Diversity in Healthcare: 10 Tips for Managing a Diverse Workforce

Diversity in healthcare offers many benefits –– to patients, healthcare professionals, and organizations. However, managing diversity can be difficult, especially in the healthcare setting, where a team’s ability to work together greatly impacts the quality of care it provides.

To learn more, check out the infographic below, created by The George Washington University’s Online Healthcare Master of Business Administration program.

A Snapshot of Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce

U.S. healthcare workers come from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and they fill a wide range of positions in the industry.

Immigrant Healthcare Workers in the U.S., 2018

There were more than 2.6 million immigrants working in healthcare as of 2018, 314,000 of which are refugees. There were 1.5 million immigrants working as either doctors, registered nurses or pharmacists. Thirty-eight percent of immigrant healthcare workers were home health aides, 28% were physicians and surgeons, and 24% were dentists. Nearly 18% of healthcare workers are temporary workers, naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents or recipients of temporary protected status (TPS) and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Immigrant healthcare workers are more likely than native-born American healthcare workers to have a college education. Additionally, immigrant men are more likely than native-born American men to be physicians and surgeons.

Registered Nurses in the U.S., 2018

Almost half of all registered nurses were aged 50 and over. Over seventy percent of registered nurses were white, followed by Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish (10.2%), Black (7.8%), Asian (5.2%), multiple races, non-Hispanic (1.7%), other races (1%), Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (0.6%) and American Indian or Alaska Native (0.3%).

As of 2018, 44.6% of registered nurses have a bachelor’s degree. 29.6% have an associate degree, 17.5% have a master’s degree, 6.4% have a diploma in nursing and 1.9% have a doctorate.

Medical School Faculty and Physicians in the U.S., 2019

As of 2019, 63.9% of medical school faculty members were white and 58.6% were male, while 56.2% of physicians in the workforce were white and 64.1% were male. Thirty to forty percent of the physician workforce work in primary care. In primary care 63.7% of physicians were Hispanic, followed by American Indian or Alaska Native (41.5%), Black or African American (41.4%), and white (30.6%).

Why Is Diversity in Healthcare Important

Diversity in the workforce offers healthcare organizations concrete, measurable benefits, such as increased profitability, improved care and a stronger competitive advantage.

4 Benefits of Diversity in Healthcare

Research shows that companies with female board executives have unusually strong performance and that a profitable company consisting of at least 30% woman leadership may add more than one percentage point to its net margin.

Inclusion and diversity also yield a competitive advantage. Firms in the top 25% for gender diversity are 27% more likely to have superior value creation, and firms in the top 25% for ethnic or cultural diversity on executive teams are 33% more likely to be industry leaders when measured by profitability.

Additionally, a diverse healthcare workforce that represents the community it serves can help eliminate disparities and is better able to meet the needs of diverse individuals and provide higher-quality care.

Finally, diversity improves analytics. Research indicates that strong cultural diversity and cultural awareness improve the collection and interpretation of data. Stratifying health outcomes by race, ethnicity and language empowers organizations to better serve the unique health challenges of diverse sub-populations.

The Challenges of Managing a Diverse Workforce

There are several key challenges leaders must overcome to successfully manage a diverse workforce. For example, communication barriers driven by employees from diverse backgrounds struggling to communicate with each other may cause dips in productivity. This could be mitigated by hiring bilingual employees to help mediate and reduce miscommunication.

Another barrier involves fear of change, as employees opposed to workplace diversity may reject diversity initiatives. To overcome this challenge, companies need to develop a strategy to handle opposition.

Successfully implementing diversity initiatives may pose a challenge to leaders, as companies with poor diversity program implementation may fail to reap the benefits of diversity. The use of consultants can help here, as they can help managers identify challenges and address them properly.

Finally, leaders may face challenges with conflicting behavioral patterns and values, as employees of various ages and lifestyles may struggle to find cohesion. To overcome this, companies need to learn how to effectively harness diversity to bring about innovation.

How to Manage a Diverse Workforce

Every manager can take steps to improve their ability to manage diverse employees. For instance, accepting feedback from employees will help deepen their understanding of and respect for cultural differences, enabling them to adopt a more informed approach to management.

10 Tips for Managing Diverse Employees

A key tip for managing diverse employees is to take inventory of a workforce’s culture through identifying and publicly acknowledging their company’s nationalities, cultures and ethnic groups. Managers can also identify problems created by diverse backgrounds and collaborate with diverse employees to come up with solutions.

Leaders can join with other leaders and managers to craft and post a statement of intent regarding diversity and cultural positivity. Managers can also set objective standards to confirm that all employment decisions are guided by standardized rules.

Treating employees as individuals and not as representatives of a culture, religion or other groups can help to avoid stereotyping. Additionally, it can be important to connect leaders with diverse mentors, as doing so may provide training to both mentors and mentees to ensure a healthy mentorship relationship.

Managers can hold leadership accountable by developing metrics to measure leaders’ diversity efforts. Also, managers should avoid using and recommending a single leadership style, as cultures have varying perceptions of leadership and risk-taking activities. Finally, managers can create team-building activities to promote inclusion and accept feedback by listening to employee concerns, especially if after making a cultural blunder.

Building a Workplace for the Future

By emphasizing the benefits of diversity, healthcare managers can encourage employees to embrace diversity initiatives and request the differences that make their organizations unique.


American Management Association, Managing Cultural Diversity

AMN Healthcare, 2019 Survey of Registered Nurses

Association of American Medical Colleges, Diversity in Medicine: Facts and Figures 2019

B.S. Smith, Exploring the Benefits of Leadership Diversity

CMS Wire, 4 Ways to Embrace the Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace

Health Resources & Services Administration, 2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses

Houston Chronicle, Examples of Diversity Problems in the Workplace

Houston Chronicle, How to manage Diversity in a Workplace

Migration Policy Institute, Immigrant Health-Care Workers in the United States