Why Hiring Women and Minorities is Good For Your Practice

Prioritizing diversity isn't just a good ethical principle — it's good business sense.

Hiring Diversity Color SplashWhat do companies like MasterCard, IBM and Dell have in common? They’re all successful organizations that make it a point to promote diversity in their hiring practices.

And it’s no coincidence that these organizations are thriving. Diversity has been linked with a host of tangible benefits to businesses, including increased sales revenue, greater market share, and higher profits.

With these kinds of gains, it seems obvious radiology practices and academic departments would want to foster diversity. Yet one of the most glaring examples of radiology’s homogeneity is the lack of women in the specialty. Despite the fact that 47 percent of medical students are women, only 27 percent of radiologists are female.

Sometime during their education, women are opting out of radiology. “There are enough women coming into the medical field, but we’re losing them somewhere along the way. Is it an issue of radiology not being able to attract diversity, or do women face an unwelcoming environment when they consider pursuing radiology? That’s something we need to figure out,” explains Carolyn C. Meltzer, MD, FACR, chair of the department of radiology and imaging sciences and associate dean for research at Emory University School of Medicine and a presenter at the ACR 2015TM session “Entrepreneurial Women Leaders in Radiology.”

M. Elizabeth Oates, MD, chair of the department of radiology at the University of Kentucky and former president of the American Association for Women Radiologists, acknowledges that some aspects of radiology may not appeal to women. She hypothesizes that women may not pursue radiology because of a perceived lack of patient communication and interaction.

Many female physicians also assert that cultural factors play a role in radiology’s diversity shortage. For instance, “When I was in medical school, a good student was referred to as a ‘stud.’ Even in the language we used, masculinity was pervasive. Being strong and having male characteristics was perceived as essential to being a good physician. And although the term was meant positively, things like this can make women physicians feel unwelcome,” says Meltzer.

The male-oriented atmosphere may affect medicine as a whole, but it can be worse within specialties in which males are the majority. These specialties may need to make extra efforts to foster a more gender-neutral culture, according to Oates.

“I saw a presentation a few months ago where the presenter featured a picture of his residents. They all looked the same — about 20 male faces. I thought, ‘Why would a woman want to go into that program? She’d have to be comfortable knowing she didn’t have any colleagues like herself,’” she says.

Radiology groups that are not inviting diversity into their practices may be selling themselves short. Research into some of the top innovative businesses shows that having a diverse set of voices — be it in terms of class, race, gender, or sexuality — fosters success.

Cristian Deszö, PhD, of the University of Maryland, and David Ross, PhD, of Columbia University, analyzed the effect of gender diversity on the top firms in Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 list. They found, on average, companies that valued innovation and had female participation in upper management saw an increase of at least $42 million in firm value over the span of 15 years.

Bottom line aside, it makes sense for your workforce to mirror your patient population. Patients feel more comfortable when the physicians they see resemble the makeup of their own community, Oates says. Studies have shown that female patients prefer female physicians and report higher satisfaction scores when they see female physicians.

Ultimately, says Oates, promoting diversity is all about awareness. “There are a lot of women who have the capabilities and potential to become real leaders in the field, but we have to find them and recognize those who have made contributions,” she says. “But unless you do this consciously, it won’t get done.”

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