Geisinger’s first chief diversity officer relishes the opportunity

Kim Drumgo said she hopes to get people to think differently about diversity, equity, and inclusion. She talks about the work needed to embed those principles throughout the central Pennsylvania health system.

Kim Drumgo, Geisinger health system’s first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, said she knew the challenges she would face before she took the job.

Drumgo joined Geisinger in September 2021, and she said she is pleased with the system’s commitment to change. However, Geisinger is based in central Pennsylvania, a region much less diverse than major metropolitan areas.

“When I interviewed with Geisinger, I knew the demographics of the area,” Drumgo said in an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive.

“I saw Geisinger as a great opportunity to shift the way we think about diversity, equity and inclusion.”

For many diversity officers, the goal is to ensure the organization reflects the diversity of the surrounding community. As Drumgo said, much of the diversity in Geisinger’s central Pennsylvania communities come from the healthcare system’s employees. In a sense, Geisinger will be aiming to help bring more diversity in the surrounding community.

Drumgo said she wants to shift thinking “from us and them” and help others see how Geisinger's growing diversity will make it a stronger healthcare institution. She hopes to encourage Geisinger's staff to think about “how all of our differences come together to create better healthcare.”

“Diversity is really about individuals and all the differences that we have,” Drumgo said. “I like to say all of us are diverse.”

“Inclusion is what we do with that diversity,” she added.

Embedding diversity

Drumgo brings more than 15 years of experience of work in diversity, equity and inclusion. Before joining Geisinger, she was chief diversity officer of Anthem Inc. and director of diversity efforts at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. She also was the chief diversity official at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

While Drumgo said there’s a lot of work to be done, she said she is pleased with the support she’s received at Geisinger.

“It’s been a welcoming organization and an organization that’s eager to do better,” she said.

At Geisinger, Drumgo said she is working to ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion are core principles embedded throughout the organization. She acknowledged that it will take some time.

She said that includes getting employees to understand why that matters. In March, they’ll be launching leadership competencies.

“We’re inteniontally articulating the values we expect from our employees,” she said.

Drumgo said Geisinger will aim to develop more diversity in recruiting and hiring, but also in promotions as employees move into management roles. She said they’ll be talking with newer managers about managing diverse teams.

In hiring and promotion, she said, “We’re embedding the conversation of diversity in each of those points.”

Part of expanding the pool also means giving more opportunities for those with disabilities. Drumgo said Geisinger has been talking with The ARC of Pennsylvania, an organization that serves those with intellectual disabilities, about examining employment opportunities at Geisinger for individuals with disabilities.

Drumgo said Geisinger is going to be measuring diversity in many ways, from surveys of engagement to looking at those getting hired and promoted.

“We want to make sure we are hiring, promoting and retaining diverse talent,” she said. “If we have a revolving door, we know we need to do better.”

Beyond numbers, Drumgo said much of the focus is on improving the process of hiring and promotions.

“Our goal is to make sure when we do the processes right, the number will increase,” she said. “When the tide rises, all boats will sail.”

Getting buy-in from everyone

The COVID-19 pandemic has created so much upheaval in society and throughout healthcare, but it has also brought renewed attention to health equity.

“What it did do, if there was a silver lining, it was the awareness, we have not addressed health disparities as much as we thought,” Drumgo said.

The murder of George Floyd has also generated a heightened sensitivity toward issues of race and equity, she said.

Drumgo said improving diversity and inclusion requires understanding where biases can emerge, perhaps in unexpected ways.

She noted records of patients from racial minority groups are more likely to include terms such as “resistant” or “agitated,” terms that are less common in the records of white patients. Those patients may be asking questions or simply anxious because they’re in a hospital. Black patients are more than twice as likely to have a negative descriptor in their patient records, according to a recent study in Health Affairs.

“We need to think about our language,” Drumgo said. She also said it will be important for Geisinger leaders and co-workers to say certain language or practices that were used in the past are no longer acceptable.

She said the goal is rewarding behavior that embraces diversity and also redirecting behavior that is counter productive.

While the commitment of leadership on diversity efforts is important, Drumgo said it’s important for all employees to understand the need for more diversity at Geisinger.

“I think that’s really critical to focus on. As we roll out this new program, buy in is critical to our success,” she said.

Drumgo said her vision is that “every employee sees the business case for diversity in their job and what they do. That’s a critical element for success.”

“We want to make sure everyone sees themselves as a part of the strategy,” she said.