DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) programs have become more prevalent in the last couple of decades, especially in the business world. CEOs and others in leadership positions have found that not only does working to improve diversity, equity and inclusion create a culture where employees feel valued and respected, it also has a range of positive benefits for the organization.
But DEI programs aren’t just good for businesses. When we focus on DEI in our institutions, like our schools and health care organizations, we directly impact our communities for the better.
What Is a DEI Program?
When it comes to community services, DEI programs ensure that public organizations are providing their community members with fair access to the services and supports that they’re entitled to, and that they feel safe, seen and included in the organization. They also make sure that these organizations accurately reflect the communities they serve, meaning that when hiring, they pay attention to diversity, especially when it comes to those in leadership positions.
These programs also promote equity, which is different from equality. While equality can be described as giving everyone the same things to improve their quality of life, equity means that we give different groups of people what they need specifically to improve their quality of life.
This could mean that disadvantaged or vulnerable groups might need to receive different resources or more resources than other groups. Both equality and equity attempt to make things fair for everyone, but only equity can promote true fairness.
DEI programs are meant to protect the community, by making sure that no one is discriminated against or denied access to resources due to their:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Physical ability
- Marital status
- Socioeconomic status
- National origin
- Veteran status
Why Are DEI Programs Important When It Comes to Community Health?
The short graphic novel “Combatting Racism is Public Health” from the Yale School of Public Health highlights some of the reasons that DEI programs are so important, especially in the community health care sphere. When many people think of racism, they think of hate crimes, slurs or other overt racism, but racism and discrimination have been going on for so long in our society that they are now – and have been for a long time – structural.
That means that whether we as individuals intend to be racist or not, our society fosters racial discrimination through “mutually reinforcing systems of housing, education, employment, earnings, benefits, credit, media, health care and criminal justice.”
Structural racism impacts the public’s health in many ways. Redlining, a practice that intentionally cuts off people of color and low-income families from living in certain neighborhoods, still serves as a form of invisible segregation today, keeping resources for healthy living, like easy access to nutritious foods and parks and other places to exercise, away from communities that are mostly made up of people of color.
And because of the structural racism and discrimination that’s been a part of our society for hundreds of years, institutions (like the health care system) inherently treat members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) community differently, whether the people involved in those organizations mean to or not. This often results in a higher rate of negative health outcomes for BIPOC.
All of us, including doctors, have implicit bias – “a form of bias that occurs automatically and unintentionally, that nevertheless affects judgments, decisions, and behaviors.” There’s been plenty of research done on the topic of implicit bias in the health care industry. A few of the examples of implicit bias that have been found include the following:
- BIPOC patients receive fewer cardiovascular interventions and fewer renal transplants
- Black women are more likely to die after being diagnosed with breast cancer
- BIPOC patients are less likely to be prescribed pain medications (non-narcotic and narcotic)
- Black men are less likely to receive chemotherapy and radiation therapy for prostate cancer and more likely to have testicle(s) removed
- BIPOC patients are more likely to be blamed for being too passive about their health care
Lives literally depend on DEI policies. That’s why training our health care professionals in DEI is so important. When your health care organization takes measures to reduce bias and discrimination, there are better health outcomes for BIPOC community members. And when community members have improved health outcomes, the community overall improves.
How DEI Programs Impact Your Local Community
DEI isn’t only important in health care. DEI programs can have a huge positive impact on communities across the board. Research has shown that diversity in our communities improves quality of life for the individual as well as for the overall population, for people of all races and income levels, both in the short-term and far into the future.
Diversity Leads to Economic Growth
Gregory Squires, Ph.D., professor of sociology and public policy at George Washington University, says that diversity “leads to greater prosperity and opportunity across a wide spectrum of issues: jobs, education, and health.”
There’s a link between diverse neighborhoods and stronger economic indicators, like increased job opportunities and higher levels of home ownership. But housing discrimination and segregation actually inhibit economic growth – not just for BIPOC, but for everyone. When BIPOC are blocked from accessing the resources they need to grow and prosper, we’re all held back, because these individuals can’t achieve their full potential. This, in turn, hinders overall economic growth, reducing everyone’s standard of living and propensity for success.
Diversity Makes for Better Education
Diverse classrooms lead to better outcomes for all students. When they’re asked to consider a different idea or viewpoint that challenges their thinking, students develop their cognitive skills. In fact, research shows that diverse classrooms improve skills like critical thinking and problem solving, as well as creativity and motivation.
Another reason diversity in the classroom is so important is that school is the way we prepare our children for the future, and the future will most likely lead them to diversity. The ability to effectively work with colleagues, customers, and/or clients from diverse cultural backgrounds is seen as important by 96% of major employers.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Region Five
Region Five is dedicated to creating positive change in our society, starting right here in our own community of Coastal, Southeastern Virginia. Our DEI program was born out of a strong commitment to create responsive, safe, and anti-biased healing environments for all of our community members. Our staff is regularly trained on DEI issues, like how to recognize and avoid bias, promote equity, and provide fair and compassionate services and supports for all.
Health is a human right, and no one should have their needs neglected or their experiences invalidated.
If you’re looking for equitable care for mental health, substance abuse, or developmental disorders in the Region Five area of Virginia, we welcome you to reach out to your nearest community services board.
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, another mental health crisis, or a crisis related to substance abuse, you can talk to someone right away by calling the Region Five Crisis Line at 757-656-7755.