Diversity Hiring in Health IT with Jenn Dennard of HealthITChicks

Diversity Hiring in Health IT

The conversation around scaling a healthcare company has expanded to include the role of diversity hiring in health IT. Studies have shown the beneficial impact of hiring a team with diverse backgrounds and more resources are now available to help hiring managers seed that diversity in their companies.

In this 3-part podcast interview, Jenn Dennard joins me to talk about all aspects of diversity hiring for healthcare IT companies. Jenn is the founder of #HealthITchicks, a grassroots, high-energy networking group of women (and men!) focused on raising awareness of gender-related issues in healthcare technology and the workplace at large. The #healthITchicks community strives – above all – to help its members invest in the personal and professional lives of each other, and of those in need.

In our chat, we cover:

  • Part 1: Benefits of Diversity Hiring at Healthcare IT Companies (9:16)
  • Find out why diversity hiring is such a hot topic among healthcare IT companies – and why your company must not be left behind!

  • Part 2: Current Trends, Opportunities and Challenges in Diversity Hiring at Healthcare IT Companies (11:07)
  • See how women in healthcare IT are steering startups in the right direction and learn what can be done to promote diversity during hiring.

  • Part 3: Resources for Hiring Managers at Healthcare IT Companies (12:00)
  • Discover what resources are out there for healthcare IT companies looking to hire a diverse team – and see how Apple is (again!) ahead of the curve.

This is an episode of Healthcare Lead Generation with Jennifer Michelle, a podcast that mixes lead generation tips with interviews of healthcare IT disruptors, innovative healthcare providers and health sector company leaders. Follow the podcast and #HCLeadGen to learn about growth strategies and navigating change in the healthcare sector.

Part 1: Benefits of Diversity Hiring in Healthcare IT Companies (Podcast Transcript)

Jennifer: 00:04 Hi, everyone! I’m Jennifer with Michelle Marketing Strategies. Today on Healthcare Lead Generation, we are talking with Jenn Dennard of HealthITchicks. Jenn Dennard is the Founder of this grassroots, high-energy networking group of women (and men!) focused on raising awareness of gender-related issues in healthcare tech and the workplace at large. The HealthITChicks community strives, above all, to help the members invest in the personal and professional lives with of each other and help those in need. You can find her at HealthITChicks.org or just follow #HealthITChicks on Twitter. Jen, welcome. I’m so glad you’re able to be with us today.

Jenn: 00:42 Thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.

Jennifer: 00:47 Well, it was something I was really excited about because I think the HealthITChicks do a lot of work with some really important issues that Health IT companies face. And that, frankly, I suspect all companies face to a certain degree, but certainly Healthcare IT, which is diversity. I think it’s become such a hot topic. And yet, I think a lot of companies and maybe people who were just coming into this world from other aspects of healthcare don’t really understand all the benefits that go into hiring with a mind towards diversity. So, I wanted to ask you a little bit about that and see if you could explain for everyone listening what the benefits are. I know there are far more than most people realize.

Jenn: 01:33 Sure, sure. So, diversity in terms of hiring and building out a development team in the area of healthcare technology has been, just as you mentioned, kind of a hot topic in our community for the last several months. We’ve seen it play out in the bigger media world, certainly, over the last year or two, as far as tech, in general, especially when you’re looking at places like Silicon Valley and the nation at large. It’s definitely an issue on everyone’s minds these days. But as far as healthcare technology goes and the world that we kind of play in, over the last several months, when we do touch on it in our tweet chats or blogs, everyone has come to a consensus that you need a diverse workforce. This is so you can create technology products that are used in healthcare environments where, number one, your end users, your providers, clinicians, nurses all come from different backgrounds. They have different workflows, they have different ways of using technology and then they’re caring for patients who are coming from diverse backgrounds. So it just makes sense that you want to have a team with diverse viewpoints, experiences, backgrounds creating products for end users and patients.

