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“What exactly do you mean by that?” – Raising Awareness Within the Organization

By Azeem Mallick | Thursday, May 9, 2013
In collaboration with Nigel Deen, Research Assistant, Sandy Cohen, Research Associate, and Amy Reid, Research Associate

Whether you plan on addressing the diversity of your organization solely from within, or the needs of underserved populations in communities throughout the country, it is important to take a step back and remember that this work, while being extremely rewarding, will not be met without challenges and roadblocks. In our first post we discussed and outlined a process of how to begin such an endeavor. Here, we move ahead to discuss the challenge of raising awareness within one’s organization.


Earlier this year, the Diversity and Inclusion Council (the ‘Council’) held focus groups to understand how the organization felt as a whole about IHI’s level of involvement in Diversity and Inclusion. These focus groups also sought to gauge the community’s general awareness of the work being done by the Council. One truth quickly became clear: the staff did not share a common understanding of what we meant when using terms such as “diversity,” “inclusion,” “health equity,” “disparities,” or “cultural competency.” There was confusion as to whether this work was strictly internal, or if we would be dealing with these topics externally as well. Most importantly, there were different interpretations of what these terms meant to the focus group participants.


We realized we needed consistency. We needed everyone to grasp how we were defining and applying these terms. By building shared knowledge of what we were truly saying and hoping to achieve, the Council believed it would be easier to engage the entire organization and generate momentum for the work being done. Put another way: it’s fundamentally easier to explain what you stand for if you can articulate why you stand for it. Similarly, building will to confront any great challenge must begin with a collective understanding of the opponent. To this end, we developed a “one-pager” to express what we, as an organization, meant by health disparities, health equity, and cultural competency, and why we, as an organization, will work to provide equitable healthcare for all.


Creating a glossary will not single-handedly dispel the lack of awareness within any organization; it is simply one (of many) means to an end. However, by defining exactly what we mean by these terms, we will be able to hold ourselves accountable and evaluate whether or not we are fulfilling our own promises through our work.

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