A string of high-profile health companies like Teladoc and CVSHealth have hired their first chief health equity officers this year as the industry grapples with troubling health disparities. But the people in these prominent positions — and the ones hiring them — say they’re still defining the role, and in some cases, fighting for buy-in and resources from others in their organizations.
The role surged in popularity in the past two years, as the pandemic took a disproportionate toll on minority communities and amid social movements including the response to George Floyd’s murder. Chief health equity officers at tech companies have been hired in spades with a sweeping remit: help tech companies foster diversity and inclusion in their own technical workforces, and then help them reach a more diverse pool of patients. It’s work that many of those hired had been doing for years behind the scenes. But while companies now want to elevate that work to a C-suite role, they’re still figuring out how exactly to do it.
“Because they don’t understand how to set strategy and the complexity of it and what all is involved, they think they can just put together some kind of cookie-cutter approach and then look to the health equity officers to come in and check a box and then sign off on it,” said Mary Stutts, who advises health care clients on equity at Real Chemistry. “And the health equity officers are like, ‘you haven’t even built it right from the beginning.’”
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