Susan Salka: Boardroom Diversity Is More Than Just Filling Quotas

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Susan Salka, CEO of AMN Healthcare as well as a board member with both AMN and McKesson, reflects on the changing tide of diversity inclusion, both in the workplace and on the boardroom.
Susan Salka on boardroom diversity
Susan Salka, CEO of AMN Healthcare, talks about boardroom diversity. 

Susan Salka, CEO of AMN Healthcare, has been with the healthcare staffing firm since its earliest days, when it was still known as American Mobile Nurses and employed 18 people.

Today, AMN Healthcare employs 3,000 people, has revenue of more than $2 billion, and is publicly-traded on the New-York Stock Exchange. It’s diversified beyond staffing into workforce solutions, such as managed service programs, vendor management and recruitment process outsourcing.

Salka isn’t just a leader at her company, she also is on the board at McKesson and before that, Beckman Coulter and Playtex. Salka talked with Corporate Board Member about her emphasis on diversity in leadership roles, both at the executive and board level, and how a diverse board can reflect a diverse workforce and client base. Below are excerpts from this conversation.

You’ve been outspoken about diversity in leadership roles, diversity in many forms. Why is this issue so important to you, and what are some of the issues that you’re seeing with corporate diversity inclusion programs?

AMN is really focused on diversity. For us, we’ve been fortunate that it’s actually happened a bit more organically over the years than through any particular program. Certainly, as we have gotten larger, we’ve had to implement more structure and programs and things to ensure that we are continuing to evolve our approach to diversity inclusion and don’t have some unintended consequences.

[We put] a lens on almost anything that we can as it relates to diversity. Like, “Okay, let’s look at all the promotions that we had last year.” And if you slice that data, are there any unintended biases that are occurring in terms of more men getting promoted or ethnic diversity? So we try to look at a lot of the things that we do around our people and say, “Are we being as equitable as we say we are? And does the data actually measure up to that?” So that’s the first advice I would have for people is to really put a lens of metrics on what you say you want do. And I think that’s a mistake that people make is they have programs and nice mission statements and charters, but they forget to actually measure the metrics. And I’m not suggesting you should have quotas. I’m not sure that’s always the right thing to do, but you ought to start with the baseline, to say, “Where are we today?”

And it’s one of the things, again, I’m really proud of with AMN. We’ve got about two-thirds of our entire team is women and about 62 percent of our supervisors and managers are women. Almost half of our corporate directors and above are women. At the most senior level, my C-Suite, it’s half women. And so, you know, we’ve got a really good representation. We’ve got a way to go on our ethnicity. Right now, about a third of our entire team is what I would call non-white, but we recognize that we’ve got a way to go on that.

Another thing that I think that leaders need to be attentive to is, just themselves like from a [board director] and a leadership perspective, making sure that you yourself are getting out and interacting with your team members at all levels. It’s a bit anecdotal, but it’s a great way to be able to visually see and hear what’s happening from a diversity and inclusion perspective because then you start to hear things like, “Well, I didn’t really know that was going on or they didn’t include any of us.”

And so, again, you might have this nice little mission statement, but if you aren’t actually seeing and hearing inclusion happen on a daily basis throughout the organization that mission statement doesn’t mean much. And so one of the things that I do is I walk the floors a lot. Wherever I am, I visit all of our offices as often as I can. And I have open meetings with whoever wants to join me, stop and talk to people in the halls. I deliberately have my office, not in a corner office, but I have it kind of in right outside the bullpen area.

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