Topping a list that included some of the biggest names in U.S. health care, Hackensack Meridian Health was ranked No. 1 in the country by DiversityInc for its diversity and inclusion efforts. Executives at the system called the honor a recognition of the work put in across the ranks.
“What it represents to me is that our mission, which is to transform health care, is really being carried out because it cannot be carried out unless you really have diversity, equity and inclusion not only embedded in your culture but also as you reach out to the community,” said Robert Garrett, Hackensack Meridian Health CEO, in an interview.
DiversityInc has been compiling the list since 2001. The rankings are based on organization-submitted information from some of the largest U.S. employers. The assessment collects data across six key areas: Leadership Accountability, Human Capital Diversity Metrics, Talent Programs, Workplace Practices, Supplier Diversity and Philanthropy. The aim is to recognize initiatives that promote diverse, equitable and inclusive cultures.
HMH has made the Hospitals and Health Systems list for three consecutive years, starting in 11th place, then rising to fourth and now the top spot, Garrett noted. He described Avonia Richardson-Miller, the system’s senior vice president and chief diversity officer, as a driving force behind the steady climb and displaying the commitment to maintain the high standard.
“It’s a never-ending journey, it’s definitely not a destination,” Richardson-Miller told NJBIZ. “It’s not that we’ve arrived.”
Garrett and Richardson-Miller described a variety of actions and programs HMH took to improve DEI throughout the system. Executive compensation was tied to measurable metrics focused on increasing the representation of underrepresented team members in leadership positions.
HMH relaunched a DEI Executive/Advisory Council, chaired by Garrett, and established Richardson-Miller’s position. The council aligned the overall DEI governance structure with best practices to oversee planning and implementation of DEI efforts and monitor progress.
The network also formed local Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Councils chaired by individual hospital presidents. These panels are designed to help each site identify and correct health disparities in their regions.
And HMH increased its spending with diverse suppliers to $77.6 million last year, up from $5.8 million the prior year. Garrett called the latest figure a “significant number” compared to overall spending but said the system continues to pursue opportunities along those lines.
“Just as an example, recently through one of our board members, John Harmon who is the president of the African American Chamber of Commerce, we sponsored our first diversity supplier event … where different suppliers made presentations. We attracted 11 new companies. One of the companies had a pharmaceutical product that was in short supply and as result of the we saved lives – literally saved lives.”
DiversityInc says it aims to educate the workforce and bring clarity to the business benefits of workplace fairness, equity and inclusion. The organization is an important source of human capital data, education and advice. The top ranked institutions in the DiversityInc survey are:
“With a 23% increase in overall participation and a 32% increase within the health care sector, these rankings are based on employer-submitted data about their organizational policies, practices, and procedures, not on employee sentiment or scraped from sources that cannot be validated,’’ said DiversityInc CEO Carolynn Johnson. “These rankings also represent evidence-based, superior human capital outcomes, only achieved by data transparency and an unwavering commitment to workplace fairness for everyone.’’
Richardson-Miller added that while much was happening organically on that front, HMH wasn’t even keeping track of diverse suppliers several years ago. But executives have taken steps to introduce more intentionality to the process. “I partner with our procurement team and we meet every week and we have aligned our intentional supplier diversity strategy with all the best practices. We also have a platform called supplier io that helps us to identify additional diverse vendors. It’s an online tool that we’re able to drill even to a ZIP code or certain industries to identify more businesses.”
The network also runs a variety of training programs and events designed to raise awareness and promote diversity and inclusion. Among the programs is unconscious bias training, which 74% of HMH’s 36,000 staff members have already received. Garret and Richardson-Miller said all employees will have received such training by July or August of this year.
After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, HMH instituted its Annual Day of Understanding, designed to make staff members become comfortable with uncomfortable conversations about race, equality, equity and other subjects.
“On the Days of Understanding, we ask our leaders, who huddle regularly with their teams, to schedule a special huddle and we ask that huddle to be at least 30 minutes long,” Richardson-Miller explained. “We give them support and some training, we give them some things they can use as icebreakers. Unfortunately, there’s usually another headline in the news every week that relates to something such as this. … Just see what it is on people’s minds, what they want to talk about.”
Health equity continues to rank as a top priority at HMH and Garrett said DEI efforts go hand in hand with the wider effort to reduce disparities in outcomes. (See this NJBIZ story from Feb. 23, 2023)
HMH operates a digital platform called Unite Us that can provide the kind of screening Garrett described in the article for every individual who comes into contact with the system. About 700,000 people have been screened since the platform’s inception more than 20 months ago and HMH has made more than 1.7 million referrals to a variety of agencies, municipalities or other health care organizations. The system also focuses on maternal and child health, and that work earned a Gold Seal of Approval for Advanced Certification in Perinatal Care by demonstrating exceptional standards and outcomes in the care of infants and mothers.
“It’s intertwined in the strategies,” Garrett said. “It ties back to the mission. I believe you need to have a diverse workforce; you need a diverse executive team; you need a diverse board. And you need to be able to provide equal access to health care to all the communities we serve.”
For business leaders seeking to emulate HMH in its diversity efforts, Garrett said the work starts at the top. “The leader of the company, the CEO, they need to be engaged, they need to be the role model. They need to live it. They need to walk the walk and talk the talk,” he said. “When Avonia and I co-chair that executive council, we’re hands-on, we’re hearing not only reports, but directing folks to continually improve. The other piece is, be not only internally engaged, be externally engaged too. … It’s really important that it starts with the CEO.”a