Diversity and inclusion tend to get more lip service than action, often because business leaders don’t always recognize the connection between the two and company performance. That’s a mistake, because they are inextricably linked.

In fairness, creating a diverse company can be a challenge if you’re leading a new company and don’t know where to start, or if you’re a more established leader whose company didn’t prioritize diversity early on. But it’s a challenge worth tackling head on: fostering a culture of diversity isn’t just the right thing to do for your people, it’s good business.

I believe that this is particularly true in health care, an industry that has a profound impact on all of us and the quality of our lives. Consider that 78 percent of women consider themselves to be the primary health care decision-maker for their households, yet women hold only 10 to 12 percent of CEO roles at health care startups.

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Diversity, of course, extends far beyond gender equality, and inclusion is about supporting and empowering all underrepresented groups, from people of color to the LGBTQ community and beyond. So how do we ensure that more diverse individuals are given roles in shaping the future of the health care industry? And how do we build companies to reflect this future?

Having spent many years at leading Silicon Valley companies like Google and Square before joining Collective Health, I believe that diverse companies start with leadership. Not just verbal support, but a meaningful commitment to ensuring that the company bakes diversity into its DNA.

The next generation of health care companies has a unique opportunity to construct their work forces to be as diverse as possible. Here are some of the things we’ve done at Collective Health that any new or existing company can do.

The Collective Health approach

Ali Diab, Collective Health’s co-founder and CEO, had a vision to build a health care company that mirrors the diversity of the populations it would eventually serve. The son of Syrian immigrants, Ali’s perspective on the power of inclusion was shaped during his childhood as he observed the challenges his mother faced as a female surgeon — both in Syria and the United States. When he founded Collective Health, he made it clear that diversity would be a priority from the outset, and that each member of the leadership group was expected to ensure that her or his team reflected this vision.

Equal pay for equal work is the foundation for any meaningful diversity initiative. Considering that women made 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earned in 2018, the wage gap is one of the most egregious instances of inequality in the workplace today. In 2016, my team focused on closing a wage gap that had developed as Collective Health grew quickly. Our CEO supported the initiative and provided the financial resources to ensure it was successful. Today, there no wage gap exists at Collective Health. And while our methodology is unique to our workforce, the fix for other companies is actually straightforward: do the math and pay out the difference. A helpful resource for getting started is re:Work with Google.

We also prioritize diversity and inclusion as part of our recruiting and retention practices by using the latest resources. There are many options available today that weren’t available 10 years ago, from technology like Textio to organizations like Grace Hopper, Paradigm, and /dev/color. These platforms and programs have helped us reduce bias and ensure that career opportunities at Collective Health are based strictly on merit.

While leadership support is important, so is empowering employees to help build a diverse company they can be proud of. With the support of leadership, our employees have created five inclusion groups representing African Americans, the LGBTQ community, women, Hispanic and Latino Americans, and, most recently, Asians and Pacific Islanders. These groups represent the best of what our culture stands for in making sure every person’s voice is heard.

Not only do the groups make a huge impression on the company culture, but they also work to encourage diversity in the broader community on behalf of Collective Health. In 2018, this included several initiatives. One was a career fair hosted at Collective Health aimed at helping African American students prepare for job opportunities. For another, a team represented Collective Health at the Lesbians Who Tech + Allies Career Fair, one of the largest LGBTQ professional events in the world.

None of what I’ve mentioned so far will have the desired impact without communicating regularly and openly with employees, and if diversity is not benchmarked like other parts of the business. It’s important to track progress on these initiatives constantly, reconfigure people operations or human resources processes as necessary, and be honest about where improvements are needed. We monitor the makeup of the Collective Health workforce every time we run a salary review, merit cycle, promotion process, or when making an offer.

A good mechanism for pressure testing diversity efforts is to provide employees with a platform to regularly hold leadership accountable. We hold a Q&A session with the leadership team during each bimonthly all-hands-on-deck meeting. People are encouraged to ask everything from “Are we looking for more diversity on our board?” to “How can we as a corporation be more active in the community to support marginalized groups?”

I’m proud of what we’ve achieved at Collective Health, but we still have a lot of work to do. For example, we’ve been able to maintain a 1:1 female-to-male ratio among our workforce and in management roles, but we want to improve the ratio across our senior leadership team.

Much of the work I’ve mentioned is foundational. But it’s the fundamentals that matter most when it comes to establishing a company with an inclusive culture. It’s easiest to build a truly diverse company if you take steps like these early on, but it’s never too late to start as long as you’re prepared to act quickly and understand it’s a process that will require a concerted effort across your organization.

Jude Komuves is the chief people officer of Collective Health.

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