The Role of CIOs in Building Diversity

By Hillary Ross and Nick Giannas

WittKieffer recently conducted a targeted survey of members of CHIME (College of Healthcare Information Management Executives), taking the pulse of healthcare CIOs regarding diversity and inclusion efforts in their teams and organizations. In all, 55 CHIME member CIOs responded to the quantitative and qualitative questions in our survey. We greatly appreciate those individuals who took the time to participate.

The representation of the respondents was as follows: 36 of the 55 respondents to the survey identified as Caucasian (seven declined to say), and 36 of the 55 identified as male (four declined to say).

Respondents to the survey provided insightful comments. Below are key takeaways that we learned:

  1. Diversity of IT staff is not reflected in leadership. We asked CIOs whether diversity is lacking among their organization’s IT staff. Only about one-quarter (27%) said that it is lacking. In contrast, we asked them whether diversity is lacking among CIOs and IT leaders they know across the industry. About 60% said yes, suggesting a belief that IT leadership could definitely exhibit more diverse representation. “It’s amazing the lack of women in IT and utterly disappointing about women in IT leadership,” one CIO said. “99.9% of the time, I am the only women at my leadership and board meetings. Although I have a seat at the table, my organization does not value women’s opinions.”

Diversity is lacking among CIOs and health IT leaders I know across the industry.

Strongly Agree








Strongly Disagree


  1. The CIO plays a key role in advancing diversity and inclusion. We gave survey takers the following prompt: “It is the CIO’s responsibility to consider diversity in the promotion and hiring of staff.” In response, 73 percent agreed or strongly agreed, while 15% were neutral. Seven individuals (13 percent) disagreed, while no one strongly disagreed. Clearly, the CIO’s involvement is essential to achieve diverse representation among staff.

One respondent said, “The CIO has to promote the roles and have a diverse management group in order to be able ‘walk the talk’ and show that they embrace diversity.” Said another: “Diversity starts with leaders underscoring its importance.”

The group of CIOs was asked whether the CIO played a key role in creating an inclusive environment on the IT team. Some 95 percent agreed or strongly agreed, with just 4 percent staying neutral and one person disagreeing.

  1. Organizational resources are generally available. Survey respondents indicated that they have the financial, human and other resources available to create a more diverse and inclusive team. Sixty-seven percent agreed or strongly agreed that they have adequate resources at their disposal.
  2. Reasons for a lack of diversity in health IT vary. CIOs were asked to list factors which are limiting underrepresented groups from achieving CIO and top IT roles. They cited:
    • Top management has other priorities or doesn’t see diversity as a key issue
    • Lack of qualified diverse candidates/lack of diverse professionals in STEM fields
    • Bias in the recruiting and hiring process
  1. CIOs are getting the message. “My IT team is small, but when I hire, I specifically look for diversity as part of the process,” said one CIO. We were struck by the variety of initiatives that are taking place at respondents’ organizations. (See below.)

A few of the CIOs we surveyed are not in favor of factoring diversity into hiring. The hiring process should be “colorblind” and identify the most qualified candidate on paper, one CIO said. Most other CIOs have a more nuanced view. “The evidence shows having a diverse work environment allows people to have a broader range of experience, skills,” one CIO replied. “It also creates a more inclusive environment to work in, and helps with retention of the staff. Hiring for diversity is the right thing to do.”

Building Diversity: Ideas and Examples

Survey respondents were asked to provide examples of initiatives taking place within their teams to promote diversity and inclusion. The following are some of their responses:

  • “We have set up women and minority IT days in high schools and colleges so that these individuals can explore career opportunities within healthcare IT.”
  • “I speak at STEAM events, attend Women in Cyber and Women in IT events. I host Women in IT lunch/learns at my organization with the IT department.”
  • “We have advanced training for all employees. We have promoted repeatedly from within and developed skills—our organization is highly Latino and our IT organization reflects that mix.”
  • “We have included diversity awareness training in our core management annual training materials as well as in the materials for new managers.”
  • “In collaboration with our Senior VP of Equity and Inclusion, IS and other operational leaders have participated in more than 30 sessions focused on listening to our coworkers’ experiences. The purpose is to listen, learn and lead. We are identifying trends and then taking action around them, especially in terms of anti-bias education and review and audit of key processes around talent strategies.”
  • “Our organization has a Chief Diversity Officer now engaging us to create awareness, use culture surveys/tools, and asking leaders to work to understand the need to change.”
  • “We have a diversity appreciation committee in the IT unit that looks for ways to represent messaging and create a workplace that has a feeling for diversity.”

In conclusion, the large majority of the CIOs that we surveyed are looking for ways to improve upon diversity on their teams, and see its value among IT leadership as well. “It is important to develop strategies to create as diverse a workplace as possible,” one CIO responded. “It has been clearly demonstrated that diversity builds far more effective and creative teams and those teams come up with much better solutions.”

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