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Strengthening Diversity and Inclusion in the Health Care Workforce

Black woman smiling the side

Rose Sheehan, Chief Human Resources Officer, and Carla Carten, PhD, Executive Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, help lead our workforce strategy for our United Against Racism initiative.

In this Q&A, Sheehan and Carten explain some of the strategy behind ongoing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion workforce initiatives, some accomplishments across the system as we build a better workforce in safer, more welcoming environments, as well as some hurdles we will continue to solve for this upcoming year and beyond.

What is Mass General Brigham doing to educate employees about the impact of racism?

Carten: When we launched United Against Racism, countless staff members shared stories with our office about how racism was impacting them throughout Mass General Brigham. We realized how pervasive racism is within our walls, and additionally, how important it is to offer educational experiences to build awareness of what racism is and to work towards racial equity in the workplace. Beyond that, it is crucial for our employees to understand how it lives within our health care system, affects the communities we serve and how it impacts ALL of us, regardless of identity.

We’ve designed innovative courses as required elements of our compliance training to share this reality with all of our employees. 

Sheehan: By including anti-racist courses in our annual required training we’re ensuring that the workforce at large has an opportunity to experience education that is focused on knowledge, skills and behavior changes.  This is what makes our programs unique — our goal is behavior change. 

To achieve racial equity in the workplace, employees need to be able to thrive in an atmosphere that is free from harassment, racism and discrimination.  To support this, we have created a Concern Management System for employees, patients and visitors to report instances of inappropriate behavior so we can attend to these occurrences through strategies and tactics that will sustain a safe and engaging environment for everyone.

How is Mass General Brigham increasing diversity and inclusion in the workforce?

Sheehan: We’re actively seeking to increase diversity and plan to do so by way of thoughtful recruitment, retention, and engagement strategies. These strategies are grounded in metrics and, therefore, each has measurement components included.

On the recruiting front, we’re actively setting goals that reflect the diversity of the populations we serve. We aim to increase racial diversity within our leadership ranks by 10%. We are addressing this internally by launching a program to identify, develop and support the career progression of diverse top talent across the organization to include racially diverse talent. Externally, we have implemented a Diverse Hiring process to mitigate and decrease bias in hiring. 

Regarding employee retention and engagement, we plan to increase diversity by bringing diverse employees into the workforce and keeping those employees in our workforce by way of thoughtful and proven engagement activities.  For instance, there is an initiative underway to launch a recurring, system-wide engagement survey.  We’ve also begun exit interviewing in a formal way so that we can collect data and information on our employees’ experiences which will allow us to provide targeted education and training, when needed. 

What is Mass General Brigham doing to protect employees against racist behavior from patients?

Carten: Unfortunately, we have seen a rise in discriminatory, bigoted, and racist behavior by patients and their families over the past few years. This has led to staff of color being targets of racism and leaving colleagues wondering how best to respond to discriminatory behavior and actions. Fortunately, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer and Human Resources have partnered in developing a system-wide patient code of conduct. This system-wide policy ensures that we have a consistent response and approach for addressing racism and bigotry at each of our institutions.

Sheehan: We created a video highlighting the patient code of conduct and sent the policy to our patients by way of our Patient Gateway portal so patients better understand the behaviors we expect from them in order to provide world-class treatment in a safe, caring, and inclusive environment.  

How is Mass General Brigham working to achieve racial equality in the workplace?

Sheehan: Mass General Brigham Workforce Development programs serve everyone but focus on diverse populations from multiple backgrounds often from economically challenging circumstances. For instance, some current programs include accelerated training for Medical Assistant and Patient Care Tech (PCA) candidates, internship and employment opportunities for new Americans (foreign trained professionals) as part of the Immigrant Fellowship Program, as well as a Clinical Leadership Collaborative for Diversity in Nursing (CLCDN) program where 20 selected candidates will receive Mass General Brigham clinical placements, one-to-one mentorship, and professional development opportunities.

Carten: Our workforce development also includes our medical residency program. In 2021, 25% of our residents were racially and ethnically diverse, followed by 33% of the 2022 class. These are significant increases compared to prior years and are a result our dynamic virtual recruitment strategy. While this success is outstanding, we know that we have work to do to achieve racial equality in the workplace. Thus, we continue to create and provide education and training opportunities for those who lead our residency program.

This is just a small sample of all the incredible work happening across the system to combat racism and other inequities in our facilities and our workforce. For a deeper dive into this strategy, we recommend reading our year-end update of this work, Building a Better Workforce in Safer, More Welcoming Environments.

If you missed it, read our previous installment, a message from Dr. Anne Klibanski, Chief Executive Officer at Mass General Brigham, commemorating the two-year anniversary of our United Against Racism initiative.

In our next article, we’ll be looking at how we’re combatting inequalities in our clinical settings, featuring a Q&A with Dr. Allison Bryant Mantha.