Diversity as a Pharmacy Business Strategy


Is diversity a business strategy in your organization?

One of the questions posed to me during my pharmacy school interview was, “How would you handle diversity in the workplace?”

To be honest, I hadn’t expected this question. I’d prepared answers to “Why pharmacy?” and “Describe a recent accomplishment,” but I hadn’t prepared for what my 19-year-old self naïvely perceived as a “non-pharmacy” question.

So, thinking on my feet, I took a breath and gave an answer. Three years later, and with plenty of opportunity to mull it over, I’d still give the same answer today: Diversity isn’t something to be “handled;” it’s something to be harnessed and utilized.

We often think of racial or cultural differences when we hear “diversity,” but it presents in many forms, including social background, interests, profession, and philosophy. In the workplace, we face problems that are multifaceted. If we look at them all through the same lens, we can’t address each facet. But, if we look at them from different perspectives, we can formulate the best solution for all facets.

That was my answer in so many words. I could tell by the looks on my interviewers’ faces that they were satisfied and frankly, a little surprised.

Now, I realize there’s a significant amount of truth in my off-the-cuff answer.

Diversity as a Competitive Strategy

Michael Porter, the father of competitive advantage, described the “essence of strategy” as “choosing to perform activities differently than rivals do.” The foresight required to envision, the innovation required to implement, and the courage required to break from the herd and do something differently all require the same thing: diversity in thought and expertise.

This highlights the importance of teams with diverse backgrounds that share and work toward a common goal. A fitting example of this in health care is an interdisciplinary team providing patient-centered care.

Applying the concept of strategy, it’s seemingly sensible to start by including a pharmacist on every health care team. An assiduous family practice, for instance, could start by incorporating a pharmacist as the medication expert.

Diversity as a Competitive Advantage

Competitive strategy allows businesses to perform different activities differently, while competitive advantage allows businesses to perform the same activities either cheaper or at a similar cost, but for higher value.

Diversity among team members facilitates competitive advantage by enhancing an organization’s abilities to accomplish 2 things:

1. Anticipate needs and accommodate a wider variety of consumers

2. Provide superior solutions through team-based approaches

As a practical example, a patient at a family practice with a pharmacist may have a co-pay comparable to a practice without one, but they’d receive the indispensable value of medication therapy management.

Pharmacy leaders are decision-makers. When faced with a real-life situation of diversity in the workplace, leaders would be wise to opt for continued diversification of their teams’ skillset and expertise.

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