Minority Hospital/Health System CEO Leadership

Posted on Jul 25, 2016 in Executive Leadership, Healthcare Leadership

Viewpoint on Institute for Diversity in Health Management Study Results


Diane L. Dixon, EdD


In June 2016 the Institute for Diversity in Health Management and the Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET), both affiliates of the American Hospital Association, published results of the 2015 Benchmarking Survey (www.diversityconnection.org/). This was a national survey of hospitals and health systems. The purpose was to quantify action steps that they are taking to reduce health care disparities and promote diversity in leadership and governance.

Study Results

Study results indicate that while minorities represent 32% of patients in hospitals that responded to the survey, only 11% of minorities are in executive leadership positions. This was 1% less than the 2013 and 2011 studies. Specifically, at the CEO level only 9% are minorities; unchanged from the two previous studies. Clearly, there is an opportunity to improve minority representation in executive leadership positions so that it is on par with patient demographics.

Why Minority CEOs?

Why is there particular interest in the CEO level? While the entire executive team plays a key role in organization development, CEO leadership significantly influences strategy development and organizational culture. The top leader provides strategic direction for the team. In a study conducted by Carmeli, Schaubroeck and Tishler (2011) results indicated that CEO empowering leadership influences top management team processes that, in turn, contributes to organizational performance[1]. The CEO articulates the vision for change and sets the tone for engagement required to achieve strategic goals. Notable scholars such Donald C. Hambrick, PhD and Sidney Finkelstein, PhD have studied and documented the impact that CEOs have on executive teams and organizations.[2]

More specifically related to healthcare, Janice Dreachslin, PhD and Fred Hobby in their article on “Racial and Ethnic Disparities: Why Diversity Leadership Matters” (2008) , indicated that culturally competent healthcare organizations will be developed by leaders “who create an organizational context in which cultural competence is enabled, cultivated, and reinforced”[3]. It is reasonable to posit that the CEO influences the development of cultural competent hospitals and health systems that serve diverse communities. Given that patient populations are increasingly becoming diverse, increasing the number of minority CEOs that are representative of these populations provides the opportunity to further enhance the good work that is already being done to develop culturally competent healthcare organizations.

Implications for Change

The study results raise several questions that need to be explored. I think we need to find out why the percentage of minority hospital and health system CEOs has remained unchanged for the last six years. The executive path is challenging for all who pursue it. But are there different challenges for racial and ethnic minorities? If there are different challenges, what are they and what are methods for addressing them? Do racial and ethnic minorities have access to executive development opportunities that would position them for the C-suite? What strategies have been used by hospitals and health systems to position minority leaders for executive roles? What career experiences are most likely to lead to executive level positions in hospitals and health systems? Do minorities have the opportunity to engage in these career experiences? These are just a few questions that come to mind. It is important to conduct research that has practical applications so that these questions can begin to be answered and purposeful follow-up action can be taken to affect change.


[1] Carmeli, A., Schubroeck, J. & Tishler, A. (2011). How CEO empowering leadership shapes top management team processes: Implications for firm performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 22, 399-411.

[2] Finkelstein, S. & Hambrick, D.C. (1996). Strategic leadership: Top executives and their effects on organizations. West Publishing Company: Minneapolis/St.Paul, MN.

[3] Dreachslin, J. & Hobby, F. (2008). Racial and ethnic disparities: Why diversity leadership matters. Journal of Healthcare Management, 53(1), 8-13.

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