Diversity contributes to the richness of American culture and strengthens the country's workforce. However, history shows us that bias and racism often challenge or hinder people's ability to work together harmoniously.
Recent instances of social injustice and stories of discrimination shared by mainstream and social media have spurred many organizations to create diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committees or departments. When successful, DEI committees reflect the diversity of the organization.
DEI committees are tasked with evaluating and reporting on the workplace environment. Unsurprisingly, these reports have shown that bias1 and discrimination are present in most workplaces—including health care2—and affect patient and employee experiences.
In response to the findings, organizations have sought to develop solutions that reduce stress, increase the productivity of all employees, and speak to the unique experiences of employees from historically marginalized groups.
This is not an easy task. Implicit bias is notoriously difficult to eliminate. Indeed, implicit associations regarding racial and ethnic groups become ingrained in the minds of many people over a lifetime of exposure. They are generally pervasive in American culture and often propagated by institutions.
Despite the challenge of changing behavior, there are ways for health care organizations to help create a more positive and inclusive work environment.
The power of listening
Organizations can create “safe spaces” to foster an environment where all voices, specifically those of minority employees, can be heard. These listening sessions can help administrators understand and gain a clearer picture of employees' feelings and perceptions.
Safe space sessions can be virtual or in person. Sessions are moderated by a trained individual with experience handling intense emotion-laden conversations. These sessions can be eye-opening for an organization and a cathartic experience for employees. Honest discussions often provide ideas that leaders can develop and implement.
Tools and activities
Employee surveys can also be used to gauge employee perceptions. The majority of health care organizations already conduct surveys to measure job satisfaction, so questions regarding bias and discrimination can be added to the survey to garner additional insight and metrics.
Holiday celebrations of different cultures are easy and accessible opportunities to acknowledge the significant contributions of minority employees. DEI committees are the perfect group to spearhead the celebrations. A quick search online will produce a wealth of information for managers of small and independent laboratories who would like to create their own festivities.
One thing is common among laboratorians: the love of food. Sharing cuisine prepared by employees from diverse cultures is an excellent way to learn more about people and break down walls. Managers of any size laboratory can host a food meeting and ask everyone to bring a dish from their culture and explain its significance.
Employers should solicit critical feedback about events or programs and be prepared to take action. Informal conversations elicit information about what is and is not working and what may have been overlooked.
The importance of belonging
An employee's sense of belonging is vital to increase their engagement.3 This is what is meant by inclusion. Employees must feel like they are wanted and that they belong in the organization. Inclusivity creates a workplace where all employees feel they are respected and that their contribution is valued.
Laboratory leaders should model respectful behavior and hold accountable those employees who demonstrate actions that do not align with the organization's values. Accountability at all levels reflects the organization's commitment.
A welcoming lab
The nation's workforce is diverse, which means laboratory managers find themselves in charge of employees from differing racial, ethnic, and social groups. Diversity brings a wealth of benefits to the laboratory. Administrators can show their support for diversity and inclusion by sponsoring creative programs and events. Those in charge of the laboratory should ensure their workplace is welcoming to everyone regardless of their background.
1. Hughes, D., and M A Dodge. “African American women in the workplace: relationships between job conditions, racial bias at work, and perceived job quality.” American Journal of Community Psychology 25.5 (1997): 581–99. doi:10.1023/a:1024630816168
2. Hall, William J., et al. “Implicit racial/ethnic bias among health care professionals and its influence on health care outcomes: A systematic review.” American Journal of Public Health 105.12 (2015): e60-76.
3. Ramesh, Archana. “Why belonging is important at work: employee engagement and diversity.” Glint Inc, 23 April 2020, glintinc.com/blog/why-belonging-is-important-at-work-employee-engagement-and-diversity/.