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How local health care companies are improving DEI

A focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is paramount in hiring today, according to Chris Tamburrini, founder of RonanVance Clinical & Scientific Search, a Boston-based life sciences executive search firm.

Companies that make their DEI goals and initiatives public to both their employees and their audiences “tend to do a better job of recruiting and retaining diverse employees,” says Tamburrini, who worked as a life science recruiter for nearly 15 years before opening his own firm in 2021. “They have specific internal goals and plans and metrics for hiring criteria and they have it as part of their culture to make inclusion and diversity part of their plan.”

In recent years, Tamburrini has seen more and more organizations actively working to improve their DEI practices. “Companies are having open dialogues about it and almost every client I work with is a huge promoter of diversity and inclusion,” he says. “Fifteen years ago, I don’t recall it being on the radar.”

Such efforts are reflective of the DEI initiatives being implemented at health care companies around New England. While increasing DEI in the corporate world has important impacts like driving social change, spurring innovation, and generating revenue, developing a more diverse and inclusive workforce in the health care industry has the added benefit of inducing more equitable patient care, which is a growing focus for many health care leaders.

Last year, 58% of US-based health care leaders identified health equity as one of their organization’s top three priorities, according to a survey by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), more than double the amount in 2019 and just one percentage point behind the top priority of “safety.”

The vast majority of health care leaders believe progress on health care quality and population health is contingent on health equity. To advance this initiative, many organizations are incorporating it as a goal into their employers’ strategic plan, collaborating with community organizations, recording equity-related patient data such as race, ethnicity, ancestry, language, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and focusing on equity when hiring and promoting employees.


Making DEI a mission

Academic institutions are another part of the health care landscape that are turning their attention towards DEI initiatives.

One method some academic institutions are using to increase DEI is implementing cluster hires, a process where the school will seek to hire a group of junior and senior science faculty focused on racial and social justice. Often, such hires are financially supported in part by the National Institutes for Health (NIH), which launched a cluster hiring program in 2020 to help schools attract diverse faculty.

Currently, the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School is searching for a faculty cluster that “will support our institutional mission to advance the health and wellness of our diverse communities throughout Massachusetts and across the world by leading and innovating in education, research, health care delivery and public service, in accordance with our strategic plan,” according to a recent job posting. Last year, Harvard Medical School and HMS-affiliate Children’s Hospital prioritized scientific achievement and their commitment to diversity by conducting a single, broad search for outstanding candidates before finding departmental ‘homes’ for them. Six new junior faculty were hired at HMS through this novel approach.

While cluster hiring is becoming a more popular practice in academic medicine, companies in the health care and health care technology spaces are taking their own steps to advance DEI in their organizations by establishing leadership roles such as chief diversity officers, a job title that has grown 68% from 2015-2020 per LinkedIn data.

How can health care organizations continue to improve their DEI efforts? A 2020 study evaluating diversity and inclusion in the health care workforce published in The Journal of the National Medical Association has developed several tangible strategies to ensure DEI in health care organizations: 

1. Making such values integral to the companies’ values and output. 

2. Hiring employees who embody these philosophies.

3. Ensuring all groups are heard.

4. Sharing successes and weaknesses.

5. Learning from how similar organizations operate.

6. Starting young, by making sure people from under-represented groups are exposed early to career options in health care and medicine.


Model efforts

Tamburrini touted several area health care companies for their model DEI efforts. They include two Cambridge companies, cancer research firm Surface Oncology, and affordable medicine employer EQrx, for their commitment to different ways of thinking about thorny issues around health care like finding new cancer treatments and paying for needed treatments.

Focusing on the future

For companies that want to improve their efforts to practice and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, Tamburrini says the desire needs to be a cohesive part of the organization’s mission. “In order to be competitive to recruit and retain talent, DEI needs to be an integral part of your company,” he says. “You have to have it be front and center and it has to be part of the candidate experience, recruitment strategy, and company culture.”

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This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's Studio/B and paid for by the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.