Stephanie Whitehead serves as the executive director of pathology and laboratory services at a large health system in San Antonio, TX. Stephanie is also an elected council member of the ASCP’s Council of Laboratory Professionals (CLP) committee and is an ASCP and ASCLS professional mentor. In addition, Stephanie is the co-host of a popular, weekly laboratory podcast called “eLABorate Topics.” Contact her at email@example.com or at StephanieYWhitehead on all social media.
Diversity and inclusion are different concepts but both are equally important in having a successful laboratory operations and team. Having a diverse team (in terms of representation of different ages, levels of experience, genders, races, nationalities, sexual orientations and/or identities) can help add strength and depth to your operations. In addition, an inclusive environment where the perspectives of different groups are valued when making decisions adds overall value to any clinical laboratory team.
Three reasons to prioritize diversity and inclusion in your laboratory:
A famous quote by Stephen Covey reads, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” And that rings true for the clinical laboratory. Here are three main reasons to prioritize inclusion in your laboratory.
1. Recruiting and retaining laboratory staff
Research shows a strong relationship between a diverse and inclusive work environment and the benefits to an employee’s retention and well-being. At a time where the recruitment pool in our field is already very low, and the burnout from those working in the industry is high, creating an environment where staff feel comfortable bringing their “whole self” to work is important.
"Diversity creates opportunities for everyone to learn from others and grow from those experiences."
If you want staff to be excited and actively involved, creating a strong culture of inclusion can generate a sense of belonging and employee engagement within the team that is contagious.
2. Diverse teams help avoid groupthink
When I think about diversity in the laboratory from the standpoint of creating an inclusive culture within your team, diverse teams are more likely to achieve “outside the box” thinking on innovative ideas or changes needed. When leaders are able to engage the differences of their staff to help drive input, solutions that are more creative can emerge while problem solving.
Diversity creates opportunities for everyone to learn from others and grow from those experiences. For example, if your team is diverse in years of experience, the more tenured clinical laboratory scientists (CLSs) may have a better understanding of the science behind a process or the “why” behind a procedure, but the newer CLSs may have better ideas on IT solutions, such as ideas on how to automate or make reports electronic.
3. Creating equal opportunities for everyone is the right thing to do
Simply put, when it comes to creating a team and interacting with staff, supporting your entire team and treating everyone fairly (and inclusively) is the right thing to do.
What are some best practices to make a meaningful impact in your own workplace?
1. Be the change!
If you are a person that is part of any minority in the STEM laboratory medicine field, be a visible advocate for the profession by being active in your professional organizations. Most professional organizations have a working committee or initiatives focused on diversity and inclusion.
2. Increase your knowledge and knowledge share
"Ensure that cultural competency and diversity training are a standard part of your department’s education plan."
Training can create awareness and help develop knowledge and skills within your team. Ensure that cultural competency and diversity training are a standard part of your department’s education plan, and not just a periodic stand-alone topic.
To successfully incorporate diversity and inclusion in your department’s processes, consider developing formal infrastructures within your team such as support or advocacy groups, mentoring programs, or internal committees.
3. Show your commitment
Show your commitment to fostering and maintaining an inclusive work environment by developing specific objectives that align with your mission and vision statements.