ACHE 2017: Inclusive culture in healthcare is more than 'checking boxes' on diversity

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 - M. Tomas Leon, MBA
M. Tomas Leon, MBA, President and CEO of the Institute for Diversity in Health Management

Most healthcare conferences these days seem to include sessions on promoting diversity in organizations and among leadership. Two Monday sessions at the American College of Healthcare Executives’ (ACHE) 2017 Congress in Chicago are taking a different aim to change how leaders think about diversity and focus on creating a “culture of inclusion.”

The host of the session, Tomas Leon, MBA, is president and CEO of the Institute for Diversity in Health Management at the American Hospital Association (AHA). He said creating a “welcoming environment” and emphasizing diversity are important steps, but an “inclusive culture” goes further, giving all employees the platform to share ideas and feedback to help get the most out of a diverse workforce.

“The question we’re posing with this workshop is whose job is it?” Leon said to HealthExec. “Is it the job of the healthcare leader to adapt to the organizational culture or is it the responsibility of the organization to create a culture of inclusion so that individual can be their best in that environment.”

Leon said many industries, including healthcare, have long seen diversity as a quota organizations must fill or a compliance standard. To him, that’s stifled progress in “cultivating” inclusion to get the best out of employees. In short, diversity in your workforce can be a “competitive advantage” as the patients which health systems serve become more diverse, but that requires a different mindset.

“We really have to change the mental model towards a business case and a strategic case,” Leon said.

Institute for Diversity in Health Management is seeing some movement on building this idea of an inclusive culture, with Leon citing the thousands of hospital CEOs which have signed the AHA’s “equity of care” pledge.

He hoped healthcare leaders took away from the session two lessons: 1) the benefits from leadership taking on the responsibility for creating this inclusive environment and 2) learn how to overcome the challenges in hospitals where the culture may be more difficult to change.

“It’s not just a buzzword,” Leon said, “but it’s an intentional strategy and approach and a competency that healthcare leaders have to have moving into the future.”