October 20, 2022

Promoting Health Equity in the Workplace

Guiding principles for eliminating inequities

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By K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN, Chief Caregiver Officer

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Promoting health equity in the workplace is the right thing for any employer to do. Bias, inequity and discrimination negatively affect the health and well-being of employees, organizations and communities.

These injustices also lower employee productivity and contribute to rising healthcare costs for employees and employers alike. Although exact figures are difficult to determine, one analysis estimates that health inequities result in roughly $93 billion in excess medical care costs and $42 billion in lost productivity annually.

Healthcare leaders have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that no one is being treated inequitably based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age or ability. No matter where you are on your professional journey, it’s important to evaluate your organizational systems, practices and social norms, and commit to actions that eliminate inequities.

Embracing an equity mindset

Cleveland Clinic publicly announced and reaffirmed its commitment to health equity in June 2020. Since then, we’ve been devising new and intentional work to eliminate racial disparities and cultivate a workplace that embraces diversity, inclusion and equity. We’ve developed programs, partnerships and hiring practices that are dedicated to helping our communities thrive.

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Practicing intentional inclusion at all levels of the organization is important to achieving equity. This includes shared decision-making, ensuring participation and listening to the perspectives of individuals from historically excluded populations. Our Executive Inclusion and Racial Equity Council has been key to addressing the disparities that adversely affect caregivers and communities.

Caregiver listening sessions have also been vital. These sessions help our leaders better understand the support our employees need, so everyone can come to work each day and be their true and best selves. To better reflect the feelings of our caregivers, we rebranded a selection of our employee resource groups this year. One of those is the Black Heritage Employee Resource Group (formerly the African American Employee Resource Group).

Addressing workforce practices

Adopting policies, practices and programs that address the historical legacies of structural inequities is imperative. This includes taking a close look at how current systems, practices and norms may enable inequity.

Cleveland Clinic has had an extensive LGBTQ+ employee support system in place for many years, but we’ve recently done a tremendous amount of work to bolster support of this employee population. Our ClinicPride employee resource group, which supports LGBTQ+ caregivers and identifies opportunities to improve LGBTQ+ care throughout the organization, offers feedback on organizational policies and practices. The group also identifies areas of priority, such as engagement and community outreach, and monitors changes in local, state and federal legislation.

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Other guiding principles

Dismantling practices and policies that contribute to health inequities is certainly no easy feat. I serve as board president of the Cleveland American Heart Association (AHA), whose leadership collaborative has worked diligently to help employers eliminate inequities. The collaborative suggests these guiding principles for employers:

  • Eliminate structural racism and bias to promote health equity and improve employee health and well-being.
  • Commit to practicing allyship (advocating for change), modeled and supported by leadership, to promote health equity.
  • Adopt a common language guide promoting dignity and culturally sensitive use of language.
  • Create a plan for assessing the impact of organizational change on health equity.
  • Be accountable for having a true impact on advancing health equity. Intent is not enough.

Recommended action strategies include (but are not limited to):

  • Review and revise hiring, retention and recruitment practices to eliminate policies that may favor one group of people or disadvantage others. (Learn about Cleveland Clinic’s skills-first hiring strategy).
  • Ensure leadership is composed of people from diverse backgrounds and representative of your workforce and community. (Read about Cleveland Clinic’s diverse hiring practices and commitment to community connection).
  • Support employee financial well-being through education, employee benefits and other strategies.
  • Ensure pay equity and provide a living wage.
  • Promote use of employee assistance programs.
  • Offer diversity, equity and inclusion training to employees.

Equity for all

When employers focus on eliminating health disparities, not only are they doing the right thing, but they’re also improving employee the well-being of their organizations and communities. By working together, we can foster a culture that prioritizes nationwide diversity, inclusion and equity.

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