Column | Financial Leadership

Promoting a more diverse and inclusive healthcare workforce is everyone's job

Column | Financial Leadership

Promoting a more diverse and inclusive healthcare workforce is everyone's job


Joseph J. Fifer

  • Healthcare leaders should be aware of the steps they can take to foster diversity and inclusion in healthcare management.
  • One important step is to boost the diversity of talent in the pipeline, looking at ways to engage early careerists and even high school and college students.
  • The key is caring enough about the issue of racial equity to identify and act on opportunities to make meaningful change.

During the tumultuous months of 2020, it has become clear to me — as it has to many others — that disavowing racist beliefs and actions is not enough to bring about change. Making a difference requires taking action. I sent a message about racial inequity to HFMA members in July and followed up in August with a Leadership column that focused on how racial disparities in business processes can exacerbate financial barriers to healthcare for patients.

Another dimension of racial equity that should be on every healthcare leader’s radar screen is diversity and inclusion in the managerial workforce.

Creating a more diverse healthcare management workforce

For anyone who’s familiar with the healthcare landscape, it should come as no surprise to learn that people of color are underrepresented in hospital leadership positions. A 2015 survey conducted by the American Hospital Association’s Institute for Diversity in Health Management found that 19% of lower- and mid-level hospital management positions, and just 11% of executive leadership positions, were held by people of color. At that time, people of color represented 32% of patients in hospitals that responded to the survey and an estimated 37% of the U.S. population.

Why should we, as healthcare leaders, do more than make a mental note of those figures before moving on to other, more pressing issues? The reality is that everyone has a role in creating a more equitable society. For those in leadership positions, that role includes addressing the racial inequities that limit people’s career opportunities and life chances.

Diverse teams are better equipped to fulfill their organization’s mission. But most important, it’s the right thing to do.

Ensuring a diverse and inclusive pipeline

Achieving diversity requires more than better sourcing of candidates. Why is it that people of color choose a healthcare management career path less frequently compared with whites? Should we be looking to the pipeline to find the reasons — and to reach early careerists, colleges and universities, and even high schools to generate more interest in the fascinating and rewarding domain of healthcare leadership? I believe the answer is clear.

There are many steps that healthcare leaders can take to help fill the pipeline and close the diversity gap. Take part in high school or college career days, or just have informal conversations about career choices with young people who may cross your path. Interview a diverse group of candidates when making hiring decisions and help ensure a welcoming work environment for people of all backgrounds. Reach out to mentor those who are starting out in their careers.

Being alert for opportunities to effect change

Although many diversity solutions must be implemented at organizational, policymaking or government levels, each individual has the potential to make a difference. The key is caring enough about promoting racial equity to look for and follow through on opportunities that present themselves.

There is much more to discuss. For now, I leave you with a quote from the ancient ruler Alexander the Great:  “Remember, upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”

About the Author

Joseph J. Fifer, FHFMA, CPA,

is president and CEO, HFMA. Follow Joe Fifer on Twitter @HFMAFifer.

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