Event Recap | Championing Health Equity from the Inside Out | 11.16.2021
On November 16, HC3 and Weber Shandwick collaboratively hosted a discussion exploring ways organizations can meaningfully approach the road head. The discussion examined how organizations can internally engage their people and change the way they do business, as well as externally shape awareness and reputation via communications to key external stakeholders.
Tai Wingfield, Executive Vice President, United Minds & DEI Practice Lead, Weber Shandwick
Samantha Alonis, System Director of Equity, Inclusion and Language Services, AMITA Health
Xan Daniels, Vice President, Inclusion and Diversity, Alight Solutions
Connie Higgins, Director of Corporate Affairs, Amgen
Synim Rivers, Senior Director of R&D Communications, Horizon Therapeutics
News Coverage EXPERTS DISCUSS WAYS TO IMPROVE HEALTH EQUITY | Health News Illinois, November 18, 2021 | Link to Article Here
Watch the Recap | Link to Video
Organizations are being faced with high expectations to elevate their health equity strategies, which is a daunting task for any one person or business function to solve. To start, we need to better define the terms of health equity. The panelists collectively agreed that health equity is acknowledging and addressing the unique needs and barriers experienced by everyone so they can all have access to the resources they need. They also added that organizations’ leadership and headquarters are responsible for leveling the playing field, regardless of demographics, and that cultural competency is a key element to cultivating that equity.
Q: The pandemic has reinforced that we can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to health communications, especially as organizations seek to reach diverse patient populations. How can organizations improve their communications by better tailoring their messaging and approach to meet the differing needs often disparate groups?
Synim: Meet clients where they are, use the well-traveled channels, and have staff members that reflect the clientele. Rare diseases are a good example of a way that health is not equitable. Ninety-five percent of known rare diseases are without an FDA approved treatment. Strategies and best practices around how to treat people with rare diseases can be applied to disparate groups. Collaboration is key.
Q: Efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion are often met with resistance from people who feel they cannot personally relate to these issues or do not see any problem in the first place. What are some factors that influence these disconnects, and what can leaders do to promote empathy within their organizations?
Samantha: Meritocracy is invalid – just working hard is not enough to break through systemic inequities that have and continue to hold people down. We need individuals to unlearn and relearn about systemic problems that were not previously taught to them so that they can be broken down.
For example, most people don’t know about policies like redlining (a housing policy), which makes it hard for them to understand how the issue continues to influence inequities. Finding shared experiences can help to promote empathy.
Q: What can leaders do to chip away at inequities in systems?
Samantha: Leaders must set an example, but they may need development and coaching. Organizations can encourage their leaders to model vulnerability and provide leadership development opportunities to learn how to navigate difficult conversations.
Q: You have only recently stepped into an official role around DEI. However, you have been a champion of this work throughout your career. Aside from hiring practices, what are some of the key tools or frameworks that you are implementing to really drive change within Alight? What are some of the ways Alight is helping their employer clients also address best practices and offerings for their employees?
Xan: When I stepped into my current role, we introduced and launched employee research groups and unconscious bias training programs that facilitate cultural awareness and humility, which are all the textbook solutions to DEI. We came to realize that it is necessary to look at how wellness intersects with DEI, and that they go hand in hand. And introducing healthy mind and body initiatives may have to be the first step of DEI. Accounting for the whole person from a place of empathy and humility is critically important to meet individuals where they are.
Q: What is the single most important thing organizations can do today to advance health equity?
Synim: There is a lot of focus on HR practices, but we really need to build and implement viable health equity plans that address equity on multiple fronts and provide actionable steps. We can also look at the vendors and consultants that we interface with, and ask are they diverse? Overall, the pandemic has shown how focusing on health equity has broad implications, and we need to pay attention at multiple levels.
Samantha: It is so important to look at root causes and at their interconnectedness. If it is not at the forefront, then there is not an accurate account or overview to actually solve for health equity issues. Systemic inequities—or social determinants of health—should be the first thing addressed. In health equity strategy, things often become siloed, and we look at one issue and create interventions with a specific focus. Then when that intervention does not yield results, we think it is not an effective strategy, but in reality, it may just not account for multiple issues that need to be considered.
