Those leading healthcare information technology departments are leading staffs that have become more diverse, and that’s increasing the need for expanding diversity among the execs that lead them.

The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives is taking on that challenge as it begins plans to develop programs that expand leadership training for women and minorities.

The organization, which represents healthcare IT executives nationwide, says it will boost leadership among women and minorities through mentorship and focused professional development.

Also See: Widening gap in women’s HIT pay disappoints many

Increased executive diversity is crucial because the patients that healthcare organizations serve are more diverse, as are the staffs they direct, CHIME board members say.

“The patient is the ultimate customer,” says Liz Johnson, CHIME’s board chair and CIO for acute care hospitals at Tenet Healthcare. “IT strategy and decision-making must involve having an understanding of the diverse population that’s being served.

“There’s no better way to do that than to increase diversity, not only at the IT leadership level but all throughout IT and from within the staffing ranks.” Johnson adds. “This will create an environment that promotes unique perspectives, creative approaches and opportunities to better meet the needs of our customers and organization.”

Liz Johnson

Healthcare, like other industries, has struggled to expand leadership to women and minorities. For example, minorities represent only 14 percent of hospital board members, 11 percent of executive leadership positions and 19 percent of first- and mid-level managers, according to respondents to a 2015 survey from the Institute for Diversity in Health Care and the Health Research and Educational Trust.

And, last year, an analysis by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society found significant disparities in compensation between male and female respondents to its recent annual surveys.

Within CHIME and its related organizations, of about 700 members who identified race or ethnicity on their membership profile, 136 said they belong to a minority group. And about 25 percent of its membership is female.

It’s time for CHIME to take a leadership role in the initiative because the traditional CIO role is evolving.

“We need to be responsive to that,” she says. “We need to be mentoring those who are following in our footsteps. We recognize that the workforce that’s coming behind us has a lot of diversity. It’s just important that we recognize that there’s tremendous change occurring.”

The growth in diversity underscores the need for healthcare IT leaders to have new skills and leadership traits, says Myra Davis, CIO and senior vice president at Texas Childrens Hospital, and a CHIME board member.

“As the healthcare IT environment continues to evolve, it highlights a need for competencies in areas that we didn’t have in the past,” Davis says. “We want to promote opportunities to increase awareness that anyone, of any background, can be a leader. We have a chance, as CHIME board members and leaders in our field, to promote that change.”

Cletis Earle, vice president and CIO at Kaleida Health and a CHIME board member, agrees that the CHIME initiative is timely and sorely needed.

“When you have a diverse culture, you need a more dynamic workforce to have different ideas and thought processes,” Earle says. “As an African American, there’s not a lot of folks who look like me in the workforce. We need to do something about it and provide a conduit to allow the workforce to equalize, to open the doors up to a larger constituency.”

The CHIME initiative is in the early stages, discussing the problems and challenges that currently exist in increasing diversity in HIT leadership, and will use that dialogue to formulate education and services that the organization can deliver.

“It’s significant for CHIME to take a stand and acknowledge that the workforce is changing,” Davis says. “If we don’t do that, who are we fooling? We are looking for a different type of leader and a different type of workforce that can be the innovators of health IT.”

The push to increase the number of women and minorities entering into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education programs also is timely, Davis notes. “In healthcare, we have a chance to educate the population we serve and share what we do in the world—how do we convey that message that you can be one of us?”

Also See: Barriers continue to hold women back from technical careers

The CHIME push comes at a time when the HIT is struggling to fill positions, and it’s important for HIT leaders to demonstrate that top management ranks are open to women and members of minority groups, Johnson notes.

Next week at its spring forum and during the HIMSS conference, CHIME will seek opportunities to network with diverse populations to ask what it can do and otherwise gather intelligence that will help direct future efforts, Johnson says.

“What’s significant is that, in coming from CHIME, it’s the senior-most IT executives in healthcare taking a stance to say we’re going to address (diversity) and improve it,” Earle says. “From that as a base, I look forward to what’s going to come.”

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