rita leadership 2020 header
Marcie Hopkins, U of U Health.
How to Get In the Habit of Talking About Diversity
It’s clear that equity, diversity and inclusion need to be a part of every workplace conversation. So how do leaders start the conversation—and keep it going? Senior nursing director Rita Aguilar shares how her team incorporates discussions of diversity and inclusion into their everyday work—and why those discussions are so important to the care we provide.

very day, we have the privilege to care for patients from all backgrounds and to work with people from diverse upbringings. But without being open to learning about each other, we won’t be able to properly and effectively care for our patients. We won’t understand their history with the health care system. We won’t understand their beliefs about health care and treatments. We won’t be able to provide care that makes them feel comfortable and welcomed.

Our nation is reaching a tipping point when it comes to racial justice and diversity issues. We need to capitalize on this time and start talking about diversity in our work and in our lives. As a nursing director and leader, it is my responsibility to ensure my staff can have these difficult conversations about race. Even further, I need to ensure they make it a habit to always consider diversity and other perspectives when working on projects and caring for patients.

Our team is continually furthering our commitment to diversity by listening and learning from each other. Other leaders across the health system can adopt the same approach to open conversations about race and diversity by using these three tactics.

#1 Take time to know yourself and others

Any discussion about diversity needs to start with a willingness to learn—even about yourself. As a leader, you need to set an example of taking time to examine your own biases. We all have implicit biases, defined as attitudes and opinions about a person, or group of people. Biases are developed over time, as a result of our upbringing, life experiences, and false narratives or stereotyping about groups of people. Most often, we are completely unaware of our biases, and fail to realize the subtle ways our biases could have affected how we engage with the people around us. For instance, you may feel more comfortable with someone who is the same religion, race or gender as you and provide that person with more coaching or mentoring than you do for another employee. You aren’t intentionally discriminating against someone, but it happens unconsciously.

Though it’s uncomfortable to recognize those biases in ourselves, we must be open to learning and be curious about the experiences of people who are unlike ourselves. You can make a huge difference in someone’s life just by ensuring that they feel seen and heard, and that their experiences and views are valued.

If you only check in on your employees during performance evaluations, you can’t truly get to know them. Schedule one-to-one meetings where you have fluid, casual conversations about each other. Demonstrate curiosity in their stories, their abilities and their hopes. Once you are open to learning, and open to these conversations, you have a powerful opportunity to engage and connect with your employees in a new way.

#2 Start the conversation – it’s okay to be uncomfortable

The tragic death of George Floyd and countless other BIPOC has sparked robust discussions across the country, and here among our leadership teams. These conversations shouldn’t be avoided, but allowed to happen so that everyone can speak freely and learn from each other. Fostering these conversations is not only the right thing to do, but what we must do right now.

These conversations might seem difficult to have, and may cause you to feel uncomfortable. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. As leaders, we need to sit with that discomfort during these conversations, and allow them to change us and our future actions. Our discomfort may show us where our understanding about diversity issues is the weakest. In that way, it can guide us to grow and learn, and do better as leaders.

#3 Keep it informal and keep it going

You don’t need to have tightly controlled conversations about diversity that follow a specific script. Let the conversations happen informally—but keep those conversations happening.

One way to ensure that you are always discussing these topics is to get in the habit of asking about inclusion issues. During meetings, check in with your employees about these issues just like you would check in about how they're feeling in regards to COVID-19. Each time you start a project, for instance, you need to consider the importance of bringing in diverse viewpoints and experiences. Do you have someone on the team who can offer a diverse perspective? Are you taking into account the unique experiences that diverse patients, or diverse team members may have?

Over time, it will become a habit to seek out different perspectives. These conversations will become easier to have. You’ll start to feel comfortable hearing about lives and experiences that are different from your own.

Understanding each other and committing ourselves to diversity will be a long, ongoing journey. But the journey must begin now. As leaders, we must commit to doing everything we can to foster diversity, inclusion, and equity. Now is the time to listen, learn and take action to help our patients, our coworkers, and our communities come together.

This article was developed in partnership with the Office for Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the Organizational Development team from Hospitals and Clinics Human Resources, and Accelerate.

*Originally published July 2020


Rita Aguilar

Senior Nursing Director, University of Utah Health

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