The death of George Floyd in 2020 catalyzed a social reckoning that put diversity, equity and inclusion at the top of priorities for organizations nationwide. The healthcare industry was no different. Over the past two years, companies have increased educational training, expanded talent recruitment and fostered more inclusive environments, looking to create meaningful, sustainable change to elevate underrepresented and BIPOC people at all levels of an organization.

Looking to gauge the healthcare industry’s progress in this commitment to advancing DE&I, as well as belonging and accessibility, MM+M’s 2022 Diversity Survey, conducted in partnership with IPG Health, drilled down into the implementation of DE&I and asked companies to be transparent about their successes and/or failures.

Overall, evidence of the industry’s commitment appeared stronger than its progress. Seventy-three percent of survey respondents said they have a company-wide DE&I strategy. Yet, when asked to rate its performance, just 51% said their DE&I metrics reflected an increased representation of diverse people at their organizations from 2021 to 2022. Nearly four in 10 (or 38%) perceived a status quo in those metrics, with one in 10 (11%) saying their representation/percentage of BIPOC employee numbers actually decreased during that time period.

The uneven progress provides a counterweight to the industry’s overwhelming commitment to the DE&I cause. When we set out to assess the state of DE&I in the industry, we expected to see companies building on the momentum of 2020 to tackle the issue head on and better reflect the diverse populations they serve. That stepped-up response would entail a two-pronged effort of bolstering representation within their own ranks and creating more equitable workplaces, along with fostering equity externally by addressing healthcare disparities in communities and diversifying clinical trials and marketing campaigns. 

Our findings paint a mixed picture, with many respondents acknowledging that their efforts are just getting started and progress is slow to materialize. That said, the results also show many opportunities for organizations to grow talent and integrate DEI into the future of the industry.  

Responses from nearly 80 individuals who took the survey, representing full-service healthcare communications agencies; digital healthcare communications, healthcare PR and research or insights companies; and pharmaceutical, medical device and insurance companies, provide a clearer picture of current DE&I efforts and factors that are driving and impeding diversity.

Most companies are only beginning their DE&I journey

It turns out that many companies are only just beginning their DE&I journey. Almost half of respondents say that their organization has been actively committed to improving DE&I for three years or fewer, 10% of which got started within the past year. Twenty percent of organizations have been actively improving DE&I efforts for between four to six years (22%) and three in 10  have been actively committed to DE&I for seven years or more (30%).

When drilling down into subcategories — which is of interest directionally even if not statistically significant — of those who have been committed to DE&I for one to three years, 30% were full-service healthcare agencies versus 43% for pharma companies. While it might seem agencies are behind their clients, agencies aren’t really that much further ahead in terms of DE&I experience. When PR, digital communications and media-buying firms were factored in, the cohort of agencies classifying themselves as relative DE&I newbies grew to 57%.

For many organizations such as ClinicalMind, conducting “an independent audit and evaluation for the organization to identify possible blind spots and recommend specific DE&I initiatives” has “helped the organization make better-informed decisions and both guide and validate our approach to DE&I,” explained Bart Zoni, VP of marketing at ClinicalMind.

Accountability is key

Overwhelmingly, companies are focusing efforts on awareness and educational training (76%). The commitment to education alone is not enough, though. In addition, it is important to foster accountability across all levels, and especially senior management levels, to ensure effectiveness of DE&I initiatives. Considering over half of respondents believe the primary factor driving an increase in their organization’s diversity is having DE&I as a stated goal of the organization, it is surprising to see that only 34% say their company leaders are being held accountable for DE&I numbers and only 32% of clients, agencies and other partners ask about DE&I in requests for proposals (RFPs). Setting targets and demanding transparency provides an opportunity for clients, employees and leaders to hold companies accountable for the environments they are creating and to live up to the commitments they made to their communities. 

One of the most encouraging results of the survey is that almost two-thirds (62%) are now using checks and balances on creative work, which also reflects an awareness of the importance of DE&I not only to the internal culture but also to the outside world. In fact, organizations have set up processes to prevent stereotyping in visualizations and imagery (65%) and in writing (57%), as well as to generate more inclusive communications (59%).

LifeSci Communications, for example, has “taken a closer look at what we are doing as part of our everyday activities (e.g., explicit conversations with recruiters regarding the need to serve up diverse slates of candidates, buddy assignments, internal processes, inclusive teamwork, etc.) and are evaluating what do we need to do more of or change,” said president Maggie Helmig.

Recruiting talent plays a vital role in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. The good news is organizations across the healthcare industry are hiring more women, LGBTQ+ individuals, people from historically underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, as well as those from nontraditional backgrounds — even if success in diversity hiring is not universal.

Gains in gender equality

Between 27% to 35% of organizations increased the number of women in their workforce, greatly outnumbering the 3% to 8% of organizations that said they decreased that number. Additionally, nearly seven out of 10 respondents (68%) reported their organizations promote equal pay standards for men and women. 

Gains posted by racial/ethnic groups were registered more in entry-level positions (29%) than in senior-executive levels (17%), indicating there is still a lot of work to be done to elevate people of color to leadership positions. And approximately 10% of the organizations reported an increase in LGBTQ+ workers.

Hiring women and people from historically underrepresented ethnic and racial groups remains a challenge for organizations. As a result, organizations may need to get more creative about how they go about diversifying their talent pool. Widening the search to include those from non-traditional work history groups showed clear differences in gains versus losses (11% versus 3%) in entry-level positions.

What is impeding progress

Boosting DE&I in the workplace requires more than education and intention. The survey shows that efforts appear to be hampered by an inability to diversify the pipeline and find candidates.