Xan: Organizations sometimes view health inequities as a systemic issue that are much bigger than they are, and therefore feel like they can’t do anything to change it. What they do not see, however, is as an opportunity for them to influence changes or make an impact. It is important for employers to really know their employees. It is helpful to use data to understand where their employees live, what resources they have access to, and how they engage with preventive care. This can inform your impact and outcomes.
Q: In terms of advancing equity, what can organizations do to address inequities that have upheld systemic practices historically?
Synim: Companies must take ownership of inequities. Equitable hiring practices is a good example of where inequities typically live. Sometimes a candidate is very qualified and accomplished, but when we do not have common ground with someone, we gravitate to what is familiar. Companies need to address equitable hiring practices by prioritizing diversity and educating employees on the importance of such practices.
Samantha: Leadership must divulge mistakes and missteps when it comes to a lack of equity within their organizations. “What I learned was not correct, and we now must pivot away from that.” Practice humility by recognizing what wrongs have been done or perpetuated, and learn how to do it right.
Q: Accountability is key in advancing DEI. How can organizations hold themselves accountable to internal and external investors?
Xan: Organizations must be transparent. Acknowledging that their initiatives have not been successful can go a long way to building trust by being honest. “We wanted to change this, and it didn’t go as planned; we are willing to admit this.”
Synim: Health care needs to establish quality outcome data with DEI. The onus needs to be on the leaders of organizations. Change is more likely to happen if the leaders hold the company’s feet to the fire. If companies do not dedicate resources to DEI, it seems disingenuous. And it is not enough to have one person working on DEI as an aside to their daily job responsibilities.
Q: What are the quantifiable metrics that orgs can use to be held accountable?
Samantha: Personally, I am more of a qualitative thinker. However, burnout data is a good metric of the health of a company, which likely overlaps with systemic issues.
Xan: Historically, one dimensional metrics have been the focus; however, they are often not helpful. Lived experiences are very relevant, and even systems of measurement like demographics are important. Quantitative analysis is likely not enough. Reports have referred to the fact that women were statistically more likely to be burned out than men. So how do you measure their experience? We need to balance both qualitative and quantitative to have an accurate reading.
Synim: Sometimes quantitative reports are misleading or flat out wrong. I have seen a report that completely overstated the amount of persons of color in biotechnology based on my experience. Coalitions and partnerships are key in accountability around these metrics and improving equity.
Q: DEI is a journey and we’re all at different parts of the journey. Where do you hope the industry – or even the health system as whole – will be in five years? Do you think there will be a shift toward making DEI part of an organization’s value system?
Xan: Through the lens of DEI perspective, there has been an influx of individuals being given the role of DEI leader at organizations over the past year. Sometimes that role can seem “performative.” Hopefully, over the next five years, that this will all turn out not to be performative, but rather a really valuable outcomes will come out of this work. Ideally, I would be out of a job, but I think that is unlikely.
Samantha: DEI should be fully embedded into organizational culture. People need to become more comfortable with navigating uncomfortable conversations at work and recognize that it’s okay to not be okay. We want people to feel like they can be their authentic selves and not have to code-switch.
Synim: Truly reformative advancements in this work over the next five years is not likely, but an increase in tangible actionable steps, as opposed to performative actions, would be ideal. The playing field has to be leveled equally for all, and that must be the unanimous goal.
Audience Q: Do you think public and private entities start to use technology to advance health equity?
Synim: Nothing should be done in a silo. Many tech solutions can be misleading to advancing health equity. This all stems back to meeting people where they are. It is important to partner with community organizations and understand that more and more individuals want information shared via technology platforms because most everyone, regardless of their background, has access to a smart phone.
Audience Q: What can everyday employees do to advance health equity?
Samantha: Increase communications, be a good listener, and get to know others in your organization that you may not have in the past. Increasing communication and openness will lead to creating a more equitable space.