Stand Firm: Lean Into Bias Training

October 5, 2020

Battling racial bias in the workplace. How implementing an inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility training initiative can lead to better results in racial disparities within healthcare and beyond.

Timing is everything. In midst of launching an Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) effort within Presbyterian Healthcare Services , a federal order makes it a political hot potato. The memo casts all unconscious bias training or racial sensitivity training as “anti-white” and “un-American”. So what to do? Delay implementation until the political context dies down? Or continue forward and begin the self-examination, the data collection, and the conversations that will propel us forward?

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; it’s choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast or easy, and it’s practicing your values, not just professing them,” Professor Brene Brown has said.

Having integrity about IDEA starts with collecting and believing data. Assuming yours is like ours, it is filled with uncomfortable oxymorons. Many have high engagement but low resilience. We want to hear everyone’s voice, but understand not many feel safe enough to speak up. We have a workforce that reflects the diversity of our community, and a leadership team that doesn’t come close. This data compels us to move forward, to start the conversation, and to begin to make change.

The issues of bias and racism are not theoretical. They play out in micro-aggressions towards our workforce on a daily basis. We recently convened several hundred caregivers to talk about the issue. We were shocked to hear physicians of color share that they are subjected to racist comments or requests for a different provider "up to three times per shift." If this is occurring in our workplace, to the most educated among us, who are in positions of prestige and actively working to help others, what must the experience be for those at the bottom of the social ladder?

The research is clear on the benefits of inclusion. The more we build an environment that is inclusive, diverse and equitable, the better our results. Innovation increases. The sense of belonging and psychological safety improves. The racial incidents and misunderstandings with caregivers decrease. The capability to have a courageous conversation expands and allows every person to grow.

As a leader, I know where I fall on the issue. As Federal agencies are “directed to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on ‘white privilege,’ I will lean into the issue. I will seek to understand why our health outcomes and leadership ranks are so unequal across race.I will stand for those that are under-represented and practice my values.

I take a firm stand in valuing every human being’s unique talents, celebrating their differences, hearing their ideas, and practicing cultural humility. I will practice leading with courage and having courageous conversations in the midst of our country’s divisiveness. I will advocate that we continue to provide enterprise-wide implicit bias training as a catalyst for disrupting bias and addressing our decision-making practices. I will give our workforce more language to talk about these issues from many different points of view, not less.

Silence is not acceptable. Action is required. Today, choose courage over comfort. Let your organization know where you stand and that you stand with them. Remind them of your values and your commitment to practice them every day. As Elaine Dalton put it, “If you desire to make a difference in the world, you must be different from the world.”

Clay Holderman is the executive vice president and COO for Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a not-for-profit integrated system of hospitals, clinics, a medical group and one of the nation’s largest provider-led health plans.