Jennifer: 03:09 One thing I find interesting is that you talk not just about diversity in terms of the people designing the technology, but thinking of it in terms of understanding the people who will be using it, like patients vs. caregivers being a prime example. Or versus providers, all of those different roles that are played. Can you speak to that a little bit? Because I do think those voices get lost and I think that is something healthcare tech can play a big role in.

Jenn: 03:40 Sure. Healthcare technology is such a broad world these days. You’ve got consumer health apps, tools. You’ve got the more traditional health IT tools that providers use in hospital – you know, your EHRs. So you really have to boil down who your end users are going to be. So if you have a provider end user, what’s their background? Were they trained on software at school? During their residency? What was that like? Are they prescribing a technology to a patient? And then what background does that patient have with technology? Are they elderly, are they looking to grab onto something that will help them age in place? Do they have a caregiver, a son or daughter who’s probably my age, who needs to understand how to use the technology? So diversity is so important these days.

Jenn: 04:44 And I think if you hop onto any of our chats or take a look at our website, you’ll see that it’s a really hot topic right now. I came across some interesting stats in prepping for the interview that really reinforced the notion that it’s a win-win as far as being a business case. There was a 13-year study done. It’s 3000 public companies and, in a nutshell they found that the more diverse workforces were able to get more products to market in a given year. I think that also speaks to the importance of hiring a workforce that reflects a broad spectrum of end users and patients.

Jennifer: 05:32 Absolutely. I do remember reading that and I thought that was extremely interesting that the numbers back it up. (Despite) everybody’s hesitation there, you can see the numbers just don’t do anything except support it. And now I wanted to ask you something else, because I know you said before that diversity, is not just on the development team. We talk about health IT and it’s easy to think, we mean the developers. We mean the people creating the software. But I know you’ve talked before that it includes leadership, it includes everybody. And I think that’s absolutely the case. I just wanted to know what are your thoughts are on that and do you feel most companies are seeing that, in this field, at least?

Jenn: 06:15 Health IT is a little slow on the uptake when it comes to – I don’t want to say paying attention, because I think everyone’s paying attention at this point – but finding ways to make sure that their leadership teams – C-suite, their Boards are diverse,. Especially with respect to women. The numbers are climbing a little bit. And of course I think the media attention is helping with that. But studies done outside of health IT and technology, in general, or even finance, just other verticals show that, when you have more women on your leadership teams, there’s greater productivity. There’s greater collaboration. At the end of the day, there are greater profits. I don’t have the stats per se on that study, but there’s been a handful done, probably in the last year, that reflect that.

Jennifer: 07:18 I also think one of the things that is great about HealthITChicks is that you helped make visible a lot of the different people, specifically women, in Health IT that others might not have even realized were there. That makes it a little easier for companies to find those resources – diverse developers, diverse leaders and the community. Has that been case?

Jenn: 07:43 I certainly hope so. That’s certainly something that we try to do and I’ve noticed that a rising tide certainly lifts all boats as the HealthITChicks community has grown and gotten more active over the last four plus years. I’ve seen other media outlets pick up that ball and roll with it. We’ve got an industry wide spotlight on issues like diversity in the workplace, which is great in terms of helping folks who really want to make diversity part of their corporate culture, find resources to help them do that.

Jennifer: 08:25 I think that is a beautiful point to close Part One on. For all of you listening, we usually do interviews in three parts and we were talking with Jenn Dennard. We’re going to come back and talk more about current trends and diversity in Healthcare IT companies and resources. I want to say thank you so much for being with us right now, Jenn!. And, to everyone who just joined us, we’re talking with Jenn Dennard of HealthITChicks. Jenn is the Founder of HealthITChicks, which is a grassroots, high-energy networking group of women and men focused on raising awareness of gender-related issues in healthcare technology and the workplace, at large. You can find her at HealthITChicks.org or follow #HealthITChicks. Everyone, we will return in Part Two, where we’ll discuss current trends, opportunities and challenges for hiring with diversity at Healthcare IT companies.

