Despite years of study and vows to change, leadership across the industry remains a mostly white and male domain, new research shows

CHICAGO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Amid a global pandemic that has laid bare the tragic human toll of racial and socioeconomic inequities in access to quality medical care, new research suggests one cause of the crisis: an abject failure to diversify the boards and top leadership of healthcare organizations.

“Given the breadth and depth of evidence showing the real-world advantages of having people of color and women in governance and senior leadership, this study is disheartening, and should serve as a wakeup call for an industry that has repeatedly vowed to do better,” said Antoinette Hardy-Waller, founder and CEO of The Leverage Network. Her organization conducted the research in conjunction with the Health Equity Leadership Pipeline Collaborative at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and the legal and consulting firm McGuireWoods.

The study looked at 623 board members at 41 of the largest healthcare organizations in the country across the provider, payer, pharmaceutical and biotech markets from 2016 to 2018. The team found that the average board was 87% white and just 13% people of color. Seventy-two percent of members were male, and only 3% were Black women. Among CEOs, the picture was even bleaker: Blacks held just 8.5% of the top jobs; women only filled 4%; not one Black female CEO was found. (The full report can be downloaded here.)

The report, Inequity Starts at the Top, comes nine years after five leading healthcare provider associations called for increased diversity in governance and management in the industry in order to provide better insight into the challenges faced by people who live in disadvantaged communities.

There are good economic reasons to make leadership more diverse. A 2015 McKinsey study found that companies with more racial diversity in their leadership exhibited higher financial returns, better talent acquisition and retention, stronger customer orientation, higher employee satisfaction, and enhanced decision-making.

The Leverage Network isn’t just studying this issue. Last week it graduated its third class of Black leaders from its six-month fellowship on governance program, and is working to promote these emerging leaders for board opportunities. Another project, aimed at positioning Blacks in senior C-Suite posts, will be launched this Spring.


Antoinette Hardy-Waller



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