Recruitment was cited as a significant challenge. More than four in 10 respondents (44%) feel that the lack of diversity in the applicant pool is hindering diversity within the organization and 40% say that the difficulty in finding qualified candidates is an obstruction to diversity in their company.

“There is absolutely diverse talent out there,” says Lisa DuJat, IPG Health chief talent officer. “We just have to look beyond the ‘tried-and-true’ avenues and nurture talent pipelines from untraditional places extending into other healthcare settings, and even tech companies such as Facebook and Google, etc. And sometimes we have to ‘grow’ the talent pool ourselves, which we’ve had great success with through programs such as our Residency and Write It Forward programs.”

Indeed, more needs to be done to diversify every level of an organization. To do this, companies must look outside of the industry to fill seats. However, while two-thirds of the organizations are expanding recruitment strategies to more diverse schools and organizations (75%) and through non-traditional channels (72%), only three out of 10 organizations have made changes in recruitment policies to mitigate bias and 29% have provided support for and success of targeted recruitment pipeline programs.

Not only do organizations have to go to where the diverse talent is, they also have to ensure their internal environment sets them up for success. An organization cannot retain such talent without creating an inclusive and equitable workplace. Diverse talent must have opportunities for growth and feel comfortable speaking up and/or bringing their true selves to work.

“We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results,” said DuJat. “If you bring somebody in and they’re not exactly like the last 10 account executives you’ve hired, you may have to onboard a little differently, and make more of an investment in setting that individual up for success.” (See the sidebar, “Is the Talent There? Yes,” for more of DuJat’s tips for helping non-industry hires make the transition.)

Efforts on the internal side are still new for many organizations but are important signs of organizations’ commitment to equity. More than four out of 10 respondents (44%) said they employ a chief diversity officer (CDO), head of diversity, diversity director or equivalent role, but 41% of those said the role is new for 2022. Additionally, 39% said they have internal programs supporting diverse staff members, although those programs are new this year for 33%.

Yet, the impression is that companies are not doing all that they could. One in four respondents cited a lack of equity in the hiring process (23%) as a challenge to DE&I efforts, followed by the fact that DE&I is not a goal of the organization (18%), the company culture is not inclusive (14%) and there have been limited changes to company policies and processes (10%).

“It is essential to keep up the momentum on cultivating inclusive cultures in the workplace along with an evolving education program that continuously meets the changing needs and priorities of our dynamic world,” said Sheena Amin-Liebman, diversity and inclusion global director at Fishawack Health. One way to do that is by ensuring “line managers are brought along on this journey toward becoming greater champions of inclusivity as they have the reach to cultivate diversity and equity across our global workforce.”

Amid the elevated national consciousness of DE&I, one would have expected the industry to embrace its unique opportunity to move the needle forward. The healthcare industry exists to serve the entire country. Engaging with more diverse populations and creating a more representative workforce can only benefit the industry in developing the right products and providing better care.

This past year, the industry stepped up its external efforts to promote equity and address healthcare disparities. Nearly seven out of 10 respondents (68%) said their organizations donated to communities through corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs and 44% pushed to diversify clinical trials and healthcare.

Industry transparency is key

If healthcare companies are under intense pressure to showcase their commitments to DE&I, that pressure was not evident from the survey’s relatively low overall response rate: 79. Even those who did respond indicated that workforce changes aren’t always being captured: between one-fifth and one-fourth of organizations said they did not know/did not capture data about their changes in workforce for women, one-third for racial/ethnic groups, over half for LGBTQ+ workers and a majority of respondents for non-traditional workers.

To the extent there is a reticence to divulge numbers, the lack of disclosure may be holding the industry back. Transparency about DE&I data, changes to date and future goals can not only help individual organizations but the industry as a whole to become more inclusive and equitable. An important step toward making true progress might be to first admit there is still a problem.

METHODOLOGY: The survey was fielded online from May 5 through July 6, 2022. Long and short survey versions were used. A total of N=79 completed surveys were obtained (N=55 short and N=24 long versions).

‘Is the Talent There? Yes.’

IPG Health chief talent officer Lisa DuJat weighs in on the diversity survey findings, including how the network is working to broaden its talent pool.

The healthcare industry is making measurable strides in hiring BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and women employees at all levels. But as the 2022 MM+M/IPG Health Diversity Survey points out, progress is not as robust as some would have liked, given the emphasis which many corporations say they’re placing on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. 

To understand why, the survey examined some of the drivers, including how respondents are diversifying their talent pipeline. When asked about the hiring of those from so-called non-traditional (i.e., non-healthcare) backgrounds, for example, most of the progress appeared to be at the entry level. 

That’s somewhat surprising, given there are, presumably, mid- and senior-level people from other industries whose lived experience would enrich the industry if recruited to healthcare, says DuJat.

“Is there talent in the industry? Yes. Is there enough? Probably not,” she says, adding that her network has tapped everyone from PharmD candidates and former medical journalists to mainstream ad pros and marketers from the CPG and tech realms. “There are many different fields from which you can bring people in.”

Once attracted to the space, the harder part involves helping them adapt to the industry. IPG Health has such programs, including The Residency, to train newcomers in pharmaceutical advertising and its Reboot program geared toward veterans.

Skills training is merely a start; mentors and support systems are essential. In one case, Reboot recruited a logistics ace who specialized in setting up camps in Afghanistan, DuJat recalls. He was a shoo-in for project manager, but had to learn to adapt to a corporate setting.

“As an industry, we are collectively accountable for advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in our field. It’s up to us, and we can do it, said DuJat. “If we focus not only on attracting the right talent, but also investing to set them up for success, and interrogating our ‘tried-and-true’ ways of doing things across the board, that’s how we’ll make real, lasting change.”