Human Resources and Nonprofits

Summit examines ROI of diversity, equity and inclusion

Panelists from Spectrum, Metro and Trinity Health share how DE&I lends a competitive edge.

November 8, 2019
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The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce recently held its annual Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Summit to share best practices for building a better workplace from some of the top organizations in West Michigan.

The 2019 summit took place Nov. 1 at the JW Marriott Grand Rapids in downtown Grand Rapids, drawing nearly 400 attendees seeking to learn about the return on investment of DE&I from the lens of local diversity champions.

A panel discussion, “The Competitive Advantage of DEI,” featured experts from the area’s top health care systems, including Ovell Barbee, senior vice president, human resources, and diversity officer, Spectrum Health; Rhae-Ann Booker, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, Metro Health - University of Michigan Health; and Ane McNeil, chief human resources officer, Trinity Health Michigan Region.

Kenneth James, director of inclusion for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, moderated the panel.

According to the Grand Rapids Chamber, more inclusive companies have 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee over a three-year period and are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.

But what is diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and how can it be achieved?

Defining DE&I

James asked Booker to define the components of DE&I and give examples of each.

Booker said the word “diversity” refers to “individual and group differences” related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, military service, disability and more, and it encompasses both “visible and invisible” attributes. She added diversity is a term that includes all people, which many organizations do not understand.

“Equity,” she said, includes fairness in treatment, eliminating barriers and giving access to opportunities for historically marginalized groups. One way Metro Health - University of Michigan Health strives to be equitable is by offering language translation services for patients, Booker said, so they can experience the same quality of care as all others.

Lastly, “inclusion is the end goal,” Booker said. “Diversity and equity, those efforts are meant to achieve inclusion. For us, we define inclusion as the full participation of all of our community members, (with) everyone having a sense of belonging.”

For example, Booker said inclusion would be achieved at Metro Health not only when the employment of LGTBQ people and their allies increases in the health system, but when LGBTQ individuals — who are “underserved and largely invisible” in health care — would feel safe enough to utilize treatment, potentially reducing high rates of suicide, mental health issues and obesity.

Creating a culture of DE&I

James asked Barbee what it takes to create a culture of DE&I, and what the evolution of DE&I has looked like within Spectrum Health — including the challenges along the way.

Barbee said he was hired 10 months ago, just four months after Tina Freese Decker was named Spectrum’s new president and CEO. One of her first leadership moves was to create his new position and sign the American Hospital Association’s #123forEquity pledge toward eliminating health care disparities. Barbee described the pledge as a public commitment and a “strong indication” that the health system is taking strides toward DE&I. Barbee said he would not have signed on to work with the health system unless he believed leadership was taking it seriously.

From the pledge, Spectrum has created a framework for its diversity strategy, including components such as cultural competency, supplier diversity, community engagement and equity of care.

Besides the pledge, a key milestone Barbee shared was when the DE&I team last year was elevated to the same rank as the other HR departments at Spectrum, such as talent acquisition, compensation, etc.

The greatest challenge Spectrum faces in its DE&I work is silence, Barbee said. Often, colleagues will book “no subject” meetings with him and, behind closed doors, tell him about a “horrific” thing that has happened to them at work. He asks, “Did you say anything (to a supervisor)?” and usually, the answer is “No.”

“I tell them, ‘You can’t push for change if you’re not willing as an individual to use your voice,’” Barbee said. He now keeps a stack of cards in his office that say on one side, “#useyourvoice” and say on the flip side, “I will use my voice to…”

Leadership and DE&I

James asked the audience to close their eyes and picture Yellowstone National Park’s famous geyser, Old Faithful. The pressure builds, it explodes, then quickly, the excitement is over. James contrasted this with Niagara Falls, which thunders with a “constant flow” of water. He said the work of DE&I is most effective with a waterfall approach, where the priorities are set at the highest level and cascade down through every part of the organization.

