The Growing Role of Chief Diversity Officer

CDOLast year, Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) hires grew by 84%, making it the fastest growing C-suite title, according to LinkedIn.

There has been a national wave of concern about racial inequities, especially in healthcare, with the arrival of the COVID pandemic.

Many healthcare organizations are increasing their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts. Leaders are addressing racial health disparities and finding ways to improve patient care for all. Part of their efforts include establishing a Chief Diversity Officer role.

Winifred King is Cook Children’s first ever Chief Diversity Officer. King said, “It is hard to put into words what this decision and investment means to people of color and anyone who has ever felt different or excluded. For all of us who may have experienced inequities and mistreatment in our lifetimes, it is comforting to be a part of an organization that accepts our differences, our failures, and is willing to look inward and truly examine what is at the heart of our culture.”

“COVID-19 is amplifying health disparities in communities of color,” said Quita Highsmith, the Chief Diversity Officer of biotech company, Genentech. “It is now time for us to stop tiptoeing around it and start thinking about what we are going to do.”

CDOs are responsible for addressing these healthcare disparities. They are developing strategies to promote diversity, inclusivity, and equitable cultures throughout their organization.

Education and awareness are playing a key role in improving health outcomes for diverse communities. The CDO coordinates efforts internally to provide staff with resources and courses, such as cultural competence training as well as finding ways externally to work with the community they serve.

In addition, the CDO helps to create recruitment programs that ensures their DEI message is reaching diverse candidates. As a member of the C-suite, the CDO can communicate to all leaders that diversity recruitment, for all position levels, should be a priority.

Studies suggest diversity in healthcare leadership enhances quality of care, quality of life in the workplace, community relations, and the ability to affect community health status.

The CDO helps to define, educate, and communicate the hospital/health system’s culture and DEI message to its staff, patient population and community.

Joseph Hill, was the first Chief Diversity Officer at Jefferson Health. He requested they establish focus groups with patients to better understand their expectations and view of the system. With the information provided by the focus groups, they found the areas that needed improvements.

HCA Healthcare created the BRAVE Conversations program, an ‘outside the box’ platform designed to facilitate interactive, inclusive, innovative and safe ways for employees to share their thoughts on issues that may be difficult to discuss.

It is imperative that leadership is committed to their DEI mission. Without it, the CDO cannot wave a magic wand and transform an entire organization overnight. It takes commitment, communication both internally and externally, resources, time, and effort from all areas of the health system.

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