If hospital leaders want to properly tend to the diverse patients that populate their communities, experts believe it’s important that they field an executive team that mirrors those they serve. And while health care has made some progress in this regard in recent years, there’s still a long way to go, according to a new survey by executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, released Monday.

The Oak Brook, Ill., firm recently polled a handful of hospital executives on issues of diversity in the C-suite, the fourth such iteration of the survey. One particularly striking finding was the “stark contrast” between the views of Caucasian and minority leaders, says Oliver Tomlin III, senior partner and board member with Witt/Kieffer.

Only about 31 percent of white respondents agreed that their management teams reflect the populations they serve, up from 23 percent in 2011. That’s compared with just 12 percent of minority respondents who agree, up from 10 percent in the previous survey. Some 57 percent of white respondents believe health care has worked effectively to close the diversity leadership gap during the past five years, while only 26 percent of minority respondents felt the same. On the positive side, both of those numbers have more than doubled since the previous survey in 2011.

Tomlin believes all health care executives should agree that there’s a lot more work to be done to foster diversity in leadership teams.

“We’re not doing very well at all,” he says. “We certainly don’t come anywhere near reflecting the populations that we serve. Health care companies, hospitals, health systems and academic medical centers don’t have minority leadership that represents the patient base and the people they’re serving. There has been minor improvement, but there’s a long, long, long way to go.”

One problem is that too few health care leaders see doing so as a key part of their mission, Tomlin says.

“There is a disconnect between the diversity of people who are receiving services and the people in leadership,” one health system vice president is quoted in the report. “Diversity is still being looked at as something that is nice to do, not as a business imperative. … As [the market] becomes more competitive, consumers will be looking for diverse representation from their provider organizations.”  

Top barriers to succeeding in this endeavor, executives said, include everything from a lack of access to diverse candidates or individuals to promote from within, white respondents said, or a lack of commitment to diversity by top management and the board, minority respondents said.

Some of the best practices being used to overcome those hurdles include creating mentoring programs, according to 84 percent of respondents; establishing opportunities to expose young people to health care careers, 80 percent; and seeking out ways to move individuals from college or health care jobs into administrative roles, 63 percent. “I feel if people are given the right role models to help them move up in health care, it’d be easier for them to do,” one health system chief medical officer is quoted in the report.

What’s your hospital doing to help foster diversity in the C-suite? Do you believe that the field has made progress in this regard in the past five years? Share your thoughts in the comment section. At noon Central Time Tuesday, Witt/Kieffer is conducting a webinar on the survey results today in conjunction with H&HN’s parent company, Health Forum. Also, be sure to check out the #123forEquity pledge initiative, one of the of the latest efforts to boost diversity in health care, which is backed by the American Hospital Association’s Institute for Diversity in Health Management.