By Marilyn Johnson
Title V/Maternal Child Health Director
Mississippi State Department of Health
"Diversity!" We're hearing that word a lot these days. While some major corporations have dominated the news about diversity issues, every workplace in America – including Title V programs – should notice how organizations are changing the way they approach diversity.
Organizations are hosting diversity-themed conferences. Corporations are including unconscious bias seminars in their new hire orientations. Businesses are literally halting their service hours to provide mandatory diversity and inclusion training for their employees.
What's different about these and other approaches? Traditionally, organizations viewed diversity as a numerical representation of how many people of a certain group they employed. Now, however, they are placing value on promoting policies that support diversity, equity, and inclusion for the sake of the communities they serve. For example, Starbucks recently shut down its stores globally to provide a mandatory training for employees on eliminating unconscious bias, being inclusive, and serving diverse communities.
Title V programs are no different: We are realizing we must develop creative and innovative ways to attract and retain a diversified workforce. But what exactly does a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace look like, and why is it important for Title V programs?
A diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace is an environment that includes employees of various racial, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds while fostering an impartial and fair atmosphere by tailoring its resources and making accommodations to the specific needs of each employee. This means that individuals are given exactly what they need to be successful according to their specific needs. In the past 10 years, we have seen organizations actively diversify their staff, making strides to treat all employees equitably, – not just equally – and make improvements to hiring and training processes that have directly impacted their ability to better serve diverse communities. This emphasis on diverse and inclusive workspaces is critical for Title V programs because of their impact on promoting and improving the health services available to mothers, children, and families.
Title V remains the only federal program that focuses solely on improving the health of all mothers and children, especially those with low income and/or limited access to care. Title V seeks to provide family-centered, community-based systems of coordinated care for children with special health care needs.
While Title V programs deliver these services phenomenally well, one challenge is that the significant demographic differences between their staff and the people they serve. While the populations served are becoming ever more diverse, the 2016 AMCHP Workforce Assessment Survey revealed that over half of the Title V workforce surveyed was Caucasian (over 70 percent).
Despite difficult economic circumstances and bureaucratic obstacles, Title V programs must create intentional and informed hiring processes that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within the workforce. This uniquely positions Title V to lead major initiatives for women and children by creating a well-trained, culturally competent workforce that reflects the nation's growing diversity.