Clearing a path for diversity and inclusivity.
By Kim Stamp
The topics of diversity and inclusivity in the workplace are getting a lot of attention these days.
National movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter have burst onto the scene in recent years, and they are beginning to shape the way we lead and the way we structure our work environments. Issues such as the gender pay gap are being discussed more frequently, especially in the corporate and tech worlds. I passionately believe that dealing with these issues has more to do with respect than with moral, religious, or political beliefs. Every employee needs to know they are genuinely respected and valued in order to feel welcome in the clinic environment. If we can cultivate respect for all people, it will be easier to openly welcome those who are different from us. With each passing year, our population is growing more and more diverse. If we want to succeed, we must choose to clear a path for diversity and inclusivity to thrive. In this article, we will look at workplace diversity and inclusivity (how we treat fellow employees), as well as diversity within our patient population. It is my hope that we can all create a more open environment for both staff and patients. Let’s first take a look at how diversity impacts our staff.
As we begin, I want to briefly point out that diversity and inclusivity, while being connected, are two very different things. You can have diversity in your workforce without having inclusivity. Diversity is simply the demographic makeup of your staff while inclusivity is how you welcome, and value, those who are of diverse backgrounds. As an example, you might invite everyone from your eclectic neighborhood to your backyard barbeque (diversity/demographics), but if you don’t interact with those who look, believe, or act differently, you have not welcomed them (inclusivity/value). Valuing our employees starts with getting to know them and attempting to understand their unique characteristics. It flourishes when we choose to value them for the strengths they bring to the table rather than being blind to their strengths because of who they are outwardly.
A skilled manager will pay attention to both diversity and inclusivity. Sometimes diversity is obvious (as is the case with racial diversity) and other times it is more subtle (as is the case with religious or political preference). We all can fall prey to consciously or unconsciously discriminating against another person simply because they are different in some way. A simple Google search on employee engagement will offer any owner or manager more resources than they can possibly utilize to create a positive (engaging) workplace. So it is always astounding to me when I hear stories of negative work environments from those I interview! Our employees are our greatest resource, so why in the world wouldn’t we invest in caring for them? In each experience that was shared with me, the core issue seemed to be respect, or lack thereof. I would encourage all of us who manage to do a little self-reflection and see if we truly value those we manage or if we are instead plagued by an “It’s all about me” mindset.
Much of the information in the upcoming section is heavily influenced by Gallup’s latest book, It’s The Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter. I would highly recommend it to all of us! So how do we create an environment of inclusivity and respect among our staff? Most employees want to feel valued as part of the team, and they want to be recognized for their strengths and skills. If someone feels disrespected in the workplace, they may try to connect their sense of disrespect to something tangible like race, gender, or age. Once that ball is rolling, it is a difficult process to navigate. While we won’t be able to stop all forms of unintended disrespect, if we have cultivated an environment of inclusive value we will most likely be given the benefit of the doubt.1 The demographics in our workforce are changing rapidly; for instance, the Millennial generation identifies as 44 percent nonwhite as compared to 25 percent of the Baby Boomer generation.2 We would do well to adapt to these changes by welcoming the diversity rather than having to react to the problems that could arise from our lack of acceptance down the road.
Depending on where you live, you may or may not find your population to be diverse. In the capital city where I live in Washington State, we have an extremely alternative population that not only demonstrates a lot of diversity but also celebrates it regularly! As a company, we have made it a point to create a culture of acceptance among our staff and to welcome the diversity. Sometimes we fear what we do not understand, and in these cases I encourage open dialogue and questions (as long as those questions are genuine rather than accusatory). As managers we need to make sure that complaints or issues are dealt with quickly and respectfully, and we need to facilitate positive interactions when dealing with staff drama. I also want to point out that it’s difficult to go into too much depth with a topic like this in a short article, but I encourage you to avail yourself of the resources that are out there and to talk with your staff about whether they feel valued.
The second important area of diversity to discuss is the environment we create for our patients. Above all else, we want our patients to feel comfortable coming to our clinics. Their healing, in large part, depends on them trusting your staff enough to engage in the process. If they feel they are being judged, or that they are not welcome, they will never grow to trust you. Depending on the degree of diversity where you live, one of the things we should look at is how our intake forms are structured. In our area, we have a fair amount of people not identifying with their birth gender. In response, we have chosen to add a question that says “preferred pronoun” to our intake forms. This has helped our therapists to know how to comfortably refer to these patients and has sent a clear message to our patients that we welcome and value everyone in our clinics.
It’s important to take a look at your community demographics and dynamics and see if there is anything you need to address. For instance, do you have a large Spanish-speaking population? You may want to look at hiring a bilingual therapist or front office coordinator and provide forms that are in both Spanish and English. I have personally experienced the entitlement and one-way-street bias we as Americans tend to have, discovering it in myself. I used to think that if you live in our country you should speak English, but then, while visiting Italy a few years back, I became annoyed that more people didn’t speak English (insert eye roll emoji). It finally struck me—in the middle of the train station—how absolutely absurd (read: biased and entitled) that was! It was such a good experience for me to realize that I needed to redirect my attitude, and it has helped me to be more welcoming of others.
There is much to say and research on this topic, and I have only scratched the surface in this article. I would encourage all of us to reflect on the level of respect and value that we give others—both employees and patients—so that we can clear a path for both diversity and inclusion in our clinics.
1Clifton J, Harter J. It’s the Manager. Gallup Press; 2019.
2Frey W. The millennial generation: a demographic bridge to America’s diverse future. Brookings Institution. www.brookings.edu/research/millennials/. January 2018.
Kim Stamp is a PPS Certified Administrator and the Regional Business Manager for South Sound Physical & Hand Therapy. She also serves as president of the Washington State Physical Therapy Managers Association. She can be reached at Kim.Stamp@IRGPT.com.