Mitigating Unconscious Bias and Driving Diversity for Innovation in a Changed World

Maximizing diversity in recruitment offers value beyond equitable representation, says a new report from Cejka Search. In a time when collaboration and cooperation in healthcare leadership is highly valued, the study says, it is critical to ensure that the sector’s leadership teams include a breadth and depth of experiences and broad ranging viewpoints.

August 25, 2021 – The issue of unconscious bias in leadership recruitment is certainly not new. Even in a pre-COVID world, understanding and mitigating unconscious bias has been a longstanding expectation in the recruitment process. In the healthcare industry, this impetus has historically stemmed from a natural sensitivity to increasingly diverse patient populations, as well as increasingly known disparities in access and health equity, according to a new report by Cejka Search’s Rebecca Kapphahn. “As an executive search firm working exclusively in the healthcare industry, we recognize these are unprecedented times,” said the study. “As the demand for innovation is greater than ever to sustain viability and future growth, it is imperative that we understand this: Maximizing diversity in recruitment offers additional value even beyond equitable representation.”

Diversity of background, education, ethnicity, etc. quite naturally engenders an invaluable diversity of thought, the key element of true innovation and innovative leadership teams, according to the report. “We know that different perspectives are bred from widely varied experiences and backgrounds,” Ms. Kapphahn said. “In a time when collaboration and cooperation in healthcare leadership is highly valued, as opposed to the siloed approach of the past, it is critical to ensure that healthcare leadership teams include a breadth and depth of experiences and broad ranging viewpoints to best inform a strategic, organization-wide vision.”

The current state of diversity within leadership teams, based on data from a recent industry survey Cejka conducted on this very topic, is enlightening. When surveying healthcare leaders across the country, the self-reporting of the perceived level of diversity among current leadership teams remains fairly low, with only 12 percent citing a leadership team that is “very diverse,” 46 percent indicated “somewhat diverse,” and 38 percent “not very diverse at all.” Thus, there is an urgency to take decisive action to increase equitable representation and diversity of thought, not only to meet the diversity goals of the past, but to also create the innovative leadership teams to prepare for the future, the firm notes.

Why Diversity of Thought Matters in Today’s Healthcare Industry

Ensuring diversity is incorporated in healthcare leadership hiring practices is not just about doing the right thing – it is about equipping client organizations with the tools they need to survive, most certainly, but also thrive in a dramatically changed industry, according to Ms. Kapphahn. “Our clients confirm that the top competencies valued in the past in new leadership hires remain important, but as the COVID pandemic has progressed, it’s become clear that a number of ‘new’ competencies are taking a front seat to ensure the changing needs of organizations are met moving forward,” she said.

 With more than 18 years dedicated to healthcare recruitment, Rebecca Kapphahn, vice president & search consultant at Cejka Search, assists clients regularly in assessing their organization’s immediate and future needs. Working directly with clients throughout each engagement, Ms. Kapphahn provides not only a personalized search process but also strategic counsel, creating actionable plans to best position the organization and the role in the marketplace. Prior to joining Cejka Search in 2006, Ms. Kapphahn had already built a strong track record in healthcare recruitment operations.

In a selective 2020 survey of healthcare leaders conducted by Cejka, traditional critical competencies identified included an analytical nature, ability to manage multiple demands, persuasive skills, determination and ethical behavior. Clearly, all of these qualities are still expected in leadership candidates, but healthcare organizations are now prioritizing additional competencies such as creativity, innovation, risk tolerance, approachability, managing critical conversations, swift and decisive decision making, and trust-building, according to the search firm.

Understanding that the leadership needs of the industry continues to transform, Cejka is taking several approaches to help clients maximize access to highly qualified candidates who also offer diversity of thought and true innovation.

Defining Their Approach to Diversity in the Recruitment Process

As healthcare executive search experts, Cejka invests a great deal of effort into laying the foundation for diversity and inclusion from the outset of every search process. The firm shared some insights:

  • Prior to starting any recruitment, Cejka works with its clients to review the organization’s accepted definition of diversity. If one does not already exist, the firm encourages client organizations to create a formalized diversity definition and statement, not only in the context of patients and providers, but in the context of how diversity is regarded and applies both in the recruitment process as well as in their daily work culture.

As committed as Cejka’s clients are to implementing diversity practices as a strategic imperative, the firm often finds that there is not formalized guidance to do so. Per Cejka’s previously mentioned industry survey on diversity in healthcare leadership teams, the firm found that only 16 percent of respondents report that their organization has a formal diversity initiative with an executive sponsor, while 44 percent reported that diversity is addressed in training and seminars only, and 14 percent reporting no initiatives at all. Additionally, there can be some misunderstanding regarding a true diversity statement versus a standard EEOC policy statement.

