The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force: Recognizing the need for Inclusivity
By Carolyn Riel
The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force has been an active group within ACDIS since the summer of 2020. When creating this task force, it was important to choose a name that rightly reflected ACDIS’ mission, striving not only for diversity, but also inclusivity.
The need for inclusion
“We currently see an increase in organizations that are actively trying to support diversity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are being inclusive,” says Angelica Naylor, MBA, BSN, RN, CCDS, CDI consultant and manager with CorroHealth, based in Plano, Texas, and a founding member of the task force. “Diversity has several definitions based on the interpreter. Some think it means an organization is meeting the affirmative action quota; for others it might mean if they have a couple of people from minority groups in the department, then they are diverse.”
According to Naylor, the real meaning of diversity is not just meeting the legal definition, but truly satisfying the standards of a welcoming employer and societal acceptance. “The legal definition is one thing, but you have to understand that societal is different, so those standards of truly being diverse and inclusive are not the same as a legal definition of being diverse,” she says.
Simply meeting a certain percentage of minority workers within a setting doesn’t represent what true diversity and inclusion strives for. Your goal as an organization should not just be to meet affirmative action guidelines or achieve a certain percentage of minority groups in a workforce. “The goal is not just to have a diverse workforce but to truly speak to inclusion; now that you have all of these different people in your workplace, how are you including them?” Naylor says.
To ensure you’re fostering an inclusive workplace, rather than one that is merely diverse, Naylor suggests asking yourself the following questions:
- Are you bringing these diverse groups to the table for decision-making?
- Are you considering their experiences and taking them into account when making decisions?
- Are you considering them for other opportunities such as committee work, board service, or leadership positions?
- Are you looking at them to become mentors to new staff?
- Are you looking for ways to include them in the workforce rather than just leaving them as part of the broader community?
The prevalence of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to tackle discrimination in the workplace, Naylor says. “In theory, in an organization that is working and hiring 100% remotely, race wouldn’t be a factor,” she says. “In my personal experience with remote positions, I was never asked for a picture of myself during the hiring process or for an initial video interview; my first few interviews were always over the phone.”
Naylor says hiring and offering jobs over the phone takes away biases people may hold, and stereotypes people might consciously or subconsciously have. In a remote environment where race may not even come into the conversation, not only will more diverse individuals be likely to get hired, but department leaders deciding on promotions will be much more concerned about merits and experience rather than passing judgment based on the way someone looks.
“They’ll reach out to you based on your expertise and say, ‘Hey, this new opportunity is becoming available that you’d be a great fit for.’ That’s the definition of being inclusive: looking simply at someone’s strengths and qualifications and placing them in those positions,” Naylor says.
Naylor is hopeful that with remote work becoming a normal avenue for organizations, race will be less of an issue when hiring and promoting. “I’m hoping what will happen is the unconscious biases will start to fade away,” she says. “If you don’t see them every day, you aren’t putting a face to their metrics or their performance; just their name and the job they’re doing is all that matters.”
While it’s important to consider the organization as a whole when evaluating inclusivity, organizations are made up of individual people. Rather than beginning with an external look at the broader situation, start by looking at your own biases and evaluating whether you are doing enough to include your coworkers who may have different backgrounds from you.
“Let’s say you work in a department that seems fairly diverse, and one of your coworkers is from a minority group, maybe someone who immigrated from Asia, Central America, or Africa. While coworkers might not necessarily be excluding this person, they might overlook or shun their ideas despite this person’s level of expertise simply because of their unconscious biases and stereotypes,” says Naylor.
On an individual level, Naylor suggests people look inward, reevaluating themselves and their own internal perceptions and judgments.
“Remove unconscious biases,” she says. “The media you consume, news you watch, or even the generation you belong to can contribute to instilling unconscious biases in people. Whether someone actively believes it or not, it may still be part of their subconscious belief system or perception.”
These outside factors, including the location and manner of your upbringing, can add to biases and perceptions you may not even be aware of. For example, if you grew up in a more rural homogenous setting, you may have very rarely even seen people who looked different from you, much less interacted with them.
“If you grew up in an area like that and you don’t see people opposite or different-looking from you, you don’t develop the willingness or openness for these people,” Naylor says. “You will have to take a step back to ask yourself, ‘Are there stereotypes I may believe but don’t recognize? Are there unconscious biases I might have and don’t realize?’ ”
If that is the case, make bias recognition and accountability a priority in your personal growth. If you are ascribing a stereotype to someone, make yourself actively aware of it and alter your way of thinking and acting to change it.
On an organizational level as well, facilities should take steps to ensure the inclusivity of all people. One way to start is to open up communication for everyone without exclusion, Naylor says. “For example, when my organization wants feedback, they send the request to everyone across the board, so each person working in the organization has an opportunity to give their feedback and answer,” she says, noting that they don’t select a certain group or amount of people to ask for feedback and instead keep it open to everyone.
Human resources (HR) departments should also strengthen inclusion and diversity training for all new staff members within the organization. “I’ve had HR orientations before where out of a two-day orientation, we had one 30-minute session titled ‘diversity and inclusion,’ ” Naylor says. “It was taught by someone who was not a minority. She didn’t talk about personal experiences of minority groups, show any educational videos, or really have any resources. She merely stood there for 30 minutes presenting on her perspective of diversity, mentioning things like we should all recognize and respect different hair colors, heights, and body sizes… that we are all born unique.”
The message that comes from these meager training sessions tends to be along the lines of “we’re all different,” but in reality, diversity training needs to provide much more than that. Without doing so, according to Naylor, the organization isn’t truly working toward diversity and inclusion.
“Of course we believe that we should treat everyone equally and with respect; we learned that in kindergarten,” Naylor says. “But organizations need to really invest in starting a robust, accurate, and effective diversity and inclusion training.”
Address ongoing exclusions
Even with strides in the right direction, exclusions still exist.
“It’s so complex because everyone is so afraid to speak up when they see this behavior,” says Naylor. “People have this fear to even give an opinion on seeing injustice because they’re so afraid of retaliation, which I understand because I’ve been there.”
If the situation is bad enough, an organization runs the risk of losing talented employees who leave for fear of speaking up. To prevent this and ensure inclusivity, Naylor recommends healthcare organizations treat diversity and inclusion the same way they would treat compliance.
“In any health organization, you go through compliance training, and they tell you that if you see any violations to contact your privacy officer, call the compliance hotline, and your suspicions will be recorded anonymously. The same should be done with issues of bias and exclusion,” Naylor says. “With the standard compliance issues, you don’t have to give your name and can feel assured there will be no retaliation for good-faith complaints. I think if you have HR open to diversity the same way, they will set the tone and establishment for reporting such a complaint or concern.”
Naylor notes that you should feel empowered to report even if your organization does not have such a program.
“If you see someone being treated unfairly because of the way they were born—be it the color of their skin, the gender with which they identify, their sexual orientation, or anything else—it is still important to speak up,” she says. “The issues should be reported to a supervisor, and all companies should have an HR representative you can trust and rely on for assistance.”
While there will be fear of retaliation, raising awareness and filing complaints if need be are important enough to set the fear aside.
“If you sit back and say nothing, organizations may say, ‘Oh, we didn’t know or were not aware that we had a problem,’ ” Naylor says.“You have to speak up. That’s the only way to promote and implement change.”