How to Identify Inclusive Leaders: 3 Traits to Look for in Executive Candidates

How to Identify Inclusive Leaders
Cejka Search
December 19, 2022 05:40 AM (GMT-04:00)
Thought Leadership

It’s a common mission in today’s healthcare organizations to build inclusive and diverse leadership teams, knowing that these leaders truly set the tone for the organization as a whole. At the core of everything, after all, for a healthcare organization to truly succeed, providers and staff must be treated equitably; patients and family members must be valued and respected; and the greater community must know their local facility is a safe place to seek and obtain medical care.

While we know it is paramount to hire individuals who are adept at illuminating inequities, generating solutions, and propelling change, the question becomes – how do we identify such transformative candidates?

Inclusivity in Healthcare Leadership

In a circumstance where inclusivity and diversity practices are already well established at the executive level, healthcare organizations can support existing and emerging leaders in developing and strengthening inclusive leadership skills through initiatives like diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training, and a strong succession planning program.

However, when it’s time to bring on new executive leadership, decision-makers and executive recruiters can search for prospective candidates who already have an inclusive mindset – a leader who can demonstrate their approach to diversity, equity and inclusion through previous experience, innovative ideas and demonstrable traits.

While the combination of traits that make a leader successful at inclusivity vary from individual to individual, patterns have emerged. The following are a few traits to screen for when evaluating executive candidates for healthcare leadership positions.

Top 3 Traits to Help Identify Inclusive Leaders

1. Visible Commitment

Bourke et al. identify the most critical trait of inclusive leadership as visible commitment. Their research shows inclusive leaders “articulate authentic commitment to diversity, challenge the status quo, hold others accountable, and make diversity and inclusion a personal priority” (Harvard Business Review). Bourke et al. also report that what leaders say and do can make up to a 70% difference in whether an individual feels included. That’s why it’s essential that leaders not only be committed but also be vocal about their commitment.

In addition to visible commitment, Bourke et al. identified humility, awareness of bias, curiosity about others, cultural intelligence, and effective collaboration as other traits of inclusive leaders; however, they caution that without visible commitment, the other traits cannot be fully developed.

During the executive interview process, decision-makers and executive recruiters can ask candidates to cite specific instances in which they showed visible commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in their lives and careers.

2. Representative of Diversity in Leadership

Inclusive leaders are those who are eager to make hiring decisions that more accurately reflect the diversity of their patients, the workforce, and the community. They also include those who themselves enrich the diversity within the executive leadership circle.

Increased diversity among healthcare professionals can help expand access to care for all patients (Stanford), according to studies on racial concordance (Journal of the American Medical Association). However, statistics show that diversity among healthcare professionals is not an accurate reflection of the demographics within the greater community. For example:

While underrepresented groups comprise roughly 29% of the population, only 9% are physicians (New England Journal of Medicine).

In 2019 in the U.S., an estimated 89% of hospital CEOs were white while 60% of the population is white (American College of Hospital Executives).

While 75% of the hospital workforce is female, only about 30% of hospital senior leaders and 13% of hospital CEOs are women (Healthcare Executive).

Decision-makers and recruiters can seek out candidates who empower others to value diversity. They can ask prospective hires to identify specific examples of how they have promoted diversity while in previous roles and to discuss ideas they have for enhancing diversity into the future.

3. Knowledge and Continual Learning

Inclusive leaders understand appropriate and effective diversity, equity and inclusion policies and principles. They are willing to admit shortcomings and personal biases but are committed to continual learning. They realize cultural understandings are evolving and are devoted to staying on the edge of research and applying that insight to their organization’s values.

Inclusive leaders can discuss DEI issues that exist at a high level but will also have ideas for how to address these problems in daily practice. These might include examples such as how COVID has widened healthcare disparities for non-English-speaking patients, or how the patient experience might be deficient for individuals with disabilities. It is important to remember that prospective candidates who show promise as inclusive leaders should not only be able to point out challenges but also to cite solutions. For example:

Medical jargon has widened disparities for non-English-speaking patients with COVID-19, but 175 multi-lingual medical students created the COVID-19 Health Literacy Project to translate materials for patients (National Public Radio).

Recognizing 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a disability and that unconscious bias by healthcare providers adversely affects health outcomes, a hospital system took action: conducting patient interviews, revising policies, hosting lunch and learns, connecting with community, building an online learning platform, and more, all designed to improve the patient experience for those with disabilities (Beryl Institute).

Let us help you find the inclusive leaders you need. Connect with an executive search expert at Cejka Search.

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