Overcoming biases leads to healthy workplaces and better care

Overcoming biases leads to healthy workplaces and better care

Howard Ross visits Christiana Care and challenges health care professionals to examine their own biases to achieve better relationships and better care.

Often, bias goes unnoticed and unchallenged simply because we don’t recognize it.

Identifying unconscious bias is key in creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, workplace and community, said Howard Ross, a thought leader who teaches organizations to grow by embracing, enfranchising and understanding their stakeholders.

Ross spoke on “Creating Conscious Inclusion” at an April 3 event at Christiana Care’s John H. Ammon Medical Education Center, sponsored by Christiana Care’s Office of Health Equity.

“If we are truly to achieve Excellence and Love among ourselves and our patients and families we are privileged to serve, it requires the dedication of all of us to overcome our biases,” said Dana Beckton, director, Diversity and Inclusion. “Delivering high-quality health care takes a team of people, respecting one another and working together for the benefit of our neighbors.”

Howard Ross

Ross encouraged attendees to acknowledge that they have biases — and then do something about it.

“Use a flashlight on yourself,” he said.

The impact of unconscious bias is real, manifesting itself in who gets hired, who is heard and how care providers interact with patients and families. Ross pointed to a study that found that medical students who are interviewed on a rainy day typically receive evaluation scores that are 10 percent lower than students interviewed on a sunny day. In another study, doctors gave overweight patients lower ratings than patients at an ideal weight.

In conscious inclusion, women and people of color are invited to take a seat at the table and share their unique insights.

“When we expect people to act like the mainstream, we are losing the value of diversity,” he said. “Without the ability to be one’s self, we lose that person’s creativity.”

Being excluded from a group triggers activity in the same regions of the brain associated with physical pain. In recognizing the feelings of others, we draw closer to Christiana Care’s values of Excellence and Love, he said.

“Most of us need to link to other people in order to feel complete,” he said. “It behooves us to ask people to be part of the group, to invite them to lunch, to say ‘you look like you are having a hard day. Are you doing OK?’”

He said that innovation is one of the biggest benefits of diversity and inclusion.

“When women became architects, you started to see things like putting washing machines in the living area instead of in the basement.”

Cultural competency plays a vital role in quality care, impacting such issues as language interpretation, family visitation and dietary needs.

Ross noted that Vietnamese women often experience dehydration during and after childbirth because of a cultural tradition of avoiding cold drinks in situations that involve hemorrhaging.

“Instead of offering a woman cold water and ice chips, the nurse might ask what temperature she would like her water to be,” he said.

Luisa Ortiz, Healthy Families program manager at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute, said she came to the event in hopes of gaining new insights in cultural competency.

“We need to be sensitive to everybody’s culture,” she said. “Every single day I learn something from someone in another culture.”

Ross encouraged attendees to move forward with compassion and vulnerability, to stand up boldly for what is right — and move past the guilt for the times they didn’t stand up.

He also advocated “constructive uncertainty,” the acknowledgement that everyone has something to learn.

“Take a break, have somebody else read that e-mail before you send it,” he said. “Explore awkwardness. Engage with people you consider others and expose yourself to exemplars from the group. Find ways to get feedback. Find someone you have been awkward with and invite them to lunch. Say ‘I would really like to get to know you more.’”

Don’t let concerns about rocking the boat sink efforts to improve inclusion, diversity and cultural competence.

“Pandora’s box is only a problem if there is something in it,” he said. “And if there is something in it, it’s better that it be examined than simmer beneath the surface.”