Children’s hospitals across the country are working to implement efforts to make their organizations more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Some organizations have leaders on staff dedicated to guiding them through this work.
Hanna Song, Ph.D, of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and Michelle Wimes, J.D., of Children’s Mercy Kansas City shared what they’ve learned in their time as chief diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officers in a webinar hosted by Children’s Hospital Association.
Here are a few actionable tips from the webinar your organization can start using today.
1. Begin by listening
Wimes connects with people at every level of the organization—from physicians to gift shop clerks, from board members to volunteers. “Always start with a listening tour,” she says. “I've been chief diversity officer at three different institutions, and I've done it at every one of them.”
When Song began her role at CHLA, she interviewed more than 90 people across the organization, discovering their perspectives on DEI and their ambitions for it. Through this process, she identified common themes and discovered which areas could be easily addressed and which needed deeper structural change.
2. Create a statement of purpose
A DEI statement clarifies organizational goals, how they will be achieved, and it will build in accountability. At CHLA, there were several decentralized committees and a lot of ideas, but there was a lack of unified focus and clarity. A DEI statement brought it all together. “It was such a good exercise for us, bringing all the disparate activities across the hospital together and feeling more coordinated,” Song says.
3. Make it a priority, not a requirement
DEI is not a compliance initiative. It is a transformational goal at every level of the organization. “It’s about how we embed it as a priority within everything we do across the enterprise,” Song says.
And treat diversity, equity and inclusion as discrete goals rather than an individual unit. “I know we talk about DEI as one word, where it just means one thing," Song says. "But defining what each of these things meant was such a big deal for our enterprise.”
4. Develop a comprehensive communication strategy
“A strong communication strategy is vital, and it has to be tied to the overarching DEI strategy and the overarching strategy for the entire hospital,” Wimes says. It provides transparency for executive leaders, supports a culture of belonging, and improves recruiting and retention.
Here are some of the ways Children’s Mercy does this:
- Blog posts.
- Cross-departmental meetings.
- C-suite live talks.
- Video series.
Song emphasized communicating visibly, like making daily rounds. Even small things go a long way, like pins on shirts and pronouns in signature lines. “These are all ways we are signaling to our enterprise that this matters,” Song says “And we are thinking about this at the top.”
5. Focus on core areas
Children's Mercy DEI plan focuses on four core areas. These progress from easiest to hardest, with cultural change being the most difficult but most transformational.
- Physical: processes, tools and structures.
- Infrastructure: strategy, systems, rewards and metrics.
- Behavioral: what groups and individuals do.
- Cultural: deeply held assumptions, values, beliefs, and norms.
Similarly, CHLA takes a phased approach, progressing through three core phases:
- Build infrastructure: collect baseline data, grow DEI team, establish structures.
- Elevate impact: determine goals, monitor progress, assess impact.
- Broaden community: demonstrate DEI efforts, become national leader in DEI.
The bottom line: have grace
For Song, nothing has been more important than grace. The DEI space is constantly changing—the language, the best practices, the issues—which means mistakes are inevitable. She says to start by assuming good intentions. “Being curious and non-judgmental, that goes such a long way. I can't stress enough how big a part grace has played in the work we’re doing.”
In her tenure as a DEI officer at several organizations, Wimes has also learned the importance of grace, especially when it comes to executive leadership. “We are all on this learning journey and everybody's on their own path,” she said. “It’s vital to meet people where they are.”