The challenge

Henry Ford Health System, a five-hospital system in the Detroit area, routinely earns one of the top spots on DiversityInc.’s Top 12 Hospitals and Health Systems, an annual ranking of health care organizations that are committed to diversity. To make the cut, the 30,000-employee system is continually working to improve its talent pipeline, talent development practices, supplier diversity and other things essential to an inclusive culture.

HFHS’ bragging points include:

  • A systemwide health care equity campaign to raise awareness about health disparities, improving cross-cultural communication and integrating changes into the system
  • Employee resource groups for female, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern, African-American, Gen Y and LGBT employees
  • Recognition by the national Human Rights Commission for its commitment to equitable and inclusive care for LGBT patients
  • The Healthcare Equity Scholars Program, designed to create experts in health care equity who help to eliminate health care disparities and create organizational change
  • More than 300 minority suppliers in its vendor database

The system’s wide-ranging efforts reflect the long-standing commitment of two former CEOs — Gail Warden and his successor, Nancy Schlichting — and current President and CEO Wright L. Lassiter, III.

“These leaders not only have a philosophical commitment, but they put structures in place to ensure that these priorities would continue after their tenure,” says Kimberlydawn Wisdom, M.D., senior vice president of community health and equity and chief wellness and diversity officer. Wisdom was appointed in 2007 to focus on health equity, and a high-ranking diversity officer was named shortly thereafter. In 2015, the positions were combined when Wisdom was promoted to senior vice president, a role that includes the duties of chief diversity officer.

In both 2015 and 2016, HFHS ranked No. 1 in the DiversityInc. list, and Jan Harrington-Davis, system director for employee and labor relations, workforce diversity, and employee compliance, was understandably proud. But she knew there was more work to be done.

Years of work were paying off, and the system was attracting lots of diverse candidates for its executive leadership openings. But, when it came to hiring decisions, Harrington-Davis was not satisfied.

“When you have a really good applicant pool of qualified individuals and you don’t hire minorities and those who are disabled or veterans, that’s an issue,” she says. “We wanted more focused attention on hiring.”

She knew that meant three things: goals, metrics and leadership commitment.

“If you set a goal and think it’s just going to happen, it won’t,” she says. “You need metrics, and you need people dedicated to the work. You have to be able to make it a priority.”

The solution

Two years ago, HFHS created an executive diversity recruitment committee that reviews the applicant pool for all executive-level positions and approves all hiring offers before they are made.

The committee is responsible for meeting goals, established each year by the HFHS board of trustees, to ensure that the value of diversity factors into hiring decisions.

“Because we have the goals from the board, it’s necessary that we monitor our hires,” Harrington-Davis says. “Without that, this can get pushed to the side.”

Because the committee must approve every senior-level hiring decision — and it has its eyes on the annual goal for the entire organization — the priority of diversity is part of the recruitment, interviewing and hiring process for those openings.

“Having that dialogue really brings this to the forefront,” she says.

Getting buy-in

This approach required board-level support, but that was not difficult because the health system’s board and senior leaders have been working steadily on diversity initiatives for more than a decade.

The board sets the organization’s diversity-related goals, monitors metrics to ensure that the goals are being achieved and holds leaders accountable. Diversity-related goals are tied to the senior leadership bonus program, which accounts for 10 percent of their pay.

Because of the long-standing commitment from the top of the organization, the value of diversity is embedded throughout the system, Harrington-Davis says. But if anyone questions it, she has a ready example of how diversity benefits the health system.

A few years ago, an HFHS clinic in southwest Detroit, home to many Hispanics and Latinos, was performing so poorly that it was slated to be closed. Wisdom spearheaded a different approach: hiring a team of Hispanic physicians and medical assistants to staff the clinic, prompting neighborhood residents to start seeking care there.

The clinic’s turnaround, Davis says, is a perfect example of how diversity improves outcomes, which makes sense to everyone. “And then, you have the buy-in,” she adds.

How it works

In addition to Harrington-Davis, the system's executive diversity recruitment committee comprises  the chief human resources officer, the head of the HR legal team and the HR vice presidents from each of the five business units.