Part 2: Current Trends, Opportunities and Challenges in Diversity Hiring in Healthcare IT Companies (Podcast Transcript)

Jennifer: 00:06 Hi, everybody! Welcome back to Healthcare Lead Generation. We are speaking with the fantastic Jenn Dennard of #HealthITchicks. She founded HealthITChicks as a grassroots, high-energy networking group of women and men focused on raising awareness of gender-related issues in healthcare technology and the workplace, at large. You can find her at HealthITChicks.org or follow #HealthITChicks on Twitter. In Part One, we talked about the benefits of diversity hiring at healthcare technology companies. Now we’re back with Jen to talk about current trends, opportunities and challenges for diversity hiring in healthcare IT. So, Jen, welcome back! I’m so glad to have you here with us.

Jenn: 00:43 Thank you. You flatter me with your intro.

Jennifer: 00:47 Well, it, it is awesome what you’re doing. I think that it was amazing for you to see that there was a need to highlight all the HealthITChicks out there and I think it’s one of those things that helps people realize that this image we have of who a software developer is, is maybe different. Or who a leader in this field is, it’s different than we might’ve thought and I think that’s fantastic. I am really curious to hear what you see as some of the trends or the challenges in diversity hiring. I know that you’ve mentioned blind resumes as part of that and I’d love to hear more about that but anything you want to talk about I’d love to hear because I have a lot I can learn about this.

Jenn: 01:36 Okay, great. Well, I’ve got to preface this by saying that I am not in HR but I have certainly been on the interview side of the hiring process and we all know how painful that can be. And I have to assume that hiring managers and companies obviously want the most qualified person for the job. Then, when you add diversity into it, it kind of makes the hiring process challenging. How do you have a corporate culture that is diverse and is the best of the best?

Jenn: 02:11 In the community, we’re always on the lookout for hiring practices that can help our members and incorporate diverse hiring practices into their processes. And I came across several articles in the last year or two, about the concept of blind resumes, which turns out is part of a larger idea of blind recruitment. Essentially, that means you’re submitting resumes without identifying the applicant’s gender. Or even their names. sometimes, because come to find out that people with more ethnic-sounding names need to send out 50 percent more resumes before getting call backs than people who don’t have ethnic-sounding names. That surprised me.

Jennifer: 03:08 Yet, when you hear it, it’s shocking but it also on some levels isn’t surprising.

Jenn: 03:12 It all goes back to that kind of unconscious bias that we all tend to have and don’t even know we have it. Practices like this can really help. This was new to me and you may have heard of this, Jennifer, but there’s been a trend in the orchestra world, blind auditions. Apparently, and I didn’t know this until I started digging into it. I’d never heard of that. Orchestras have been predominantly male. And, to get more females to audition and get into the orchestra pit, so to speak, they started having blind auditions where applicants would come and audition behind a screen. So, of course, all that was heard was the music. You didn’t see who was who was playing. And, sure enough, more females got hired through that hiring process.

Jennifer: 04:16 That’s amazing, because I know that they’ve done that with coding, with men and women coders. And that the women’s code was actually better than the men’s more often, but only when they couldn’t tell who created it. I don’t remember what the statistics were but it was the same thing, that they’re is such an implicit bias that, even with the hardcore evidence of the music or the code right in front of the person, they still didn’t see it for that.

Jenn: 04:42 Right? Yeah. It’s just, it’s an interesting psychological phenomenon.

Jennifer: 04:47 It’s a little scary because it just shows the difference between how we think we are and what we’re really working on subconsciously. And so there is that disconnect. I would never want to be biased and yet, oh wow. I just did that. And I think that’s true of all humans. So let me ask you this: I know that in different careers you often hear about women being mommy tracked because they take breaks more often. And sometimes it’s not just for being a parent, sometimes it’s because they are being a caregiver for someone else in their family or doing something else in their world But that can be a concern for people hiring and I wondered if you could talk about that a little bit.

Jenn: 05:35 Yeah, that’s definitely, from a personal perspective, something that I’ve certainly thought about. I won’t say I’ve encountered it. I have two daughters, so I’ve taken two maternity leaves and I just always knew that I was going to take as much time off as possible. No matter how poor it left me and my husband.

Jennifer: 05:59 That is the choice that you wind up making, isn’t it so often?

