Achieving Diversity Through Inclusive Leadership

28 Jun 2021

By Monica Jain, MD and Sadia Tasnim, MD

Diversity and inclusion stimulate energy and drive performance – every individual that brings their unique perspectives to the team promotes creativity and innovation, improved decision-making and problem-solving, and enhanced engagement and well-being.

P&G CEO Geraldine Huse creates cognitive diversity by “nurturing disagreement” and listening to every voice.In healthcare, we are working to mirror the corporate world with such an open philosophy on diversity. However, progress towards achieving diversity in medicine has been slow.Achieving institutional diversity requires inclusive leaders like Geraldine Huse. Unfortunately, only 40% of executives believe that fostering inclusiveness is a part of their responsibility as leaders.

Inclusive leaders exhibit awareness and commitment. Here, we break down these traits within the context of the healthcare field.


Leaders empower people. They actively embrace peoples’ diverse perspectives. They give people opportunities.Inclusive leaders ensure fairness, respect, a sense of belonging, and psychological safety in order to allow all people to express their diverse perspectives. They understand the necessity of this, especially with regard to women, racial/ethnic minority populations, or others who may be outnumbered and/or historically neglected.

Recognizing the lack of underrepresented minority individuals serving as faculty at academic medical centers, in 2010, a group of physicians founded Building the Next Generation of Academic Physicians (BNGAP), an organization with the mission of helping “diverse trainees become aware of, interested in and prepared to explore academic careers.” BNGAP has provided underrepresented trainees with a forum to discuss their perspectives and longitudinal support, successfully heightening trainee career awareness, participation, and accomplishment.

Inclusive leaders must be aware that they may have personal biases or blind spots. Being humble, keeping an open mind, and listening without judgement and with empathy is crucial to overcoming these biases or blind spots.

Inclusive leaders are continuously developing their cultural intelligence. They understand that they must confront their institution’s weaknesses, barriers, and challenges in order to move forward on the path to diversity.

Some institutions have established Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), where people are given a place to discuss the issues that affect them. These issues can then be escalated to a higher level, and leaders can take responsibility and manage them appropriately.

Cardinal Health boasts seven ERGs which “help foster an inclusive and engaged workforce” and “help develop future leaders.” Each ERG is sponsored and supported by one senior executive. Furthermore, employees have also established three Multicultural Councils (MCCs) which “foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizational mission, vision, goals, business practices and objectives.” Through these groups, employees have held difficult conversations with senior leaders and have been able to stimulate real change in the culture of the organization.

Another tactic is a concept advocated by Quint Studer, a nationally recognized healthcare organizational leadership coach, called “managing by walking around.” In this approach, leaders learn what is going on at the ground level of the organization by “rounding” – on the floors, in the ICUs, in the ORs, in imaging, in the pharmacies, in the sterile processing rooms, etc.

Dr. Jain – By talking to physicians, trainees, nurses, clinical partners, pharmacists, technicians, environmental services, administrators, other employees, and patients, we harvest the collective insight of the people on the front lines in the institution. We can assess the pulse and can prescribe the necessary treatments to align the culture of the institution with the goals of diversity and inclusivity. A simple conversation on current events with a parking attendant at my institution brought a completely different perspective on the social injustices occurring across the globe and how they affected individuals, minority groups, our organization, our city, our country. This new insight eventually led to institution-wide conversations and projects to address connection, solidarity, and healing.

Finally, leading by example is a necessity – inclusive leaders are constantly practicing awareness, and they are also constantly assessing their own impact. Inclusive leaders should demonstrate authenticity in and accountability for their actions.


Our institutional leaders’ primary goals are to define a vision for a better future and then motivate people to work towards that future.An inclusive vision is framed by the interests of all of the people touched by the institution, i.e. faculty, employees, patients, and the community at large.This vision aligns people and develops a sense of shared responsibility within the institution.

The construction of diverse, cross-functional teams, in which no single group comprises a majority stake, allows all people’s voices to be heard and further drives collaboration and success.

Mentorship and/or sponsorship from members within or outside of an institution is fundamental in promoting the advancement of people from minority backgrounds and generating the critical mass of desired diversity.

Dr. Tasnim – As a minority woman of Islamic faith who moved to the United States on myown, I had experienced numerous struggles to even get to the point of interviewing for a surgical residency. During my residency interviews, one of the Associate Program Directors appreciated these struggles on his own, the very first time I met him. He immediately recognized the need for guidance and mentorship, especially in such a competitive field, and went above and beyond to connect me with the right people. And he envisioned the impact this would have, not only on the life of one surgical trainee, but also on the lives of all others following the same path.

If the culture at an institution does not allow for such a vision, inclusive leaders change the culture to reflect the diversity and the institutional priorities.

Through the establishment of concrete, relevant, measurable, and time-limited goals for diversity and inclusion, inclusive leaders provide focus, clarity, and practicality to their visions. For example, establishing a policy of transparency in the hiring and promotions processes engenders institutional accountability. Furthermore, a department chair can set a goal of 30% diverse faculty hires within 2 years, and utilize this not only as a target, but also as a benchmark to monitor the department’s progress.

Successful inclusive leaders can then communicate their best practices to other divisions, other departments, other centers, etc. and contribute to shifting the culture of the entire institution, and eventually, the entire industry

It is unquestioned that diversity is obligatory, irrespective of the industry. Inclusive leaders who pay extraordinary attention to awareness and who are committed at the highest level are the keys to initiate and maintain diversity in healthcare.

Dr. Monica Jain is a General and Endocrine Surgeon and the Surgical Innovation Officer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. With a background in Biomedical Engineering and Healthcare Innovation, Dr. Jain is passionate about narrowing the divide between innovative technologies and their clinical applications. She has also developed and directed multiple leadership courses with the goal of empowering future physician leaders. She has consulted for and mentored numerous healthcare startup companies, and works on several leadership, education, clinical efficacy, human factors, and quality improvement projects. In her free time, she loves exploring the Los Angeles culinary scene and hiking with her husband and 1 year old daughter.

Dr. Sadia Tasnim was born and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Houston and her medical education at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galvston, Texas. She is currently a surgical resident at Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ohio. Her research interests include genetics, cardiothoracic, healthcare disparities, surgical education. In her free time, she enjoys painting, watching movies, exploring coffee shops, cooking, and baking.


Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *