Why diverse teams matter

August 31, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

Diversity is front and center now more than ever before. Companies, communities and institutions (such as Michigan Medicine) are diving deeper into conversations and resources centered around diversity. 

Over the past several years, the Office for Health, Equity and Inclusion (OHEI) and U-M Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusive have produced frameworks, programs, campaigns and many more initiatives that have shaped where we are today. 

When looking at the future of society and the workforce, the question becomes: What will the future look like?

Well, diverse is No. 1. More diverse than now? Yes.

That’s because the organization has an opportunity to open the door to those who did not have access in the past. There is a chance to ensure that more women and minorities pull up to their seats at the table and share their excellence.

“More diverse thinking is taking place at Michigan Medicine and beyond and we need more perspectives and personal experiences shared,” said David J. Brown, M.D., associate vice president and associate dean for Health Equity and Inclusion. “This not only strengthens our decision-making and programming, but also heightens our cultural humility and ability to carry out excellent patient care, education and research.” 

Diverse teams at Michigan Medicine

Diversity comes in many forms including: race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, culture, national origin, religious commitments, age, (dis)ability status and political perspective.

Taking a look at the workforce, there are diverse teams scattered across Michigan Medicine.

“It was very important to me to have a team that represented the community that Michigan Medicine serves,” said Sally Liaw, M.B.A., M.I.M., director of internal and executive communication.

Liaw’s team of communicators has completely different backgrounds and perspectives. There are individuals with a range of experience (some left school a year or two ago, others have 30+ years of experience), backgrounds (there are Asian-Americans, African Americans, those from Sri Lanka to lifelong Michiganders and more), and teammates with disabilities.

“That’s what makes us such a strong and powerful team that is able to successfully connect with employees across the organization,” Liaw said.

Indeed, research shows that groups and teams made up of different backgrounds create a collaborative environment that challenges thoughts, sharpens understanding and fosters innovation. When working on projects, the likelihood of a diverse team making a tone deaf or offensive decision is much lower than teams that are not diverse.

Assumptions and stereotypes are challenged within these teams and can oftentimes spark a new process or way of thinking.

For instance, when working on internal communications, team members from the Department of Communication understand the importance of tone, language and representation in both written and visual channels. 

“There are certain words and phrases that we have to be careful about using when crafting communication,” said Daniel Ellman, employee communication specialist and editor of Headlines. Ellman was born with a birth defect and uses a wheelchair for mobility. “If someone on my team is writing a story on disability, that person will come ask me whether or not something is appropriate or not.

“The same can be said about team members who have other backgrounds or life experiences. In the end, it’s all about ensuring that we are communicating in ways that are most effective.”

The patience experience

Diverse teams aren’t only vital for communication, but also impact the patient experience.

“When patients see people who look like them, they often tell us that they are more comfortable sharing information that may be vital to their care and long-term success,” said Molly Dwyer-White, M.P.H., director of patient experience at Michigan Medicine. 

With that in mind, the Office of Patient Experience (OPE) intentionally seeks out diverse patients and families to share their stories, experiences, opinions and perspectives in order to champion initiatives that help create more patient-centric programs, operations and research, and improve safety and quality.

At the end of the day, the power of diversity is not a new concept. As people come together, virtually or in-person, to collaborate and solve problems, including those with different perspectives will certainly help move the organization forward.

As Robert Sellers, U-M’s chief diversity officer, said regarding the importance of DEI: “Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party. Equity means that everyone gets to contribute to the playlist. Inclusion means that everyone has the opportunity to dance.”