The committee monitors the hiring process — and approves hiring decisions — for all positions at the director level and above, in addition to a few high-level manager positions.

Setting goals: 

The board sets annual senior leadership hiring goals that reflect the availability of diverse candidates.

The HR staff uses U.S. Census data to calculate the "availability" of diverse candidates for senior-level positions. Availability is an HR term that means the percentage of individuals in certain job classifications within a given recruitment area who are racial/ethnic minorities, women, disabled or veterans. For example, if 33 percent of all chief financial officers in the recruitment area are women, that indicates 33 percent “availability” of female candidates for chief financial officer positions.

In 2016, HFHS’ overall goal for senior leadership hires was that 15 percent would be racial/ethnic minorities and 40 percent would be women.

Reviewing the applicant pool: 

To avoid the possibility of bias when reviewing applications, the HR recruiters who screen applications do not have access to demographic information, such as race/ethnicity, gender and veteran status that applicants provide on their applications.

However, the Office of Workforce Diversity does have access to that information. For each senior-level opening, the recruiter submits the names of all qualified applicants to that office, which reviews the applicant pool to see if it meets the availability, as determined in the goal-setting step.

If the applicant pool does not meet availability, the recruiter is notified that more work is needed.

“For some positions, such as finance, the availability is low so we have to work extra hard,” Harrington-Davis says. “In those cases, we make our recruitment area larger many times by going outside of the metro Detroit area so that we can increase that applicant pool.”

HFHS is connected to more than 500 minority organizations that routinely receive its job postings, but additional outreach to those organizations is sometimes required.

“If we don’t get the necessary pool that we are looking for, we contact those outreach organizations — for example, the NAACP or the Disabled American Veterans,” Harrington-Davis says. “And we do special recruiting activities, or we participate in events for veterans that might be happening in the area — anything we can do to build up the pool.”

It is essential that all applicants included in the pool are “similarly situated,” meaning that their qualifications make them viable candidates. For example, if the system is searching for a CFO, an African-American applicant with two years’ experience as a revenue-cycle director cannot be included in a pool in which several white applicants have 10 years’ experience as CFOs.

“The object is to have our applicant pool where everyone has pretty much the same qualifications,” she says.

Candidate selection: 

When an applicant pool meets availability, Harrington-Davis calls a meeting of the executive diversity recruitment committee to review the pool. That allows committee members to know the range of diversity that the hiring manager will see.

“From there, the manager can go ahead with the interviewing stage,” she says. “Then, at the time of the offer, the executive committee has a call to talk about the offer. It’s there that the offer gets approved or is not approved, meaning we need to go back for more outreach.”

Outcomes to date

In 2016, HFHS exceeded its diversity goals for senior-level hires; about 16 percent of the hires were members of a minority group and nearly 50 percent were female.

For 2017, the board's goal was that 17 percent of senior-level hires would be minorities and at least 42 percent would be female.

In Harrington-Davis’ view, the conversations that take place among members of the executive diversity recruitment committee are even more important than meeting diversity targets for the senior leadership team.

If a diverse applicant pool includes equally qualified candidates and the hiring manager wants to offer the job to a white male, the committee needs to discuss why.

“When you have your top HR executives throughout the organization having a dialogue about who brings what to the table and what will benefit the organization the most, that’s the richest experience,” she says. “It’s far bigger than the numbers.”

Lessons learned

Hiring for diversity is only one component of building a truly diverse and inclusive organization. Henry Ford's HR department analyzes all HR metrics — retention, performance evaluations, involuntary terminations and employee engagement surveys — to see how women and members of minority groups are faring.

“All of those have a cut of diversity,” Harrington-Davis says.

That analysis allows her to spot a business unit or department in which diverse employees are not thriving, prompting an examination of the reasons why.

Next steps

Later this year, HFHS recruiters will start “sourcing” by availability for all positions, including senior-level jobs.

This means that if census data show that 60 percent of administrative senior vice presidents in the Detroit area are female, 60 percent of the applicant pool for that position at HFHS need to be women.

“If that doesn’t happen, then there will have to be more outreach before the hiring manager can interview,” Harrington-Davis says. — Lola Butcher is a contributing writer to H&HN.