This report from Grantmakers in Health summarizes a strategy session held in June 2011 to examine funder strategies to support health workforce diversity, especially in the context of the implementation of national health care reform. I was honored to be one of the presenters and participants at the strategy session.
The evolution of diversity in academic institutions illustrates the challenges facing diversifying the healthcare workforce:
- Diversity 1.0: In the post-Civil Rights era, diversity and institutional excellence were seen as competing interests. Excellent institutions were expected to be less diverse. At diverse organizations, it was feared that open-door policies might limit the potential for excellence among students.
- Diversity 2.0: In the 1980s and 1990s it was increasingly recognized that academic institutions could be both diverse and excellent at the same time. Yet, parallel structures and processes were often still in play: if diversity initiatives were in place, they were still kept separate from core institutional missions and practices.
- Diversity 3.0: This is the direction necessary in future efforts. In this model, diversity exists as one of the core components of academic institutions’ excellence-seeking processes. Diversity is not viewed as a problem to be struggled with, but as a tool that can and should be harnessed to drive the excellence that these institutions seek. Instead of traditional recruitment and retention methods, this model places emphasis on attracting students from diverse academic backgrounds and supporting all of them to thrive and graduate.
The strategy session discussion highlighted the following key points for funders to consider:
- Despite the pressing need, few funders currently support increased health workforce diversity. This lack provides a prime opportunity for funders to develop collaborative partnerships at all levels of investment to move the field forward.
- Funders can serve as both catalysts and partners for change. As catalysts, funders can seed innovative change movements and try to attract other partners to scale up successful efforts. As partners for change, grantmakers can consider establishing funding collaboratives, which can provide dedicated pools of resources to facilitate programs focused on improving workforce diversity.
- There is an important role for funders to play in making the business and economic case for diversity in the health professions. This includes understanding and offering incentives for change that would most appeal to a variety of stakeholders.
- Workforce planning often occurs at the local and state level. To branch out of traditional health silos, funders can engage local business leaders; health systems leaders; individual providers; academic leaders; government agencies; and others, such as workforce investment boards. These entities may also be a source of data and evidence about successful strategies from their respective sectors.
- Grantmakers can support capacity building at various levels, from leadership, to management, to organizational improvements. For example, funders can provide grant writing assistance to educators and health providers to help them find resources. They may also work with universities to support increased research and data collection on workforce diversity.
- Funders can support research that documents both ongoing issues and innovative, successful strategies to address health professions diversity. They can support public education that raises awareness of workforce issues and needs. Increased awareness may broaden concern and bring new funders or partners to the table.