Supporting Diversity in Nursing: 5 Best Practices

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Written by Katherine Zheng, PhD, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A diverse group of nurses and physicians have a discussion.

Cultural competence is an important aspect of delivering high quality care. One way to achieve this is by supporting diversity in nursing to ensure that patients and staff from all backgrounds feel seen and understood in the healthcare space. As the demographics of the U.S. population continue to expand, there’s an increasing need for the healthcare workforce to mirror this shift.

Building inclusivity is an ongoing process that requires thoughtful and comprehensive effort from nurses and healthcare professionals at all levels. We’ll outline best practices that facility leaders can follow to strengthen their system-wide initiatives and support a more culturally diverse environment.

What Is Diversity in Healthcare?

You may be wondering, what is cultural diversity and why does it matter for healthcare facilities? Health researchers have long recognized the importance of fostering a workforce that reflects the communities that are being served. Particularly in nursing, this signifies the need to recruit and retain individuals who are underrepresented within the profession.

Diversifying Race in Nursing

According to the National Nursing Workforce Survey, the majority (roughly 81%) of registered nurses (RNs) identify as White or Caucasian. This means that in order to foster diversity, there must be a focus on recruiting individuals from Black, African American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, Alaskan/Hawaiian native, and Pacific Islander communities.

Diversifying Gender in Nursing

In regard to gender, about 90% of RNs identify as female. While the number of nurses who identify as male is increasing each year, additional efforts are needed to break down gender stereotypes and biases that may be drawing men away from the nursing profession.

Additionally, 0.1% of RNs in the survey marked “other” when describing their gender identity compared to 0.6% of the general population. As such, it’s important to both recognize and increase representation of individuals who identify as non-binary or with a gender that doesn’t match sex at birth.

Why Is Diversity in Nursing Important?

A more diverse nursing workforce leads to a healthier environment for both patients and staff. Nurses from underrepresented groups are more likely to advocate for their own communities and educate peers on how to deliver culturally competent care. Additionally, patients often prefer being treated by a team that reflects their own identities and backgrounds. This can lead to improved outcomes and reduced health disparities for underserved populations.

Among staff, supporting diversity is also necessary to reduce systemic racism and discrimination affecting minority nurses. For example, research has shown that peer-to-peer racism is, unfortunately, quite common among nurses. As such, there is an urgent need to elevate the collective voices and experiences of nurses from underrepresented communities.

5 Best Practices for Supporting a Diverse Nursing Environment

1. Gather Data That Informs a Strategic Plan Tailored to Your Facility

The efforts needed to support diversity will largely depend on the culture and environment at your facility. First and foremost, assess whether your workforce is representative of your patient population. For instance, if you primarily serve Hispanic communities, assigning nurses who can communicate with and understand the cultural needs of these patients can break down barriers to patient-centered care.

Additionally, establish safe platforms for minority nurses to voice concerns or share their experiences in the workplace. Consider sending out staff surveys or creating a grievance system — perhaps with the help of a Chief Diversity Officer — to identify areas in which diversity and inclusion need more work.

2. Diversify Your Recruitment Practices

Once you have an understanding of the needs of your staff and patients, reevaluate your recruitment strategy accordingly. Educate your recruiters about potential biases that may be hindering inclusivity in the hiring process. For example, job descriptions should be written with language that welcomes qualified candidates of all genders, cultures, and backgrounds to apply.

Additionally, ensure your recruitment team is attending career fairs and events that are centered around diversity and inclusion efforts. This may also include virtual or social media-based initiatives that reach candidates from underrepresented groups.

3. Foster Diversity in Nursing Education

A lack of minority educators can signal to students that the nursing profession does not value diversity. While academic education is delivered at universities, facilities also play a role in establishing clinical preceptorship programs that train future nursing professionals.

Consider providing incentives, such as minority scholarships or educational credits, as a way to recruit underrepresented nurses into preceptorship roles. This can also be done in collaboration with universities that partner with your facility for their clinical rotations.

4. Build Representation on Leadership Teams

In a survey of over 5,600 nurses, more than half of respondents experienced an act of racism by a manager/supervisor in the workplace. Additionally, over half of those who spoke up about these incidents said that their efforts led to no action.

Beyond recruiting nurses from underrepresented backgrounds, it’s important to lead by example and increase diversity in nursing leadership. Nurses must be seen and heard in order for change to occur. For minority groups, being able to turn to a leader who shares the same lived experiences as them fosters the trust and communication needed to build an inclusive environment.

5. Bridge Gaps in Understanding Among Your Staff

Fostering diversity also requires ongoing conversation and reflection to understand how to best support underrepresented nurses. If acts of racism and discrimination are reported at your facility, it’s important to unpack the root of these incidents. Open up dialogue with your staff and find ways to educate your workforce directly from the voices of minority nurses.

Addressing racism requires long-term, individual efforts to unlearn harmful biases and stereotypes. While this can take time, consider starting with resources and toolkits provided by the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing and the American Nurses Association.

Discover More Ways to Foster Diversity in Nursing

It’s important to recognize that building diversity and inclusion requires a multifaceted approach that stems beyond the scope of this article. Don’t miss out on other free tips, strategies, and guides that can help you foster a healthier and more diverse workforce.