If 10 percent of your patient base is Chinese-American, then 10 percent of your board members, your executive team and your staff should be of Chinese descent, right?

“That’s silliness,” says John Bluford, retired president and CEO of Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo. Bluford, a former American Hospital Association chair, now runs the Bluford Healthcare Leadership Institute, a professional development program for underrepresented college students.

The way to measure the success of a health system’s diversity and inclusion efforts is to measure the health of the community it serves. Start by looking at the incidence rates of chronic diseases — hypertension, diabetes, obesity, asthma and others — in various segments of the population base.

“Do the mortality and morbidity rates of those conditions disproportionately impact minority patient populations?” Bluford says. “It is not merely about making a quota, it is about making a difference. And a diversity of racial/ethnic and gender makeup will get you there sooner than later with more sustainable results.”

Those disparities can be addressed by bringing a wider range of perspectives to decision-making to ensure that priorities change. Mike Supple, executive vice president at B.E. Smith, a health care executive search firm, identifies types of diversity that typically need attention:

  1. Racial/ethnic: Many health systems struggle to improve the racial/ethnic makeup of their boards and senior executive teams and are looking for ways to make meaningful change. About one-third of hospitals surveyed by the AHA’s Institute for Diversity in Health Management have a documented plan to increase the ethnic, cultural and racial diversity of their senior leadership teams.
  2. Gender: Nearly 80 percent of the health care workforce is female, but women are underrepresented in health system boardrooms and C-suites.
  3. Generational: Millennials — the fastest-growing sector of the health care workforce — see diversity in terms of demographics and equal opportunity, according to the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion. Their older colleagues, by contrast, define diversity as a mix of experiences, identities and ideas.
  4. Experiential: “Health care systems should really consider professionals with diverse backgrounds and skill sets, people from different areas of health care or from outside health care altogether,” Supple says. Information technology, finance, marketing and human resources offer logical opportunities to recruit talent from other industries to get fresh thinking into an organization.
  5. Cognitive: “This is diversity of thought, bringing diverse points of view and different approaches to problem solving,” Supple says. The pace of change in the health care industry requires agility, innovation and collaboration, none of which are supported by entrenched thinking.