Thoughts on diversity in healthcare C-suite from an executive search specialist

The healthcare industry is far from alone in seeing the need to improve diversity among its ranks, particularly at executive levels. But the COVID-19 pandemic harshly exposed racial disparities in treatment and care outcomes that remain across the country.

And the sector has a long way to go. A 2015 survey from the American Hospital Association found that 91% of all hospitals CEOs were White.

Larry Griffin is a co-founder of Bridge Partners, an executive search firm that specializes in helping companies across several industries diversify their leadership and management teams. The 17-year-old organization has offices in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Boston.

Healthcare Dive spoke with him about how companies look for diverse talent and what the summer of Black Lives Matter protests and COVID-19 has meant for his business.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity

HEALTHCARE DIVE: Why is diversity in leadership important?

LARRY GRIFFIN: There’s quite a few reasons and it goes across many industries. A diverse leadership team really helps with building the organization from a talent perspective, whether it’s acquisition management, movement, development. What it does is it sends a message out to the organization as well as to the people that the organization serves that diversity, equity, inclusion is the key value of the organization. It’s important, particularly in healthcare. It’s a really important value for an organization to have.

Why particularly in healthcare?

GRIFFIN: Well, I think, especially on the provider side, you find that you have the people that are being served, the demographics have changed, or they will change or they are changing. You find that if you have a diverse organization they can understand the culture of the people that they’re serving.

As an example, a few years back I did a search for a major hospital that was looking for a vice president of ambulatory care. The people that they were serving were increasingly Latino, and they wanted someone who spoke Spanish and understood the culture of the people that they were serving.

This was a very, very competitive market. And there were many hospitals in the area that individuals could go to. So to really have that focus and to understand the people that the hospital is serving was just extremely important. And I think also from an internal perspective, I think there’s been many studies out there, that patient outcomes are [improved] when there is a diverse leadership, a diverse organization and the providers pay attention to D&I issues.

So when a hospital, for example, comes to you and says we want help finding this position, what factors do you look at as you get this process started?

GRIFFIN: Well, I guess the very first thing we want to do is we want to talk about what the role is specific to a particular function or a group. And really get an understanding of the market in terms of what that particular market looks like for diverse leadership. And what we try to do as an organization and helping our clients is, we want to make sure that we are being inclusive in our search process. So we want to bring everybody to the table.

I think many times we hear from clients that they don’t have diverse slates of candidates to choose from. So we are going to make sure that we are reaching out to make sure that those slates are inclusive to the best of our ability. So it doesn’t mean that we’re excluding anyone. So when we present a shortlist … it includes White males, White females, Black males, Black females, Latinos, Asians, to the best of our ability.

But what we also do is we want to make sure that when we are talking to a client that we have a very strong understanding of what the market is, in certain industries in certain functions in certain geographies, the market for diverse candidates is going to be smaller. So certainly we have to be upfront with our clients to make sure that we’re giving them the right advice with regards to what the pool of potential candidates might be out there. 

Do you ever get resistance when you start to get in and work with an organization?

GRIFFIN: Not typically. Where you will have pushback, I wouldn’t exactly say pushback, but where sometimes you will have concern is relative to the process. Many organizations think that there’s nobody out there, there are not diverse candidates out there. They think that the process is going to take longer. Timing is not going to be right. And I think that’s where we come in and we can just give advice, not only in terms of the market, but also our experience in a particular function or area and just really give them a good sense of what the timing is going to be with regards to the search process. That’s not specific to the healthcare industry. I think that just goes across all industries. I think many managers, internal managers, talk about a search, we talk about diversity, inclusion, they think it’s going to take longer. But it doesn’t necessarily take longer.

What do people of color who are in the job market tell you they’re considering when looking at an organization?

GRIFFIN: I think they’re looking for the appropriate fit from a functional and technical perspective. Can they do the job? Are they the right person for that role? 

And I think the other piece is really what the organization is doing with regard to D&I. When there’s a senior leader within an organization, it absolutely helps an organization with the issue of attraction and retention. Because when people come in at the lower levels, and they look up at the top of the house and they see there’s people that look like them, they think that they have an opportunity to move along within the organization. I hear many organizations, they say that, we do a great job of recruiting women, people of color at the lower levels but we can’t retain when they get to a certain level. And then when it’s time to look back into our organization to promote, the bench strength just isn’t there. But then you look at the top of the house, and it’s not diverse at all. And that’s why. people just say, well, am I gonna have an opportunity? So it’s, it’s the branding of the organization, what they’re doing with regards to D&I, the value that they place on D&I and that’s what attracts people, I think, at the lower level, and certainly at the senior level.

Has a greater attention to social justice and racial justice issues this year and the Black Lives Matter movement affected your work?

GRIFFIN: It definitely has, I think there’s certainly a tighter focus and a tighter lens on what organizations are doing with regards to D&I. I can say, over the last six or seven months, just from a market perspective, we’ve seen a real increase in organizations just across the board, looking for DE&I in leadership in the form of chief diversity officers and really trying to think about how the recent events have impacted their organization. 

Because I think the diverse individuals within the organization are being more vocal and saying ‘what is my organization doing about this?’ How are we thinking about culture? In healthcare, how are we thinking about our relationships with our patients and how we’re treating our patients? So it’s putting a tighter focus on it for sure. 

And how about the pandemic? That’s definitely changed work in the United States, at least temporarily, quite a bit.

GRIFFIN: It’s absolutely had a dramatic impact on organizations in that people are working from home. Certainly you can imagine within a healthcare setting there’s just tremendous amount of essential workers that have to be on location, but from a candidate’s perspective, it is an impact for sure. Because they’re thinking about safety. They’re thinking about: How can I operate within this organization remotely? Can I handle this job remotely? And I think organizations are going through that same struggle as well. It’s definitely much more of a challenge because they’re either using Zoom or video conference. But especially at a senior leadership level, when it gets down to it, people want to be face-to-face. They want to see an individual. They want to be able to learn what they can from a live, in-person interview.

What advice do you give to healthcare organizations trying to make their companies more diverse and inclusive?

GRIFFIN: I think they just have to pay attention to it more. They just have to look at what they’re doing with regards to attraction and how they go about attracting individuals to their organization.

I think they have to look at the partners that they use. I mean, if they’re using outside organizations to help them recruit individuals, and they have not been successful with attracting diverse leaders, then they probably need to rethink those relationships.

They need to look at their internal sources. Many organizations in healthcare have employee resource groups, utilizing those employee resource groups in terms of helping the organization on a talent perspective in networking with outside organizations and really trying to increase the flow of diverse candidates into the organization. 

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