The last year has seen a flurry of statements and initiatives from healthcare organizations newly conscious of the industry’s poor track record on diversity, equity and inclusion. A new study spearheaded by the ANA and its Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing found that some of those efforts have started to pay off – but that deeper systemic change is still needed.

2021 marks the fourth year that the ANA/AIMM has published the report, which tracks gender and ethnic diversity among its client-side members’ marketing teams. The overall numbers are trending in the right direction: In 2021, just under 31% of those employees were from diverse backgrounds, up from 28.5% in 2020 and 27.6% in 2019.

In healthcare marketing, some of the progress likely stems from far more conscious efforts to reach out to a broader candidate base, according to Julia Missaggia, EVP of people and culture at CMI Media Group and Compas.

“The need for talent has opened up the eyes of hiring managers, so they’re more open to hiring non-traditional healthcare marketing talent or talent completely outside of the industry in general,” she explained. “They also have a greater willingness to train and onboard these individuals to make them successful.”

Among employees of the teams examined in the report, 11.7% were Asian, 8.9% were Hispanic/Latino and 6.6% were Black. While the report noted a rise in Asian and Hispanic/Latino employees during the last few years, there has been no significant increase in the percentage of Black employees. In 2021, ANA started including Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, who make up 0.3% of the industry, in the report.

In short, the results show some traction, but not enough. That’s why Real Chemistry chief global inclusion and health equity officer Mary Stutts believes diversifying the healthcare marketing workforce is merely the tip of the iceberg.

“I do think there are more diverse patients and people being profiled in our marketing campaigns and being featured in the campaigns, and there has been somewhat of an increase as far as hiring a diverse workforce in our marketing ecosystem,” she said. “But there is a lot of room for improvement, because you can’t stop at diversity.”

Stutts stressed that inclusion – which she defines as ensuring that people of color feel valued, celebrated and respected – requires more than simply filling roles with people of color. Inclusion, she said, means that those employees have the same access to opportunities as white employees. In that sense, the healthcare marketing industry has a considerable amount of work to do.

“A lot of folks hire a diverse workforce and they think they’re done,” Stutts explained. “But if you look deeper, people of color stay at bottom-level positions. You’re not seeing that upward trajectory, so you’re not seeing true inclusion.”

The ANA report found that senior-level jobs were the least diverse and entry-level, administration and support positions were the most diverse. Nearly 72% of senior-level employees were white, while only 5% were Black.

To narrow that gap, Stutts emphasized the importance of training higher-up execs to lead inclusively and implementing more rigorous career-development guidance and mentorship for people of color. Regular conversations with employees about where they see their career going in five years – and how managers can help them reach those goals – will be integral in improving retention.

“Be intentional in how you’re going to measure your success and how you’re going to hold your leaders accountable,” Stutts said. “Set some metrics, set some targets and do your 360-degree evaluations to see what the real experiences of people working in your organization are. Don’t just rely on your immediate direct reports to tell you what’s really going on. You have to get out there and talk to people.”