Gender matters. Of all the important types of diversity, gender may be the most consequential from a business standpoint. Women are over 50% of the world’s population, and female economic purchasing power is growing globally (The World Bank, 2016). In the healthcare sector, women make 4 out of the 5 household purchasing decisions (Silverstein & Sayre, 2009). Moreover, nearly 60% of the graduates with healthcare-relevant degrees are women (Drew, 2011), and females represent 80% of US healthcare workers (Diamond, 2014). Thus, gender equity should be a natural corporate priority, particularly in healthcare organizations.
To reach this goal, one key is to develop customized strategic solutions to address the uniqueness of an organization’s culture and the specifics related to the healthcare industry. This can be challenging, as it requires real people having real conversations about the real issues to create real change. Addressing gender diversity in a corporate environment requires a truly holistic approach and thinking about diversity in a global context. The elements include a strategic approach, a vision of success, executive commitment, involvement of key stakeholders, and smart education/development. The tangible business benefits of gender diversity can include increased share price, higher profits, decreased costs, increased revenue, lower employee turnover, higher employee satisfaction, and more innovation (Carter & Wagner, 2011; Catalyst Information Center, 2013; Mensi-Klarbach, 2014; Nishii, 2013; Theodorakopoulos & Budhwar, 2015).
Recruitment, selection, training, advancement, and retention are crucial drivers of gender D&I (Tyson, 2015). In turn, there are several critical success factors for supporting progress on these drivers: People (e.g., members of the executive team are gender representative), philosophies (e.g., culture of helping each employee to maximize her or his highest potential), plans (e.g., formal business strategy developed for attaining gender parity in hiring), policies (e.g., clear and effective guidelines for handling cases of gender discrimination), and programs (e.g., strong mentorship/sponsorship initiatives and business resource groups).
What additional actions could concretely enable a healthcare organization to strengthen gender D&I? Based on our extensive experience, we see 10 specific best practices that healthcare organizations can implement to increase gender diversity, inclusion, and engagement (Gillespie, Dunsire, & Luce, 2018):
- Embed D&I throughout organizations and into the DNA, such that it becomes an essential component of the work practices, core competencies, and metrics of organizations.
- Engage CEO to make the global D&I agenda one of her or his top priorities, with the CEO ideally personally connected to and actively engaged in diversity.
- Prioritize D&I to be an essential element of global strategy and an inherent part of doing business effectively internationally.
- Tailor organization-wide D&I initiatives to fit the local needs to the specific geographic location, division, subsidiary, or unit.
- Multiply D&I impact via external partnerships with communities, suppliers, business partners, corporate socially responsible investors, government, non-governmental organizations, academia, and the media.
- Maximize role of business resource groups (BRGs) to create safe harbors for candid (i.e., “real”) discussions, promote collaborative learning, accelerate leadership development, and achieve KPIs (e.g., costs, revenue, and profits).
- Maximize the role of diversity councils (DCs) to ensure that D&I information, knowledge, and wisdom are shared across the organization and act as an internal advisory board, helping advise, co-create, evaluate, and guide the D&I strategy.
- Leverage D&I for innovation and new thinking to stimulate outside-the-box ideas and solutions to address the organization’s biggest challenges and opportunities.
- Leverage D&I for business development as female executives, managers, and all team members can contribute product, marketing, and sales insights.
- Develop sharing of D&I best practices as a meta best practice such that gender diversity best practices are recognized, documented, and shared within the categories of people, philosophies, plans, policies, and programs.
We believe strong healthcare organizations are built by empowered individuals who understand, respect, and appreciate themselves and everyone around them. This is good for the organization, for the employees, and perhaps most importantly, for patients. Seeing others for who they are and what they are capable of –regardless of gender– lifts the entire company and contributes to your competitive advantage and your bottom line. Consistent and rigorous application of these 10 best practices can help a healthcare organization create and achieve their vision by transforming their people and their workplace.
CEO of The Kaleidoscope Group
Ph.D., JD, MPA, and Consultant for the Kaleidoscope Group
CEO & Co-Founder of the Center for Healthcare Innovation and Consultant for the Kaleidoscope Group
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Catalyst. (2013). First step: Diversity councils. Retrieved July 2, 2018 from
Diamond, D. (2014). Women make up 80% of health care workers – but just 40% of executives. Retrieved July 2, 2018 from https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/blog/2014/08/women-in-leadership
Drew, C. (2011). Where the women are: Biology. Retrieved July 2, 2018 from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/education/edlife/where-the-women-are-biology.html
Gillespie, Dunsire, & Luce (2018) Attaining gender Parity: Diversity 5.0 and 10 Best Practices for Global Health Care Organizations. The Health Care Manager (forthcoming), PMID:29957659.
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Theodorakopoulos, N., & Budhwar, P. (2015). Guest editors’ introduction: Diversity and inclusion in different work settings: Emerging patterns, challenges, and research agenda. Human Resource Management, 54(2), 177-197.