as an organization.

[A hospital could] possibly bring in a leader of DEI across the organization so those issues and topics are talked about, which can certainly be helpful.

Trying to embed DEI into all their processes, whether it's from public relations, communications, marketing, or human resources from a talent perspective, will just increase the visibility of DEI across the organization.

Even if the leadership is not diverse, it's impactful if people within the organization know that it's front, center, and top of mind for leadership. Eventually, that will lead to diverse leadership.

If they are looking to go outside of the organization and bring in diverse leadership, they cannot continue to employ the same tactics that they used in the past. They must look at it from a different perspective, they have to utilize different partners if they are going outside, and it's just got to be a completely different approach to recruitment.

HL: What best practices can health systems and boards put in place to ensure diversity in its interviewing and hiring procedures?

Griffin: Where you see organizations that are successful at it, they communicate a comprehensive story about what's going on within the organization with regards to DEI [to prospective applicants]. Not only just on whatever the role is on.

Many organizations are trying to address those topics in terms of culture and of the people that they're trying to serve. Leadership boards [should] be cognizant of that, and talk about that, and not shy away from that in the hiring process, and make sure that everybody's on the same page when it comes to those topics.

Related: AHA Announces Leadership Appointments to Expand Focus on Health Equity, Workforce

Related: Will the Health Industry Emerge Stronger in 2021?

Related: Allegheny Health Network Appoints VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Melanie Blackman is the strategy editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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