This blog post sources its content from “Diversity Matters,” an article published in April 2020 in SROA’s quarterly news publication Radiation Oncology News for Administrators.
“People misconstrue diversity. Diversity encompasses many groups depending upon what is underrepresented in the field,” said Dr. Maria L. Soto-Greene, who is nationally known for her work in diversity, inclusion, health equity and social justice. “Sometimes people equate diversity with underrepresented minorities, which leaves out the many identities that we have. Think about a person who is LGBTQ and also an underrepresented minority. When we fail to consider the assets of a diverse provider, we deprive our communities of the benefit that can be realized in their care.”
Dr. Soto-Greene is executive vice dean and professor of medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. She’s also director of the medical school’s Hispanic Center of Excellence. In 2019, she received the Association of American Medical College’s Herbert W. Nickens Award, in recognition of her efforts to promote justice in medical education and healthcare equity.
“For decades, we’ve been on the journey to increase the representation of underrepresented minorities, and we really haven’t made the inroads in terms of representation in certain specialties and in leadership roles,” she said. In medicine, the statistics for some underrepresented populations (e.g., African-Americans) have been relatively unchanged for the past 30 years. And while women now make up roughly 50 percent of the medical school population, Dr. Soto-Greene said achieving that number has required women-intensive strategies and years of work, and that effort has not yet translated to more women working in certain specialties and being in the uppermost leadership positions.
She explained that new accreditation requirements by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education include mission-driven strategies to promote a diverse workforce. Since sponsoring institutions want accreditation, these requirements can spur movement towards diversity and inclusion.
There needs to be a change in culture, Dr. Soto-Greene said, and it must be intentional. “We’ve known for a long time that a diverse workforce matters,” she said. “If we want to really make a difference, we have to think out of that box and ask, ‘What are the additional strategies needed to attain diversity?’” Critical mass matters, but so does creating an inclusive environment. “For those who desire diversity and inclusion, it must be intentional, data-driven, and it requires an ability to change course based on outcomes,” she said.
She believes everyone can make a contribution to improving workforce diversity. All staff—administrators, physicians, coordinators, front-line staff—can benefit from implicit bias training and be open to learning, not just because their organization may require it. She recommended Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test, which can be done according to demographics like race, gender, gender science, religion and sexual orientation. “There are definitely tools available that one can incorporate into their everyday practice, but it requires making an effort. Once you learn something, it’s difficult to unlearn it. We’re asking for everyone to thoughtfully consider a new way to doing things,” she said.
She encourages her own staff to share articles and identify behaviors that may not be inclusive. “It’s not just about diversity. It’s about establishing a culture and inclusive environment. What we really want is for employees to thrive and have a sense of belonging. In other words, people want to feel valued for who they are,” she said.
Creating a more diverse and inclusive environment begins with self-awareness, plus using tools and strategies that establish the type of communication that brings people together rather than drives them apart. And then it’s about building a genuinely inclusive environment and nurturing it. “It’s not just about attracting people, it’s about them feeling included,” she said
Do you have staff attend diversity or bias training? If so, how often?
Searing L. “The big Number: Women now outnumber men in medical schools.” The Washington Post. Dec. 23, 2019.