WittKieffer Publishes Survey Identifying Disconnect Between Stated DE&I Goals and Follow-through Among U.S. Health System Boards

WittKieffer, in partnership with The Health Management Academy (The Academy), published a report featuring survey data that identifies a clear variation between the stated diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals of U.S. health systems’ governing boards and the actual operationalization of these objectives. The report emphasizes the need for better governance practices at today’s Leading Health Systems, particularly in relation to DEI.

A joint effort between WittKieffer and The Academy, the report – Governance & Executive Leadership Trends Across Leading Health Systems – includes expert analysis of current health system governance priorities and activities related to diversity and health equity. Most health systems are committed to updating their governance models, the report notes, including redefining who should serve on the board as well as modernizing outdated structures. While health system boards are making progress, change is slow.

“Health disparities and inequities that have existed for years, and have been further amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, have put additional pressures on healthcare boards to improve their governance practices,” said Andrew Chastain, president and CEO at WittKieffer. “This report should be a reminder for most, and a wake-up call for some, that it is necessary to be proactive and innovative in order to achieve strategic diversity, equity and inclusion goals from a governance perspective. This includes finding the right board members who can make change happen in a health system.”

The survey report outlines several key takeaways, including: 

  • There is a significant variation between boards’ diversity goals and their implementation. For example, while 78% of Leading Health Systems surveyed had a systemwide health equity strategy, only 3% percent reported having health equity expertise on their board.
  • Current board member recruitment practices are inhibiting diversity goals. Many boards have outdated procedures (such as extended terms and a lack of age limits) and legacy practices that rely on existing peer networks to recruit new members.
  • Boards have set clear goals on diversity, recruiting and health equity, but have struggled to implement many changes that support operationalizing these goals. These include prioritizing among the many skillsets, expertise, and demographics that may be missing from the boardroom.

The report found that most health systems are in the early stages of developing long-term strategies to address health equity, with survey respondents identifying several challenges in the creation of a successful talent pipeline and noting that an overhaul of governance frameworks is necessary to support future board evolution.

“By providing a look at governance and executive leadership trends across the healthcare industry, this report provides critical insights into the current state of health system governance, providing a benchmark for systems to compare themselves against and act as a measurement post,” said Victoria Stelfox, MPH, manager, Research & Advisory, at The Health Management Academy.

In 2021, The Academy gathered qualitative and quantitative insights from Leading Health System executives on governance priorities and practices. This report integrates findings from The Academy research conducted between 2015 and 2021 to assess the evolution of governance trends over time, using S&P 500 data as benchmarks where relevant.

View the full report here.