We associate the word pandemic with the COVID-19 cases that have been wreaking havoc in our country for months. But another pandemic has been destroying our nation for centuries: racism and inequality. Dialogue around systemic racism, bias and promoting inclusion is critically important in all facets of life, including the workplace.

In Tipton Health’s latest webinar, Ena Williams, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Yale New Haven Hospital, led a conversation about how these topics apply to nursing. Joining Williams were Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, president of the American Nurses Association, and Martha A. Dawson, DNP, RN, FACHE, president of the National Black Nurses Association.

During the insightful webinar, panelists shared their views on race in the nursing profession and reflected on their personal encounters with racism. The panelists encouraged webinar participants to take action.


Recognize Implicit and Direct Bias in the Workplace

When a patient questioned the credentials of a panelist and wanted a different nurse, it was clear he was being a racist. But racism isn’t always so overt. Sometimes people exhibit biased behaviors without consciously trying to do so. Nurses should examine their own biases and how they affect others. Any instances of racism and bias must be challenged.


Acknowledge Structural/Institutional Racism

Meeting the definition of a “diverse” institution isn’t enough to dismantle structural racism.

To be truly inclusive, you need to do more:

  • Identify policies and procedures that maintain institutional racism by consistently favoring one racial group and putting others at a disadvantage.
  • Be aware that even if your policies are correct, your practices may not support diversity, equity and equality.
  • Determine how institutional racism affects the health of your community. Consider the locations of clinics and their accessibility to all members of the community. Also take into account the funding and recognition given to illnesses that affect large numbers of black and brown people, like hypertension or diabetes, compared to that given to cardiac disease or cancer, which affect large numbers of white people.


Recognize Diversity and Inclusion in the C-Suite

Only 8 to 10% of executive positions are held by minorities. Nurse leaders can do more to create executive opportunities for minorities.

  • Consider a sponsorship program for minority employees. Sponsorship enables candidates to stretch and grow into the next level of performance. Give them the resources to learn and introduce them to influential people; open the door to more opportunities.
    • Many states have nurses associations that offer programs to promote leadership and growth. The North Carolina Nurses Association Leadership Academy, for example, enables younger or less experienced nurses to network and upskill.
  • If you have a seat at the executive table, invite minority employees to join the conversation.


Promote Change

  • Use your power of influence. Hospitals are typically the biggest employers in their communities. Make changes within your facility through rounding and town halls, but take those changes a step further: Go to your local better business bureau and let them know the changes you want to see in the community. Offer to collaborate with local businesses to create more diversity and opportunities for growth.
  • Address racism in your organization head-on. People may continue to perpetuate racist behavior within your organization. You can’t ignore them. Instead, teach them what they’re doing wrong and let them know, in no uncertain terms, that racism won’t be tolerated. This conversation may be uncomfortable, but that may be a good thing. Stay calm and keep talking with them about their behavior or comment until you get to the root of the issue. They need to understand the gravity—and the consequences—of what they’re saying and doing.
  • Work within the system. Look at policies, procedures and practices, and call your organization on them. Send questions to upper management that address the issues you’re facing—as many times as necessary.


Learn more from our speakers.

Visit TiptonHealth.com/webinars to hear more on the experiences of our panelists and strategies to combat racism in your organization.


Sign up for our remaining June webinar:

Five Steps to Lead Your Nursing Team into the Future (Tuesday, June 30, 2020, 12:30–1:00 p.m. EDT)