Five foundational questions to help address racial injustice
It’s hard to believe it’s been four months since George Floyd was killed. Four months of protests and emotionally charged demonstrations — whether en masse outdoors or individually on social media. Four months of dogged determination to continue a level of demonstration that captures attention and drives widespread change.
And, for some in our industry, four months of trying to decide the best, most perfect ways to show up — putting you behind in a movement that is still going strong. It may seem like there is only one way to express your corporate citizenship…and countless wrong ways. But with the business — and more importantly the human — cost of inaction, we can’t wait to get that perfect answer before we make decisions. Now is the time to act in support of our under-represented communities, even if we don’t have all the answers. Popular author and business coach, Simon Sinek, addresses this in a recent article in Inc. “…the best leaders show up for their people, listen to their needs, and demonstrate courage — even if it’s the courage to admit they’re uncertain about what to do. “The biggest mistake that leaders make is that they think they need to have all the answers.”
For those who identify with this and seek to optimize their effort, or perhaps those who still have yet to even begin, here are basic questions that can serve as a place to start.
1. Have we listened to employees and the community?
First and foremost, understanding how people are thinking and feeling needs to inform action. Active listening measures can ensure employees of color and their allies are heard and can go a long way to foster trust and confidence in the health system. Threats to feeling safe come in many forms. How do Black colleagues and patients feel about a police or security presence, for example? Is there a mistrust of the health system driven by the overwhelming rates of COVID-19 deaths — and is it now made worse by recent events? What barriers to seeking care can we get ahead of as we prepare for the flu season? Essentially, what do we not know today that we can learn by listening?
2. Are we doing everything we can to help our colleagues?
Mental health, resiliency, and the ability to keep a reserve of energy to continue daily life and work are among the hottest topics in workforce communications. For many regions across the nation, front-line staff weathering the waves of COVID-19 are confronted with a different type of human suffering as they treat injured protesters or victims of police brutality. Those affected by this new dynamic need to double down on efforts to help employees access support and reduce the stigma of reaching out for help. Those who are yet to be impacted should prepare, so they stand ready to support employees if and when it’s necessary.
3. How are we improving our internal practices?
Progress against diversity, equity, and inclusion starts at home. With health systems often being among a city’s largest employers, our impact is substantial. Efforts include examining policies to ensure they’re supportive of a diverse workforce, conducting implicit bias training — particularly for front-line staff that impact the patient experience, hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, or creating a specific committee and making sure DEI best practices are included in hiring and recruitment.
4. What is the right way for us to publicly show support — and most importantly, action?
For systems uncomfortable with joining Black Lives Matter (or future social and racial justice movements), it’s important to remember that not every action must be this specifically connected to a movement. The overarching mission of reducing health disparities and expanding access to quality care can still garner consumer support and move our society in the right direction. Hospitals are already more involved in local public health issues than any other healthcare player, and enhancing existing programs or starting new partnerships to address gaps in health literacy, screenings, social determinants of health, and patient outcomes will make meaningful change.
5. Are we focused enough to show progress?
Consumers hold today’s brands accountable for reporting movement on their corporate commitments, and we are not immune. The process of creating an actionable plan that is time-bound and plots out updates to the community will set the right course for communications around these issues.
I’ll leave you with one final question: Has the cost of inertia been examined? Staying paralyzed or sticking our head in the sand is not the safe choice. It comes with reputational risk and high societal stakes. These questions are difficult to answer, but we must ask them and decide where we stand if we want to live up to our values, be a positive force for change, and end up on the right side of history.