The One Letter Missing From D&I Initiatives

Susan Salka, CEO of AMN Healthcare
Susan Salka, CEO of AMN Healthcare

Which is more important: to be diverse and inclusive or to be equal?  Why not strive for all three?

Diversity & Inclusion in the business world (known as D&I) can be a powerful force for social and marketplace change—if you move beyond talk into real action. But D&I might be missing something….How about an E? Diversity, Equality & Inclusion: DE&I.

Seeking diverse people and including them in your team is a critical initiative for any company. But it’s actually part of a process, not the ultimate goal that we seek, which is equality.

To build a values-based company, one that truly reflects your team, your clients, your suppliers, and your local and global community, the pursuit of diversity and inclusion is necessary. Only by capitalizing on diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives—and by accessing the largest possible talent pool, one that doesn’t leave anybody out—can you achieve excellence. Evidence shows that diversity at a company, and particularly in management, increases profitability. Plus, it makes your company a force for improving society. It makes the world a better place.

But if D&I are good for business and society, then DE&I are even better and that should be the objective. Equality means that your diverse team is equally distributed, from board room to newest hires, in a way that fully aligns with the company’s and society’s highest aspirations and best interests. With diversity, you get the best and the brightest diverse people included on your team. With equality, you get the same people, but in equal numbers, participation, contributions, commitment, and leadership,included on your team.

Our path to equality begins with maintaining accurate metrics, because you can only change what you can measure. We post our diversity metrics on our website every quarter: Right now, 64% of the entire AMN team and 63% of our supervisor through senior manager roles are women. Our executive team includes many women, including our CEO, and our board is 33% women. Our entire team is 31% nonwhite.

Most of our numbers are pretty good. We’re proud of our gender equality. While our racial and ethnic diversity numbers are not bad—a little higher than the healthcare industry average—our equality in this area is not where we want it to be. In supervisor through senior executive roles, we recognize our shortcomings, and we are working on it. Also, we don’t have a completely accurate count of our LGBTQ diversity, so we are testing a self-reporting metric. We will keep working on that one, too, until we get better numbers and can test for equality.

We apply our metrics to our DE&I action strategy, beginning with new team-member hiring and promotions. We mandate diverse job candidate slates from talent acquisition to present to business unit leaders who do the hiring or promoting. And, everyone in leadership takes responsibility for moving our numbers in the right direction and improving our DE&I. At the same time, we take action to attract diverse people to apply for jobs and promotions through aggressive diversity, equality, and inclusion programs in the marketplace and the community. Publishing metrics and being transparent about strengths, weaknesses and actions is part of this process; diverse people want to work for companies where they can see that DE&I initiatives are authentic.

Equality happens when you measure your diversity and then execute an inclusion plan that creates a balanced team from top to bottom so that your company’s gender, race and ethnicity, LGBTQ orientation, and other diversity determinants reflect your community, clients, suppliers, and other stakeholders. Not only will you be tapping into the widest and deepest pool of diverse talent, but they will be in place at their highest and most advantageous roles on your team. D&I can get you on the road, but equality is the ultimate destination—for all of our organizations and, ultimately, for society.

My guess is that many of us in leadership today will not be completely satisfied with the progress we’ve made to attain true equality during our careers. It’s a long road. But that’s all the more reason we must work hard today to make the biggest possible impact so we can enable future leaders to finally achieve the E in DE&I.

Read more: How Boards Can Lead Inclusively From The Top