Insights Blog



By QLK Team
on Feb 15, 2021
  • Healthcare | Blog
The Evolving Role of Healthcare Chief Diversity Officer

No matter how much it seems that society has advanced beyond racial biases and civil injustice, a tragedy occurs from time to time that puts everything into perspective. From there, collective values and priorities are placed under a microscope.

More specifically, businesses must scrutinize their values and prioritize diversity. Even those who thought they were doing their part must consider if it's enough.

After all, given the current climate, employees, investors, consumers, and suppliers are hyper-focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Thus, it's now integral to launch initiatives and strategize according to these sensibilities.

DEI initiatives aren't going to create themselves out of thin air. Nor will there be any success if it means piling on more responsibilities to an employee's already dense workload.

Instead, many corporations have hired a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) to spearhead these workplace movements. Given healthcare's economic prominence, the industry should set an example for the rest of the country with DEI.

How Important is the CDO?

It used to be that companies could operate, recruit, promote, and pay based on narrow, unfair criteria. Now, this isn't meant to imply any maliciousness. These preferences and leanings are commonly unconscious and non-purposeful transgressions.

Without reinforcement to approach business functions through a diversity-based lens, a professional environment likely won't be inclusive and equitable. People tend to favor others that look like them and share similar backgrounds without a second thought.

A CDO's big-picture role is to break these biased shackles and ensure all organizational facets are rooted in diversity.

As such, the CDO should be involved in the following processes and procedures:

  • Recruiting
  • Promotion
  • Pay
  • Team behavior
  • Senior leadership
  • Everyday interactions

In fact, this is such a coveted, impactful role that the ideal CDO should possess 12 to 15 years in DEI.

Why is the CDO so Crucial for Healthcare?

By 2044 – according to the US Census Bureau – the country will be mostly minorities.

Sadly, the healthcare industry hasn't kept up pace with the growing diversity in the US.
Minorities make up 30-35% of patients, but only 14% of board members and 11% of executives.

It only makes sense that the top decision-makers in an organization should represent their target market. A more diverse leadership team means more insight into the various populations and demographics being served. Hiring a CDO is the first step to solving this problem.

What Are Some of a CDO's Primary Responsibilities?

Strategic Diversity Planning

First and foremost, a CDO must view diversity planning as one overarching, fluid strategy that connects all aspects of an organization. It can't be a bunch of separate entities or systems—because this will cause confusion and lacking cohesion.

Recruiting Diverse Talent

Hiring diverse talent sits high atop the list of priorities for the CDO.

Here's an example that's specific to healthcare:

Ronald Copeland is Kaiser Permanente's CDO. His objective is centered around comprising a staff that better reflects the patient population.

More specifically, leaders within the corporation ensure that the candidate pool is diverse. Furthermore, it's made clear to new employees that there's room to grow within Kaiser.

Culturally Competent Curriculum Development

The CDO must also focus on culturally competent curriculum development.

Back in the 1980s, diversity training was introduced. Unfortunately, this practice increases awareness and sensitivity, but it's proven to not alter behavior.

Therefore, CDOs don't "train" or teach classes. Instead, they must impact systemic changes, using tools and tactics such as work redesign, communications, training, metrics, and rewards.

Part of this education and curriculum means teaching some hard lessons. A zero-tolerance approach might be necessary for violations and bad behavior. On top of that, reporting systems that allow people to privately cite misconduct, abuse, or harassment must be put in place.

Taking real-life infractions and turning them into teaching moments shows people who might be unaware of a problem.

Lastly, part of this curriculum is continual reinforcement. A 5-minute daily meeting will keep people focused on acting in ways that support a diverse environment. Whereas a few diversity training lessons will fall by the wayside once the classes end.

Encouraging Diverse Treatments

The CDO at Bon Secours Health System, Gloria Goins, encourages staff to leverage their differences to improve patient care.

There are employee resource groups that connect staff with similar interests or backgrounds. These individuals then brainstorm and strategize according to the unique healthcare needs of specific populations.


Quick Leondard Kieffer (QLK)

As pointed out earlier in this article, the CDO position requires over a decade of DEI experience. Near-endless academic qualifications/accolades are also a must for the role.

Fortunately, at QLK, we have access to a vast pool of highly accomplished and savvy Chief Diversity Officers with a wealth of healthcare experience. Contact us today to find the best fit for your organization!