Jenn: 06:02 It opens up a bigger can of worms in terms of conversations about parental leave for fathers, but I think women have to really take a hard look at the kind of company that they work for or they want to work for, whether they’re pregnant, whether they’re hoping to become pregnant one day. I knew that I was working for a very family-friendly company at the time and would have no problem stepping back into my role should I want it.

Jenn: 06:43 I opted to go part time when I got back to work with my first child because I just really wanted to have that time with her. And that route has now kind of evolved into me taking an almost lateral move in terms of working from home. I have a full-time job, I work from home. I am around my kids 24/7 summertime now so it feels like every minute of the day we’re together. A lot of moms don’t have that luxury or that’s not a good fit for them. So it’s really about corporate culture.

Jennifer: 07:24 Absolutely. Did you happen to see that New York Times article from like a week ago on pregnancy discrimination?

Jenn: 07:24 I did and sadly, it wasn’t shocking to me.

Jennifer: 07:37 No, but it’s still horrifying. I always love the ones where they won’t let a pregnant woman for whatever carrier that was because she couldn’t lift certain packages. But all a guy had to say was, I’ve got a bad back and it was fine and he was still valued. That just blew my mind, except of course, of course.

Jenn: 08:03 Yeah, go check out the article.

Jennifer: 08:04 Yeah. Audience, everybody else, go check out that article. Great article.

Jenn: 08:08 You know, Jennifer, you kind of bring up another good point. That, in the health IT world, it takes community. A lot of our members work for startups and small companies just getting off the ground who may not even have dealt with pregnant employees before. So they’re kind of starting from ground zero as far as creating those HR policies and making sure their employees feel valued and figuring out how to handle it. So women in those types of situations have an opportunity to steer their company in the right direction by setting an example.

Jennifer: 08:52 I think it’s interesting because startups often have the value of being very diverse and often get a little stuck on how to make that happen or where their own blind spots are tripping them up. So I think a group like HealthITChicks can make that a little smoother for them by either helping the leadership or just providing resources, or even just the support needed for maybe a developer to bring that to their attention. I think that’s extremely useful. I think that’s one of the most useful things that you guys do is just bring up that conversation.

Jenn: 09:27 Thanks. And you know, I have to tell your audience if any of what we’re speaking about is an interest and you want those resources, our LinkedIn group is chock-full of articles on diversity. I spend a good bit of my morning every day going through newsletters and tweets and Facebook posts and sharing all that on the LinkedIn group. So if you’ve got some time, just scroll through and you’ll find additional resources on diversity in hiring.

Jennifer: 10:01 Well, and again, you gave me a perfect segue because that’s what we’re talking about in Part Three. So, everyone, what we do is talk in three parts so, if you’re new to the Healthcare Lead Generation podcast, we do interviews in three parts. Makes it a little easier to listen to. In this one, we were talking about current trends, opportunities and challenges in diversity hiring. In Part One, we were talking about the benefits of diversity hiring. We’re going to come back in Part Three and talk about resources for hiring managers. So, Jenn, thank you so much. That brings us to the end of Part Two. For everybody listening, we’re talking with Jenn Dennard of HealthITChicks and she founded this amazing networking group of women and men who are focusing on raising awareness for gender-related issues in healthcare IT and other sectors, and throughout all of healthcare. You can find he at HealthITChicks.org or just follow #HealthITChicks on Twitter. Thank you, everyone, and thanks especially to you, Jenn. Come catch us back in Part Three.

Part 3: Resources for Hiring Managers at Healthcare IT Companies (Podcast Transcript)

Jennifer: 00:06 Hi, everybody! Welcome back to Healthcare Lead Generation. We are speaking with the fantastic Jenn Dennard of #HealthITchicks and I was so excited to have her join us because she is the Founder of HealthITChicks, which is a networking group of women and men to raise awareness of gender-related issues in healthcare IT. So it’s this amazing group that you can find at HealthITChicks.org or by following them on Twitter at #HealthITChicks. In Part 1, we spoke about the benefits of diversity hiring for healthcare IT companies and, in Part 2, we talked about current trends and opportunities and challenges of doing that. Now we’re here talking with Jenn again about the resources that exist for hiring managers in healthcare IT. So, Jenn, welcome back. I’m so excited to have you talk to us about this because I know there are a lot of companies that would love to do more to be more diverse and don’t really know where to go for information on how to do that.

