How do you battle systemic racism in nursing; what should a nurse do when faced with racism at work; and what can nonminority nurses do to support their minority peers?

These were just a few of the questions facing the national nursing leaders who served as panelists during Tipton Health’s June 28 webinar, “A Discussion on Race, Inclusive Practices and Nursing.”

Ena Williams, MBA, MSM, BSN, RN, CENP, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Yale New Haven Hospital, returned to moderate the discussion.

Williams was joined by Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, president of the American Nursing Association (ANA), and Martha A. Dawson, DNP, RN, FACHE, president of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) and Alana Cueto, MSN, RN, CNL, president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN).

Following are the panelists’ responses to a few of the many questions posed by the more than 200 nurse leaders from the world who attended the webinar.


How do we foster diversity within the ranks of leadership? What can the audience do to make a difference?

Dr. Grant: There are five key strategies to cultivate diversity:

  1. Review workplace policies. Take a deep dive and ask whether they’re addressing diverse employees in your organization. Create or amend policies that would work across the system. An example would be the paid holidays your organization offers—do they apply to someone from a Jewish or a Muslim background?
  2. Establish diverse mentorship programs. Identify employees who are invested in your organization to mentor. You can send them to a leadership academy, you can direct them to webinars and leadership conferences to help them progress.
  3. Capitalize on employee-led task forces. Listening to your employees is key. Take what your staff has to say and put it into action—show them you are listening
  4. Provide diversity training for managers. This will be crucial for situations like interviewing prospective employees. They will now be able to recognize what candidates can bring to the organization because of their diverse background or their representation of the population the facility serves.
  5. Develop a relationship with your local minority community. If you’re having an event, hire minority-owned businesses. Ensure that you’re offering healthcare services in those communities.

Dr. Dawson: Sponsorship for future leaders is crucial. When senior-level people see potential in novice staff, they should take them under their wing. Help them develop their skillset, take them to meetings they wouldn’t typically have the chance to attend, send them to workshops and put them into fellowships. Help them navigate their careers to grow as a potential future leader.

Cueto: Offer avenues for discussion. At my organization, we offered a series of seminars to allow for difficult conversations in a safe environment. Topics included coping with collective trauma and health equity. They’ve also launched a Center for Heath Justice that centers around addressing employee health disparities so that they can better take care of patients and the community.

Williams: Leaders have the power in their hands. You can be the change, whether you’re a CNO or the manager of a unit. These experiences may be uncomfortable, but you have to lean in and change the healthcare profession.


As a minority nurse, how do I respond to racial bias constructively within the moment and afterward?

Dr. Dawson: The best way to respond constructively is to know yourself–understand how you’re going to control and react to a situation. In situations where I’ve been called a slur or discriminated against, I had to take the power back and decide not to let them influence my emotions. I respond by saying, “Thank you. So many of my ancestors and forefathers gave up their lives for me not to have to respond to you. I want you to know that I’m very proud of that.”

Cueto: Always take the high road. I like to employ the three Ds:

  1. Direct—Directly intervene by calling out inappropriate behaviors or comments. Use “I” statements like, “I heard you say…” or “I saw you do….”
  2. Distract—If you overhear something, interrupt the conversation and move the behavior away from the event. Delay intervention surrounding the perpetrator’s behavior until after the event and take the time to make sure the victim is OK.
  3. Delegate—If you’re not the manager or the supervisor, but you see or hear something taking place, you have a responsibility to report that event to either a workplace diversity officer, a supervisor or human resources.

Dr. Grant: Make sure you know what your hospital policy is. When you choose to take the higher ground and address racial bias, you want to know your institution will back you up. If you’re a manager, how you treat one incident sends a signal across the organization about how all incidents will be handled. As a leader, practice and live your policies, procedures and core values.


How can I be part of the solution as a nonminority nurse?

Dr. Grant:  You say a lot when you remain silent. You may be the first ripple of change among your nonminority colleagues. Continue to bring up issues you notice again and again until you are heard. Secondly, we’ve talked about active listening, but now it’s time to take that one step further. Make the move to say, “I hear you, now how can we solve this together?” Form partnerships with your peers and work on how you can solve problems and open the eyes of others together. Ensure that your plans and solutions involve everyone in the institution, from housekeeping to bedside nurses to C-suite executives.

Cueto: Challenge yourself to acknowledge your privilege and how you benefit from it. I recognize and acknowledge that I don’t fit the stereotype of a Latina, and because of that, I experience white privilege. Recognize the benefits of the privilege you hold and recognize “tokenism.” Many times I’ve been invited to “sit at the table” because I represent a minority while still managing to look white. I use my privilege and sit at that table to amplify the voices of underrepresented groups and work to make room at the table for them.

Dr. Dawson: Take off your blinders. When you take a step back to look at your organization, it may not be as perfect as you think. As a nonminority nurse, you may not notice that, as a novice nurse, you got promoted to charge nurse within two years, while a minority nurse who had been there for five years before you arrived has still not been promoted past the entry-level position. Once you can recognize these inequities, you’ll be ready to begin to make a difference at your hospital.


Learn more from our speakers

Visit to hear more about the experiences of our panelists and strategies to combat racism in your organization.

Sign up for next week’s webinar:

Dr. Jean Watson Discusses Caring Relationships During Desperate Times (Tuesday, August 4, 2020, 12:30–1:00 p.m. EDT)