  • While most clients believe that they have a firm grasp on the culture of their organization, that may not always be the case – and even more so now in the healthcare industry, where seismic shifts in operations and finances have led to disruptions in culture. While these can be positive disruptions in the long run, it is critical that the firm act as outside counsel to help its client leaders identify the differences they may be seeing in their emerging culture vs. their culture of the past, and then apply what the firm learns to support the building of their job description and, in the long term, effective leadership teams of the future.
  • Prior to undertaking a recruitment, Cejka works with its clients to define not only the role itself, but also gaps that might exist in the organizational leadership team as a whole, specifically in terms of innovation and new critical competencies – and create a position profile and recruitment plan to address these issues directly.

Related: New Ways to Move the Needle on Diversity Hiring

  • As a standard practice, Cejka offers a proprietary value-add Unconscious Bias and Diversity in Recruitment training to its clients prior to any consideration of candidates. Based on Cejka’s comprehensive industry survey on the topic, the firm proactively helps its clients and their teams to understand how unconscious bias has affected recruitment processes and leadership teams in the healthcare industry as a whole. During these trainings and throughout the executive search engagement, Cejka’s search teams provide insight and specific practices to support its clients in minimizing unconscious bias and to encourage diverse and inclusive hiring process.

Educating Clients on Pitfalls to Avoid in Evaluating Candidates

While providing clients with a framework for defining diversity and identifying areas of need in terms of innovation are crucial first steps, Cejka continues to facilitate this effort throughout the full cycle of the recruitment to further support the most equitable search process possible. “As the recruitment progresses, we have incorporated checkpoints into our process to ensure that mitigating unconscious bias and encouraging an engagement of diversity of thought in candidates remain top of mind, providing resources and refocusing our clients on evaluating candidates based on the true needs of the organization,” Ms. Kapphahn said.

  • Candidate Presentation Materials. Supporting documentation such as resumes/CVs, education credentials, letters of intent, and/or recruitment firm/ team-generated candidate overview materials are integral to the recruitment process. “However, these deliverables can also inadvertently create exposure to both protected characteristics and extraneous information that may trigger unconscious bias,” Cejka said. “We work closely with our clients to consider measures to minimize exposure, such as withholding candidate names, geographic locations, educational institutions, etc.”

Tackling Unconscious Bias

In this brand new episode of ‘Talent Talks,’ Hunt Scanlon Media host Rob Adams is joined by Rebecca Kapphahn, vice president, and Angela Shultis, manager of business and market development, for Cejka Search. Ms. Kapphahn and Ms. Shultis discuss a recent report published by Cejka on unconscious bias, the impact that it has on executive teams, and how social media plays into the issue. Listen Now!

  • Candidate Evaluation. According to Cejka’s survey on unconscious bias and diversity in healthcare leadership, an overwhelming 96 percent of healthcare leaders have seen likeability tip the scale in favor of a candidate. Of course, likeability often translates to “someone like me/us,” something the firm has experienced time and again. “Combatting the group think tendency and reinforcing the need to avoid the likeability trap is an ongoing conversation.,” Ms. Kapphahn said.
  • As all hiring team members evaluate candidates through their own lenses, Cejka encourages and facilitates opportunities to challenge each other and consider other’s perspectives. Cejka says that the bottom line is that a leadership team that shares one set of characteristics or hires new leaders because they “fit the mold” does not deliver diversity of thought.

“We encourage our clients – even those who have a standard interview format and standard approved interview questions – to reframe their evaluation process keeping newly identified critical competencies in mind,” said Ms. Kapphahn. As a firm, Cejka is shifting its own assessment of potential candidates to specifically address the success of their present organization through the COVID crisis, and to examine its individual role in managing the response and outcomes. It has been Cejka’s experience that in some instances, unexpected leaders emerged during the crisis, and the firm advises clients to consider accomplishments during this timeframe carefully.

While diversity, equity and inclusion have long been strategic imperatives for healthcare organizations, there is now a greater need for immediate, decisive action to mitigate unconscious bias and drive diversity and inclusion in the recruitment process, to better serve patient populations as well as to create innovative leadership teams for the future, according to the Cejka report.

“As an executive search firm, we, too, continue to evolve our own practices and competencies to remain cutting-edge, innovative, and resource-rich to best serve our clients. In a transformed healthcare industry, our role to serve as a trusted executive search advisor has been elevated,” said Ms. Kapphahn. “By meeting the new needs of our partners, we ensure the integrity and consistency of best practices, and truly support organizations in cultivating the dynamic, diverse teams they need to advance their mission.”

Related: To Improve Diversity, Recruiting Sector Must Set a New Course

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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