Jenn: 01:06 Thanks. We mentioned that the media is focusing more and more on the issue of diversity. I’m seeing a lot of resources kind of bubble up around it. So, if your audience is looking for additional information, the first direction I would point them in is trade associations. HealthITChickss grassroots, we’ve got a website and a LinkedIn group, which I’ve mentioned, but there are probably at least half a dozen, if not a dozen, organizations out there in addition that can offer offer some direction. First, I’d start off with Women in Technology. They go by the acronym WIT. There’s the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, which I’m sure your audience is very familiar with. They are probably two years into their Women and Health IT initiative and they’ve got a great webinar series that is part of that. They do a monthly or bimonthly webinar that focuses on being a woman working in health IT and I’m pretty sure diversity has been tied into one of those recordings at some point. Then there’s also a great organization out there called Women with Dynamic Purpose. They’re out of Atlanta.

Jennifer: 02:31 What a great name! What a great name. I’ve not heard of them and I didn’t even know about the women’s group either. But Women with Dynamic Purpose, I just I love that.

Jenn: 02:40 Their mission is to help women who are older. I want to say 40 is on the young end of their spectrum. Women who have been in the workforce for a few decades and are either looking to pivot into a new industry or a new job. Maybe they’ve taken time off as we talked before to care for children or elderly parents and they want to get back into the workforce. They exist to equip women who are older and have been overlooked by hiring in the past to make themselves stand out from the applicant pack, so to speak. They have an annual conference. They have a website and they reflect a growing trend of several companies who have resources to help women do just that. I don’t know if you are familiar with this kind of new trend called “returnships.” A lot of companies are offering that path to get women who have taken time off for whatever reason back into the workforce and, ultimately, into full-time positions at their companies. I think Apple has created something. Microsoft might be doing that. There’s a company called Apres and another website called Women Back to Work. So these types of resources are certainly growing.

Jennifer: 04:18 Let me say something about that. It’s what you had said earlier, in Part 2, we talked about how one of the challenges for women is that they they do change the course of their career path. I mean it doesn’t look like a traditional male path because of caregiving and parenting. I find that very interesting because when I was in my 20s, I volunteered with a foundation that did research on women’s health related to sports. Because jogging was really huge in the 70s and there had been, apparently, all these naysayers about how it would ruin your looks and do all this damage to you and it was bad for women. You know, your uterus, your breasts, all of your parts. It’s just ridiculous to us now but this was enough of an issue that this woman said, that’s it, I’m starting a sports medicine research group. It was called Melpomene and they did a ton of studies. Saying in fact, that didn’t happen or, in fact, exercise has been a benefit. And it was amazing to me because I was in my late teens and early 20s and so many of the women there were like 50s and 60s. And I remember thinking, wow, women in their 60s do a whole bunch of stuff that you just don’t think about when you’re a kid. Like, when my 60s is when I’m going to be doing all this amazing stuff but they were kicking butt and that always kind of changed my worldview a little bit to think that, if I make it to 60, that’s when I’m probably going to start doing some really interesting stuff. And I think that actually is probably more true of women than we expect because of the natural lifecycle. I think that’s something that, when I see Women with Dynamic Purpose and what you just described I think that it’s fitting in with the actual lifecycle we really have and what that means for our career. I think that’s fantastic.

Jenn: 06:03 Yeah and now we’re at the point where we know it. Now we need to get hiring managers on board with recognizing it.

Jennifer: 06:11 So tell me a little bit about the perception out there that there aren’t a lot of resources. Is it because they don’t know of these groups or is it because there just aren’t that many groups yet? Or is it people don’t even know where to look to find them?

