Honoring George Floyd’s legacy: As healthcare leaders, where do we go from here?

Honoring George Floyd's legacy: As healthcare leaders, where do we go from here?

It has been a long and painful year since George Floyd’s death. His death—and the stark disparities in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic—have brought long-standing injustices to the forefront. While I appreciate that the guilty verdict returned on April 20 means we will see accountability for Floyd’s death, we all have much more work to do to build better systems that truly create equity and eliminate injustice.

Healthcare providers in particular have an important role in that work. As both healers and major employers, we serve as key pillars in our communities. We have an obligation to actively identify and address health and healthcare disparities.

Be empathetic and compassionate

It’s critical that we, as leaders, are listening to and empathizing with our team members and with one another. Through engagement and outreach, ensure your staff knows where to reach out for help and support.

There is power in honesty and vulnerability and we can break through barriers of differing opinions by creating opportunities for people to share their different experiences in a safe, supportive space. Over the years, Novant Health has provided this support by hosting candid Courageous Conversations—a virtual forum series attended by more than 13,000 team members.

Make inclusion foundational

Over the past year, many organizations have created committees or made statements about their commitment to diversity, inclusion, justice and equity. These can be important first steps, but they mean nothing if we are not following through by building a sustainable culture of inclusion, where everyone feels valued and has access to opportunities and resources to thrive. This can’t be a siloed program or a one-time initiative. These principles must be ingrained in the foundation of the organization and tangible in our decision-making and all aspects of the work each of us does every day. Consider reevaluating your organization’s mission, vision and values: Do these statements reflect the culture you want to create, one that embraces diversity and creates an inclusive, welcoming environment for all?

Translate the mission into action

I encourage all healthcare providers to revisit the messages you shared in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Consider how you have created change in your culture since that time and what your next steps are. Look around the conference table—at your board and executive leadership teams. Do your decision-makers reflect your workforce and the communities you serve?

In alignment with Novant Health’s values, we are focusing on equity and ensuring that all people have access to opportunities for growth and development. For example, our LIFT (Leveraging Internal Female Talent) program ensures access to leadership skills, development opportunities and sponsorship for our high-potential women team members. Through the program, participants are paired with a senior leader sponsor who advocates on their behalf, elevating them as an emerging leader.

More than 1,500 team members participate in our 13 Business Resource Groups, representing various team member populations, including Black/African American, Asian, Pride, veterans, women and more. In a few recent examples, the Persons with Abilities group guided us to ensure team members and patients could access COVID-19 face masks that allowed them to read lips; the Engaging White Men group led a session to help people feel more comfortable having conversations about race; and the Latino/Hispanic group created Spanish-language information for COVID-19 patients and led an internal dialogue on the impact of COVID on our local Latino/Hispanic communities. We did the same for our Asian communities.

In 2020, Novant Health was recognized by the Association of ERGs & Councils for five of our Business Resource Groups, including an award for a leader speaker series created by our Black/African-American group to boost career development opportunities for all team members. During this monthly series, members of our diverse leadership teams shared career advice, personal stories and insights into effective networking and the impact of diversity and inclusion on their career. The group also launched a speed networking event for senior leaders to interactively engage with members of the Business Resource Groups.

In the last year, healthcare providers have been called to step up to address a viral pandemic, while deepening our commitment to eliminate inequities. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a strategic business lever to pull across all streams of work. It is a business imperative, as well as a human imperative. After all, in healthcare we have a calling to care for our communities. Making inclusion integral to our mission, allowing it to guide every aspect of how we operate, is a key way that we can heal our patients, our team members and ourselves.

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About the Author

Marie Maynes
Marie Maynes is a Sports enthusiast and writes for the Sports section of ANH.