In a session on "Building an Inclusive Culture," speakers highlighted the benefits to patients and providers when a diverse workforce is in place.

Equitable health care leadership eventually impacts value-based payments, quality and reimbursement strategy, said Ramanathan Raju, M.D., senior vice president and community health investment officer for Northwell Health. “You cannot develop a quality program in your hospitals unless you have diversity of opinion,” he explained. Watch Raju explain on video how diversity is approached at his previous employer, NYC Health + Hospitals, New York.

Raju says the executive’s role in this cannot be underestimated, though all employees should play a part. Think of diverse groups of employees as seeds, and their work environments as soil, he said. It’s the executive’s job to create a soil in which equity will thrive.

He or she can do lip service to the cause by collecting “a brochure” of diverse faces, Raju said, or she can pay attention to “diversity of thought” instead.

An inclusive workforce also supports a good work environment, said Tomás León, president and CEO of the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, part of the American Hospital Association. Organizations with inclusive cultures and policies not only attract the most diverse talent, but should reduce turnover, increase morale and improve productivity at all levels.

“We’re not just focusing on a diversity quota or compliance; it’s more of a competitive strategy,” said León.

Tari Hanneman, director of the Health Equality Project at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, said that staff and leadership both had a responsibility to promote acceptance and awareness. For example, LGBTQ employees should do their part to “speak out” and “be open,” she said, but first, they deserve the protection of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies and LGBTQ-inclusive benefits (which federal law and certain state laws do not yet mandate).

“Think through all of your policies, and make sure they’re inclusive,” Hanneman said.