Published in Louisville Medicine.
In their well-intentioned efforts to create change, hospitals and organizations have recently emphasized diversifying their leadership. During the past year, the gaps in health care disparities have only continued to widen as COVID-19 continues to affect Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities at a disproportionate rate compared to their white counterparts (CDC, 2020). It is overwhelmingly evident that marginalized communities are more vulnerable, facing considerable barriers to access to health care and health education. However, many people are now questioning whether diversity efforts are motivated by the need to “meet a quota” while failing to adequately produce the needed change. Merely increasing the number of minorities, women, L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ identity, and other marginalized populations in leadership positions is not enough to create change. Organizations must solicit diverse leaders and produce a culture that would maximize leaders’ potential, thus creating inclusive leadership.
Inclusive leadership is leadership that ensures that all “team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and have the sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired (Titus, 2019).” Research has shown that leadership that includes inclusive leaders are “17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively.” Allowing inclusive leaders to have value would improve morale, provider and employee relations, and overall performance when all on the team feel as though they are meaningful contributors. Therefore, inclusive leadership must be an organizational priority.
Developing a team of inclusive leaders requires intentionality. Looking for the following qualities can help guide this: visible commitment, humility, curiosity about others, and self-awareness. First, inclusive leaders must be vocal and visible about their commitment to challenging the status quo. Their usage of their voices and influence allows their fellow leaders and those they advocate for to feel safe and supported; this is necessary for a healthy, inclusive environment. Inclusive leaders must also practice humility. Humility allows persons of privilege to accept that while they may advocate for marginalized communities, they’ll never truly understand these persons’ experiences and should not claim to relate. Humility also allows them to accept that they will make mistakes or say the wrong things but must use them as opportunities to grow. Finally, humility will enable them to be comfortable, asking difficult questions to address their areas of ignorance.
Inclusive leaders must develop genuine curiosity about others, especially those leaders who do not have diverse backgrounds. Doing so allows them to better understand how their decisions will affect all people and therefore practice more inclusive decision-making. It would also significantly enhance personal relationships and actively encourage a safe and supportive space. A fine example is how my mentor and former GLMS President, Dr. Wayne Tuckson, asked about my life in Zimbabwe. Because he expressed interest and actively listened, I felt comfortable inviting him to my home for a traditional meal. Dr. Tuckson learned more about where I come from, my experiences, and what drives me and hopefully applies that knowledge when he interacts with or makes decisions affecting individuals with a similar upbringing to mine.
Next, inclusive leaders must develop self-awareness, which is a continual process. Firstly, self-awareness would allow leaders to recognize areas of bias. If a leader is unaware of the biases that affect their decision-making, these decisions may lead to practices that are detrimental to others’ wellbeing. Secondly, a self-aware leader would also be able to recognize their privilege. Whether it’s white privilege, male privilege, wealth privilege, or any other privilege, realizing it can allow the privilege to be used to empower others. For example, if a black woman were to speak up at an important meeting and it appears as though her input is not being valued because of whom it’s coming from, an inclusive leader who is say a man or white should use their position to speak up for her. Acts of support and empowerment, such as this example, would promote better decision-making due to the valuable input provided by the diverse members of the team.
For inclusive leaders to thrive, organizations must move from practicing diversity to practicing diversity and inclusion. This means organizations must create an inclusive culture where diverse leaders are not only invited but are also welcomed. Creating such spaces allows these leaders to feel comfortable being their authentic selves, and thus maximize their personal life experiences on the decision-making processes. An inclusive culture also requires treating diversity and inclusion as critical to their organization’s success. This means inclusive efforts must be more than a short-term initiative devised mainly for the appearance of doing good. Short term “band-aid” efforts hurt the morale of the diverse leaders seeking to make a change, and hurt the workers affected by the decisions being made.
Next, organizations must not only look for demographic diversity but also diversity in thought. For example, an inclusive culture would not allow a hospital board serving a marginalized population to be dominated by wealthy men. Instead, the board should also include minorities, women, and others whose perspectives reflect those of the served population. Organizations must also provide resources that empower individuals to take action. This component is vital because systemic inequalities have affected the trajectory and potential of marginalized peoples. Providing resources that were previously unavailable would enable these individuals and their families to reach new heights.
Finally, organizations must have accountability that comes from the top. The support for diversity and inclusion must be led by and continually emphasized by the highest organizational leaders. Those lower in the hierarchy would follow suit when they know there are consequences for inaction or hostility. Accountability can be implemented through strategic measurements such as anonymous surveys, consistent reports and conversations, implementing supportive policies, and providing compensation. Providing financial compensation, particularly, is a great way to show accountability, as it recognizes that the work of diverse leaders is valuable and worth investing in.
Center for Disease Control. (2020). Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups. Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html
Scanlon, S. A., Zupsansky, D. M., & Sawicki, S. (2017, May 30). What Can Companies Do to Create An Inclusive Culture. Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://huntscanlon.com/can-companies-create-inclusive-culture/
Titus, J. (2019, March 30). Why Inclusive Leaders Are Good for Organizations, and How to Become One. Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2019/03/why-inclusive-leaders-are-good-for-organizations-and-how-to-become-one
Tino Mkorombindo is a fourth-year MD/MBA student at the University of Louisville. He is an aspiring orthopedic surgeon and currently works as a clinical research assistant at the Norton Leatherman Spine Center while taking his MBA courses. Mr. Mkorombindo is also the Founder and President of nonprofit organization Greater Influence, that aims to increase representation in healthcare careers.