Jenn: 06:25 I think it’s a combination. Thankfully, social media has done such a great job by really spreading awareness of these kinds of groups. But I think, at the same time, it kind of spotlights a larger problem. We touched on this a little bit when we talked about startups in the previous segments. Sometimes, the onus is on us as the employee who’s passionate about diversity, passionate about giving women with much more experience another chance at getting back into the workforce. It’s on us to go to our higher ups and say, hey I haven’t noticed anyone addressing this in the employee handbook. What are your thoughts on this? How can we start incorporating these practices into our company? I want to work for a company that does XYZ for women. How can we get the ball rolling? So while, yes, there are resources out there as you and I talked about, we certainly can be doing more. So podcasts like this are a great way to spread the word.

Jennifer: 07:36 Well, thank you. I appreciate that. I hope so. It’s interesting, when I worked at OpenTempo and that was a healthcare IT company and I was the Marketing Director, I learned of a grant through the State of Vermont to help set up lactation areas for women. It was because I championed it that we actually got that set up. And we got a nice – it was small startup situation so they didn’t have great facilities – but we actually made a much more pleasant little area. it was private and comfortable and they got a little refrigerator for their milk. And so it was just a little nicer than what they’d had and it was interesting. Sometimes I know you hear about cases where championing the diversity cause winds up backstabbing you in the end and damages your own career, so you always worry about that when you’re being the one saying, hey, we could do this. But, actually, the company was really excited to be able to offer that. Then, of course, there were one or two people pregnant within just a couple of months of that and they were really happy that we had it.

Jenn: 08:42 Right. Well you know one thing I love about women working in health IT – they’re bold. They will take an idea and run with it and have no regrets. And sometimes that’s the attitude you’ve got to take when you’re trying to make change.

Jennifer: 09:00 Absolutely. Now, as we come to the close of Part 3 here, I always like to ask one thing, which is about your favorite book. Just because I think it’s kind of fun to break out of the whole healthcare world for a little bit and see what people are reading. I love to read, so I think that’s a fun thing to do. Is there a favorite book that you have, or one that you recommend?

Jenn: 09:20 I have two that I’m going to share. I’m a huge nerd and one of my favorite books is Lord of the Rings. I read it at least once a year. I told a friend that the other day and it just boggled his mind that I would take the time to do that annually. So I read that probably six months ago and then, on my nightstand right now, is the latest book from Eric Metaxas and he’s a fantastic author. The one I’m reading right now is about Martin Luther and the origins of the Reformation. It’s not a beach read. It’s one I have to do right before bed so I can focus and concentrate. It’s very challenging. I have a dictionary next to me.

Jennifer: 10:08 I understand that. Sometimes it’s fun to read something like that where you are learning a little bit more about history or about a person.

Jenn: 10:17 Exactly. How about you? Do you have a book you can recommend?

Jennifer: 10:20 Lately I have been really big on anything by Dorothy Whipple. I found out about this publisher called Persephone. It’s a bookstore in London and they have been bringing back women’s books that haven’t been published for the last several decades, that kind of got lost since the World War 1 or 2 era. And I have found all these amazing authors I had never even heard of. Dorothy Whipple was apparently a bestseller and just got lost in time. I love her books; it’s just amazing. So anything by her I would recommend but I love what you were saying about Lord of the Rings and how you love to re-read it because I have found there are people who read books once and there are people who re-read books and I am a big re-reader.

Jenn: 10:20 Amen.

Jennifer: 11:11 Absolutely. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast and sharing all of these insights and all of your knowledge with us about diversity. Because I think it isn’t something that people really know that much about. For everyone listening, you can learn more about Jen’s work at HealthITChicks.org or you can follow #HealthITChicks. Jenn Dennard is the Founder of #HealthITchicks, which is this amazing networking group of women and men that helps raise awareness about gender-related issues in healthcare tech. Jenn, thank you so much. It was an absolute pleasure to have you on the podcast.

Jenn: 11:11 Thanks for having me.

Jennifer: 11:49 Thanks and, everyone else, if you want to learn more about lead generation strategies for healthcare companies, come visit me at MichelleMarketingStrategies.com. Catch you next time!