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How to Promote Diversity in Nursing Leadership

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives have become standard practice in myriad industries and based on results, it’s not hard to imagine why. DEI programs help companies access larger talent pools, improve employee engagement, and bring new perspectives to organizational challenges, among other things. In fact, around 76% of job candidates report that a diverse workforce is important when evaluating companies and job offers, making it one of the more critical factors in attracting and retaining talent. 

Moreover, when it comes to healthcare leadership, specifically in nursing, diversity is even more significant. Here we’ll review why it’s so important and what organizations can do to start or improve their DEI initiatives.


Why Diversity Is Important in Nursing Leadership

Nearly every industry benefits from having a diverse workforce and leadership team. It’s no secret that people want to be adequately represented in a workplace environment to be validated and comfortable so they can do their job to their fullest capacity. 

Yet, the stakes are inevitably higher in the healthcare space. There must be an innate trust in both patient-caregiver and leadership-staff relationships to administer proper care and achieve organizational goals. In fact, the University of Southern Maine states

“One might argue that as caregivers, nurses inherently pledge to provide the same level of care to everyone in their charge. But unfortunately, that doesn’t always ring true — conscious or unconscious bias by healthcare professionals means not every individual receives the same quality care. That’s why [author Erica Bettencourt] says it’s so important for the nursing workforce to ‘reflect’ patient demographics.

‘A person who has little in common with you cannot adequately advocate for your benefit,’ she cautions.”

One of the more concerning aspects of diversity within healthcare is that women of color have a more challenging time ascending to leadership positions.  This has been well documented in a survey conducted by Kirby Bates Associates Executive Vice President Jane Fitzsimmons, MSN, RN.  The findings have been shared in poster presentations, national publications, and numerous podium presentations.  

Improving Diversity in Nursing Leadership

1. Recognize That a Sense of Belonging Is Important

The first step to building a thriving, diverse, and inclusive workplace is having the right frame of mind. Recognizing that positive interpersonal relationships are the cornerstone of success for any nurse leader and their employees is crucial. It helps them relate more closely to the communities they serve, allows teams to learn and grow together, and encourages leaders to pass their wisdom and lived experience down to the next generation of workers in a celebratory manner rather than a condescending one.

To facilitate a sense of belonging among workers and patients, take strides to encourage both leaders and frontline workers to understand their own unconscious biases to create a more inclusive culture that fosters transparent communication and decision-making.


2. Prioritize Patient Outcomes

Because representation in staff and leadership is so essential in establishing trust between patients and caregivers, organizations must meet the needs of diverse patient populations through DEI. This can be achieved through:

  • Developing programs and policies dedicated to the needs of diverse patient populations (this could include staff training, community outreach, etc.)
  • Creating inclusive hiring strategies to attract and retain talent that reflects the local patient population
  • Facilitating education programs for staff that highlight how to understand internal biases and the importance of understanding the needs of a diverse patient base
  • Educating patients about why data collection regarding gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. is vital in providing a higher quality of care.


3. Community Outreach

One of the key ways healthcare organizations can facilitate more meaningful DEI solutions is through community outreach. By partnering with local schools, universities, community centers, and more, nurse leaders and community members gain a deeper understanding of the trust between patient and caregiver necessary to provide high-quality care. Such outreach also helps support future labor pools by attracting and developing diverse talent within the community.

These goals can also be achieved by:

  • Supporting local outreach and education programs aimed at attracting underrepresented cultures into the healthcare industry
  • Assisting marginalized communities to gain access to higher education and assuring equitable career progression
  • Assuring that health literacy standards are implemented within those programs.


4. Establish Sponsorship and Mentorship Programs

One critical aspect of upward mobility within the healthcare industry is sponsorship and mentorship, especially for women and people of color. In a piece titled Cultivating Diversity in Nursing Leadership:  Role of the Sponsor, Williams and Dawson write, ” A number of strategies can be employed by professional and organizational leaders to impact the diversity of nurses, especially those at the leadership levels.” 


Kirby Bates Can Help In the Search for Diverse Executives

Given the challenges of implicit bias, one must be intentional in creating inclusive environments and be extra vigilant when developing recruitment, leadership development, and career advancement processes. KBA is a national leader among healthcare executive search firms and nurse executive search services in actively promoting the advancement of diverse leaders as evidenced by:

  • extensive thought leadership presented in regional and national forums
  • evidence-based approach for assuring inclusive search processes 
  • long and enviable track record of placing successful diverse leaders
  • pro bono consultation with diverse leaders seeking to advance their careers

To find out more, get in touch today!