Throughout my professional career, I have advocated for inclusive leadership across the health care field, including preparing and deploying health professionals. It is in our best interests to engage individuals who are committed to advancing safe, effective, equitable, efficient and person-centered services to the public, and prepare them to lead efforts to achieve the goals set forth by the American Hospital Association’s Equity of Care Committee.

The AHA and the American Organization of Nurse Executives are committed to actively pursuing greater diversity in health leadership. In 2013, the AONE president charged a task force to create a diverse and inclusive governing board model that is representative of our nation’s changing demographics, and to develop the processes needed to implement such a model. It was my pleasure to serve as chair of the AONE diversity task force that worked to achieve an inclusive and diverse board of directors. The task force’s recommendations were approved by the board of directors and members of AONE. As a result, the organization has strengthened the board of directors to include representatives from across settings and groups.

Each year following the election process, the AONE executive committee receives recommendations from the nominating committee for four appointed board member positions. The appointed members hold board positions that close the diversity gaps around race, ethnicity, gender, place of work (acute to community health services), academia, early careerist, and system and community facilities. Our goal of creating a process to ensure inclusive leadership at the governance level has been achieved. We have increased the number of African-American, Hispanic, Asian and male members. Members who work in pre- and post-acute settings, educational institutions and other sites outside of hospitals have been appointed or elected.

Many other professional nursing organizations have adopted our process, and we are witnessing an increased willingness of leaders to serve on boards in health care through appointment. AONE affiliates have followed our lead — reaching out to a broader constituency and creating opportunities for all to serve in key leadership roles.

At hospitals and health systems, leaders must create inclusive environments that promote and support employees and members of the medical staff from diverse backgrounds. Health care organizations must be inclusive if they are to be successful. It is important that a parking attendant originally from India knows that his or her loved one will receive the same person-centered, equitable care as the loved ones of an African-American registered nurse or a Swedish cardiac surgeon. Inclusive organizations establish programs to assess the knowledge and ability of leaders to promote diversity in all aspects of the organization, from the recruitment and development of leaders to the implementation of learning programs on the provision of equitable care.    

Efforts to support a more diverse and inclusive society require organizational commitment. Organizations should examine their leadership portfolios and take steps similar to those adopted by AONE to ensure inclusive leadership at the board level. If we are to be successful in creating an equitable society, then we must engage and provide opportunities for diverse individuals to participate as leaders in the quest for a just health care system.

Linda Burnes Bolton, DrPH, R.N., FAAN, is system chief nurse executive, vice president for nursing, chief nursing officer and director of nursing research at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. She is the 2016 recipient of the HRET TRUST Award. Visit www.hret.org.