Bringing a Culture of Belonging to Pharmacy
Leaders must fully understand the benefits of diversity and create an environment in which it thrives to cultivate and inspire the next generation of inclusive leaders.
Leadership theories and styles have been studied for many years and are thought to be essential for the success of every team. Experts devise leadership theories to identify what makes successful leaders excel, how they evaluate options, and why they make adjustments. However, a leadership style that is rooted in an individual’s philosophy and personality can help build a strong culture of belonging.
Inclusive leadership begins with personal assessment, reflection, and a commitment to continued growth to reach one’s fullest capacity to lead. It’s a distinct style of leadership that calls on leaders to be intentional in building a diverse team, embracing collaboration, and prioritizing communication while demonstrating respect for each person’s unique viewpoints. Inclusive leaders go the extra mile to use the knowledge and experiences of their entire team when making decisions to find the best solution.
The Shift from Hierarchy to Inclusion
Over the generations, leadership styles and philosophies have evolved. Today, leaders realize that it’s not fixed abilities, innate characteristics, or command and authority that move a team toward success. In this new era, leader expectations have shifted to include valuing people over productivity.
Successful leaders must promote inclusion, foster engagement, and practice active listening in dedicating energy to the workforce for sustainability and success. Leaders must fully understand the benefits of diversity and create an environment in which it thrives to cultivate and inspire the next generation of inclusive leaders.
Sometimes in our effort to focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and build an inclusive environment, we may emphasize metrics over culture and relationships. However, culture, defined as a sense of belonging or fitting into the bigger picture, is a contributing factor when attracting and retaining talent.1
Research has shown that individuals remain in organizations in which they feel that they belong and the organization is truly concerned about their well-being.2 In the article, "How Sharing Our Stories Builds Inclusion," the authors suggest that “An overly mathematical approach actually deemphasizes the very thing we hope to build in inclusive workplaces: awareness, connection, empathy, and mutual respect.” They further emphasize that “Numbers typically don’t inspire us to change our behavior—people and stories do.”3
If we want to transform organizational culture, a balanced focus on inclusive leadership that emphasizes people, relationships, and outcomes is necessary. People must feel that they are seen, heard, and appreciated. A sense of belonging is necessary.
Gary Portnoy may have said it best in the theme song from the TV show Cheers:
"Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they're always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name"
Diversity Makes Us Smarter
Inclusive leaders ensure diverse perspectives are solicited and considered when making decisions. This process of building informational diversity has been shown to fuel innovation and creativity. Why is this more important now than ever?
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the health care industry to become agile, decisive, and creative. New patient care sites, models of care, and mass vaccination clinics were created to meet urgent needs.
Companies that were most successful in accomplishing these tasks efficiently were those that created taskforces or command centers composed of many subject matter experts from all areas of the health-system and community. These individuals shared information, opinions, and perspectives that led to smarter decisions. As Dr Katherine Phillips said in her article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, "We need diversity if we are to change, grow, and innovate."4
Everyone Plays a Role
Creating a welcoming, inclusive environment is not just the responsibility of the DEI division or executive leaders. Each person is a leader in their own right and must lead from their own sphere of influence.
Inclusive leaders truly have a personal responsibility to create environments in which others are encouraged to contribute and their feedback is used to implement change. In addition, each person on the team has a responsibility to speak up in these environments to ensure that they are positively contributing to change. Patricia Roberts reminds us that inclusion is a 2-way street, and each individual must take accountability for including themselves.5
Cultivate the Culture
Leadership requires a vision, innovative thinking, and an intentional effort to meet people where they are and move them forward. Inclusive leaders seek out opportunities to promote a collective commitment to DEI.
At the request of the chief pharmacy executive, pharmacy leaders completed a 3-part DEI foundational series. The series supported the system’s overarching goal to build a more productive, equitable, and respectful workplace culture.
Each session helped to define and recognize the importance of DEI in the workplace, identifying and mitigating conscious and unconscious bias. In addition, there was a focus on DEI-related strategies to develop inclusive teams to build a culture of belonging.
The CPE cultivated leadership buy-in and united the pharmacy divisional leaders in a common goal to repair the culture that had been disconnected from the broader mission due to historical challenges. The first step for pharmacy leaders was to complete the DEI series, which raised their personal awareness and subsequently highlighted the need to cascade these principles across the entire service line. The series, along with a strong commitment and clear expectations from the CPE, inspired pharmacy leaders to develop the WE Tapestry Campaign.
This 1-year campaign, developed as a collaboration between DEI and pharmacy leadership, was to extend the service line’s commitment to cultural transformation, open dialogue, and continuous improvement to deliver on the promise of "Together, WE Belong."
The DEI foundational terms—diversity, equity, inclusion, and cultural humility/responsiveness—were used each quarter to engage teams with multimodal resources for team huddles, group discussions, and weekly reflections from the CPE. This immersion program utilized a host of marketing materials, including posters, banners, buttons, and wrist bands, to maximize impact and awareness for each quarterly focus.
The leaders were asked to model transparency and vulnerability while connecting the resources to personal experiences during their team huddles and reflections. In addition, feedback from staff and leaders was crucial to improve the content for each quarter. This allowed everyone to have a voice in what was taught, shared, and learned as we worked together to cultivate and reshape a culture of belonging.
Beginning the Transformation
A formal campaign takes time to develop but should not delay efforts. Begin with your circle of influence in your team, department, or organization.
If you are in an executive or service line leadership role, you may have more resources available to develop a larger, more visible program; however, this is not necessary to truly transform your workplace culture. A practical way to share the responsibility is to speak up.
If in a finance meeting, encourage thinking from a diverse lens. As the team is making decisions around a company meal, speak up to ensure there are food options present for those with specific dietary preferences or needs. Something as simple as speaking up during these moments encourages others around you to think about diversity and inclusion.
The Time is NOW
The time for DEI is always NOW! Boutique, pocket, pilot, and grassroots programs are where most DEI work was born. A small group pushing from the middle, a few leaders blazing a trail, or grant funds to incentivize and inspire innovation are all possible launching pads to start transforming your organization’s culture. There are many working models, the key is to find the one that works for your organization.
The 3 essential elements in transforming any culture is to first understand the organization’s existing culture and priorities, then provide continuous opportunities for education and awareness, and lastly, to cultivate more inclusive leaders. To ensure sustainability, these elements must be woven into a larger plan to maintain a culture of belonging.
- Hunt, V, Layton, D, and Sara Prince. Diversity Matters. McKinsey Report. 2015, Feb 2. Available at https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/business%20functions/people%20and%20organizational%20performance/our%20insights/why%20diversity%20matters/diversity%20matters.pdf
- Strayhorn, TL. “Why Workplace Belonging is Critical to Your Bottom Line,” Thrive. Accessible at https://thriveglobal.com/stories/why-workplace-belonging-is-critical-to-your-bottom-line/
- Rezvani, Selena and Stacey Gordon. “How Sharing Our Stories Builds Inclusion,” Harvard Business Review, 2021, Nov 1. Accessible at https://hbr.org/2021/11/how-sharing-our-stories-builds-inclusion
- Katherine Phillips. “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” Greater Good Magazine, 2018, Sep 18. Accessible at https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_diversity_makes_us_smarter#:~:text=Diversity%20enhances%20creativity.,unfettered%20discoveries%20and%20breakthrough%20innovations.
- Patricia Roberts. “Inclusion is a Two-way Street,” The HR Director, 2022, July 18. Accessible at https://www.thehrdirector.com/features/leadership/inclusion-is-a-two-way-street/