How Healthcare Organizations Can Intentionally Cultivate Inclusive Leadership

Senior Director of Marketing

An inclusive leader can successfully lead a diverse group of people, while showing respect for each person’s unique perspective and contributions. Today, nowhere is this more important than in healthcare, where patients’ lives are on the line every day.

Inclusive leadership requires a certain combination of traits, including:

  • Empathy;
  • Listening skills;
  • Humility;
  • Collaboration; and
  • Self-awareness.

More than anything else, perhaps, is commitment. Inclusive leaders must be dedicated to their roles and the success of their teams. This can create a cascade effect that often leads to a more productive workplace and positive patient outcomes.

How does inclusive leadership improve patient outcomes?

When all employees feel valued, it can transform the working environment. Healthcare workers with inclusive leadership may have a greater sense of purpose and belonging in their work. As a result, engagement increases and turnover decreases. This can have a significant effect on patient care.

Unfortunately, provider burnout is on the rise, which is a significant cause of medical errors. When employees feel undervalued and insignificant at their workplace, patients can suffer, too. In contrast, an engaged healthcare workforce provides higher quality care with better patient outcomes.

Healthcare workplace diversity alone has also been linked to improved patient outcomes. One reason for this is because a more diverse workforce, particularly one with non-native English speakers, can help reduce communication issues associated with language barriers. Patients may better explain themselves, and understand instructions, in their native language.

Diverse experiences can also increase provider knowledge, making them better prepared to address health issues that may be more or less common in certain populations. For example, Asian Americans have a much higher risk of developing liver cancer due to Hepatitis B infection than white Americans. Therefore, more interactions with Asian American patients or providers can increase awareness of such risks.

By example, leaders can encourage inclusivity among healthcare workers at all levels. When healthcare workers make a deliberate effort to be inclusive, they can deliver more empathetic care that is aware of each patient’s needs. As a result, patients receive higher quality care and may feel more comfortable and empowered with their own care.

How can healthcare be more intentional about inclusive leadership?

Healthcare organizations should take deliberate steps to foster inclusive leadership. This starts with hiring appropriate leadership. Seek out candidates with specific qualities that support inclusivity. As mentioned earlier, this includes empathy, listening skills, humility, collaboration, and self-awareness.

For existing leaders, healthcare organizations should provide training that encourages leaders’ emotional intelligence and helps them understand how to increase employee engagement. In addition, employers could create an advisory board of peers who can provide ongoing feedback to a leader or leaders. They may also want to encourage leaders to work alongside different team members at all levels. This can help them understand different employees’ perspectives, challenges, and contributions.

Inclusive leadership also can involve the broader community. Establish outreach programs that encourage community involvement in the healthcare industry. This may include recruitment events, apprenticeship programs, or volunteer opportunities. Healthcare leadership should take the lead in creating and running these programs to better understand their diverse workforces and the communities they serve.

By being more intentional about inclusive leadership, healthcare organizations can cultivate a more engaged workforce, boost morale, and improve patient outcomes.

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