Health Equity Starts with Inclusive Leadership

To bring about meaningful change, we need leaders who reflect the diversity of the populations they serve.

Health equity is more than just a recurring theme in the realm of healthcare leadership; it is a national imperative. It's an issue that transcends borders and demographics, affecting the lives of countless individuals. The quest for health equity is not only a moral obligation but also a financial strategy. Addressing healthcare disparities can create substantial opportunities for monetization and innovation, benefiting both society and business.

 

A Disturbing Disparity

To grasp the urgency of this issue, consider the shocking maternal mortality rates among black women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. This is a staggering statistic that highlights the stark inequalities within our healthcare system. In a country known for its advanced healthcare system, such disparities are unacceptable a best and immoral at worst.

 

The Business Case for Health Equity

While addressing health disparities is a moral imperative, it also makes strong financial sense. Take, for instance, the success story of Global Blood Therapeutics. This company developed a therapeutic for Sickle Cell Anemia, a condition that disproportionately affects black populations. When Pfizer acquired the company for $5.5 billion, it demonstrated the potential for substantial financial gains in addressing healthcare disparities.

This case is not an isolated incident. As healthcare leaders increasingly recognize the business opportunities tied to addressing health inequities, there is a growing momentum to invest in solutions that can improve health outcomes for marginalized communities.

 

The Role of Inclusive Leadership

However, achieving health equity is not merely a matter of implementing new policies or treatments. It requires a fundamental shift in leadership within the healthcare industry. To bring about meaningful change, we need leaders who reflect the diversity of the populations they serve. This means more than just hiring individuals from underrepresented backgrounds; it requires comprehensive development, engagement, and investment in diverse leaders.

The solution involves  having leaders at the helm of large corporations, in the board rooms and driving investment decisions who understand the unique challenges faced by marginalized communities and who are committed to dismantling systemic barriers.

Unlike common tropes perpetuated by those opposed to inclusive leadership, such diversity does not negatively impact organizational success and profitability.  In fact, a 2019 study by McKinsey & Company, across 15 countries and 1,000+ corporations, found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile (Source: Diversity Wins - How Inclusions Matters, McKinsey & Co., May 2020).

 

Leadership Development and Engagement

The misconception that leaders are born, not made, is a limiting belief that can hinder progress toward health equity. While some individuals may possess innate leadership qualities, the majority of great leaders are forged through continuous development and engagement with others.

Leaders need to engage with other leaders and gain exposure to innovators in the field to remain current and confident.  Collaboration and shared learning are essential elements of effective leadership development.

 It's clear that investment in leadership development and engagement can lead to more effective and inclusive leaders.  A study in the Journal of Human Resource and Sustainability found that participation in health leadership programs has a positive impact on health professionals’ leadership potential; leadership styles and talent management (Source: Leadership Development in Health Care: The Role of Clinical Leaders, Goula et al).

Investment in leadership  should not be a one-time  expense; it's an ongoing commitment.  Organizations that invest in diverse leadership are investing in a future where healthcare disparities are reduced, and communities are healthier.

 

The Need for Investment in Entrepreneurs of Diverse Backgrounds

In addition to development and engagement, leaders need investment in their ideas.  Organizations, private equity and venture capital firms must be willing to make financial commitments not only to ideas that address issues of health equity,  but also are designed and led by diverse leaders who bring expertise and empathy to the problems they are solving.  

CNBC reports that Black entrepreneurs typically receive less than 2% of overall venture capital investemnt each year.  Despite historic year-over-year gains in funding that occurred immediately following the murder of George Floyd, by the end of 2022, adverse market conditions led to a 36% drop in overall VC dollars, but Black entrepreneurs saw a 45% decrease in financing.

If these trends continue, it will meaningfully delay our ability to address health disparities.  

 

Conclusion

Health equity is not a distant goal; it's an urgent need that requires immediate attention. To make significant progress in addressing healthcare disparities, we must prioritize inclusive leadership. This means developing, engaging, and investing in leaders from diverse backgrounds who can drive change in the healthcare industry. Inclusive leadership is not just the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do.