With that in mind, he asked McNeil to share what Trinity Health/Mercy Health is doing at the highest level around DE&I, what some of its best practices are and how leadership is held accountable.

McNeil said Trinity Health CEO Michael Slubowski leads a “committed” executive leadership team that includes Cassandra Willis-Abner, SVP, diversity and inclusion and chief experience officer. Shana Welch is executive director of talent acquisition across Trinity’s Michigan hospitals and has laid “a solid foundation in West Michigan” when it comes to DE&I in hiring and talent development, McNeil added.

With the leadership of the above-mentioned people, she said Trinity Health has committed across its 22-state footprint with 96 hospitals and 100-plus continuing care centers that DE&I will be central to its strategic plan and priorities.

“What we realized as an organization is that we were simply just helping; what we were not doing was advancing people’s lives,” McNeil said.

To chart a new course, the health system developed five focus areas, which are similar to Spectrum’s: diversity in governance; diversity in talent; a culturally welcoming, inclusive environment; supplier diversity; and elimination of health disparities.

McNeil said the best way that’s been found to ensure accountability is to tie the DE&I objectives to the organization’s bottom line.

“Accountability for diversity and inclusion across all three of the states that I support, it’s not easy. It’s a journey. It takes time. But I am seeing it unfold, and I’m proud to be part of the team that’s doing it,” she said.

DE&I resources and programs

Booker was up next to share the resources and programs Metro Health - University of Michigan Health uses to advance DE&I.

She said six months into her newly created position, she has found human capital, data, training programs — consistent ones, not hit or miss — and a strategic plan to be the best resources in the fight for DE&I.

“I find all four to be impactful when they are properly functioning as part of a comprehensive, holistic approach to diversity, equity and inclusion and not a piecemeal approach,” Booker said.

DE&I and talent acquisition

James asked McNeil to expand more upon DE&I in talent acquisition and how that plays out at Trinity Health/Mercy Health.

McNeil said the health system created a PEOPLE-centered 2020 strategic plan, where each of the letters in the word “people” stands for a priority. She said “E,” which stands for “engaged colleagues,” is about attracting, developing and retaining “exceptional committed colleagues who reflect diversity in our communities.”

To meet the “E” goal, the health system developed a four-step plan of attack, in which process, pathways, programs and policies/procedures all would be examined for implicit bias and revamped to give diverse individuals job opportunities and a chance to upskill themselves.

In May, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s opened a career development center it hopes will be a model for the rest of the health system, where it is pulling in individuals from underprivileged areas and teaching them what they need to know to get hired in one of its hospitals.

After someone gets hired, the health system employs an “inside-up” philosophy of growing them past entry level, McNeil said.

“We made a commitment that for the next three years, we will take 50 of our internal colleagues and upskill them, and we will take 100 people each year in the community and upskill them and develop them and give them opportunity. … We can’t help our communities who are suffering if they don’t have a place to go.”

Takeaways about DE&I

For the last question, James asked the panelists to share their prime takeaways on the work of DE&I within their organizations.

Barbee reiterated “using your voice as a catalyst” rather than being silent is the first step to advancing the work.

Booker said she has observed that becoming more diverse, equitable and inclusive is a work of both the heart and the mind. 

“We know our cultural competency and that we can develop the technical skills. But (DE&I is) even more than that. It’s a matter of the heart and genuinely being caring and concerned and having the heart to address and meet the needs of other human beings,” she said.

McNeil added the work of DE&I is a journey that starts with a commitment to upsetting the status quo.

“The theme today is how diversity, equity and inclusion can be a competitive advantage to a workplace, and to me, talent in all shapes, sizes and forms is that competitive advantage, and so, let’s commit … to stop looking for talent where we always look.

“When you start to look in places you don’t normally look, your revenue is going to increase … your innovation increases, your diversity of experience, diversity of thought, all of that starts to change. Sometimes, it’s hard to put a dollar figure around that, but when you see it, when you hear it — not silenced — it’s rich. It builds a strong culture.”

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