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Perceptions of DEI within health services and policy research workplaces

Tom Stanoch | August 16, 2022

University of Minnesota School of Public Health postdoctoral fellow Tongtan (Bert) Chantarat co-led a study, published in Health Services Research, that quantifies problems involving workplace climate, culture and professional discrimination experienced by researchers within the health services and policy research (HSPR) field. His collaborators are Taylor B. Rogers (University of California, Los Angeles), Carmen R. Mitchell (University of Louisville) and Michelle J. Ko (University of California, Davis).

In the HSPR field, researchers use multidisciplinary research approaches to understand health and healthcare problems. Their work includes identifying strategies to dismantle structural oppression and its health impacts. To accomplish this, it is vital that researchers look at challenges to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within their own field.

Prior research has shown significant gaps remain for groups historically and structurally excluded from health professions, including those who are Black, Hispanic/Latinx and LGBQTI+. The study surveyed 906 researchers and trainees in the U.S. to understand the professional climate in HSPR workplaces, such as universities, non-academic institutes and private corporations, and to ascertain efforts to advance DEI in the HSPR workforce.

The research found:

  • Fewer than 30% of respondents agreed that their work environment reflects the diversity of their community
  • Nearly 40% of respondents believed that DEI initiatives at their institutions were “tokenistic,” or symbolic, rather than substantive
  • Respondents who identify as women, LGBQTI+ community members, Black/African American or Hispanic/Latinx and people with disabilities felt that their institutional DEI efforts were more tokenistic than the respondents who were men, heterosexual, white or without a disability
  • Fewer than 40% of respondents who were Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx, LGBTQI+ and/or disabled said that they felt a sense of belonging within their institution
  • 70% of Black/African American participants, 55% Hispanic/Latinx and 54% of South Asian participants said they had experienced discrimination in the workplace due to their race and/or ethnicity, while only 4% of non-Hispanic/Latinx white respondents reported they had experienced discrimination

“When people talk about DEI, most focus on the diversity part because they can report statistics to show ‘progress,’” said Chantarat. “But, it is just as important to ensure that workplaces have systems to support the success of those from historically and structurally excluded groups. We will not achieve health equity if we continue to uphold harmful environments that push researchers from our workforce.”

These findings help identify areas for growth to strengthen the HSPR workplace climate. Prior research has shown that non-inclusive work conditions have driven Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx scholars from academic institutions.

Workplace equity and inclusion are also necessary components for ensuring sustainability of DEI efforts. HSPR research plays a critical role in the work of health equity, and it is vital that self-awareness, accountability and substantive institutional reform occurs within the field itself. The Workplace Culture Survey, which the study team used to collect the data, is available for future projects to use.

This work is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in cooperation with the UC Davis Center for a Diverse Health Workforce. Participant recruitment support was provided by AcademyHealth; however, AcademyHealth did not provide financial support for this project, and  was not involved in the design of the study or the analysis and interpretation of the results. Additional technical support was provided by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the UCLA Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice, and Health.

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