Standing Up for Diversity & Inclusion

NewYork-Presbyterian President and CEO Dr. Steven J. Corwin on why an inclusive work environment is critical.

Diversity. Inclusion. Belonging.

For NewYork-Presbyterian President and CEO Dr. Steven J. Corwin, these aren’t just words. They are core values that are critical to the success of the hospital and our nation.

Dr. Corwin shares with Health Matters why he believes, at this increasingly divisive time in our country, that it’s more important than ever that the hospital stand up for staff, patients, and the communities we serve.

“It’s our diversity that makes us stronger,” says Dr. Corwin.

Why is diversity such an important value?
One of our country’s galvanizing ideas has been that, regardless of your race or your religion or your ethnicity, we’re guided by a set of higher principles. And those higher principles include the fact that everyone is created equal and that we keep that in mind in all aspects of what we do. … I think that it’s really important for us, as a country, to make sure that we adhere to those principles of the Enlightenment, which were the animating forces behind the Declaration of Independence and then the country itself.

Why is it key to NewYork-Presbyterian’s success?
If you have something to contribute, it should not matter who you are or where you came from. From a practical standpoint, a diverse workforce ensures that you have opinions from various backgrounds, age groups, and genders. That makes an organization stronger. It makes an organization more resilient. If everybody thinks the same way and is from the same background, that makes an organization more brittle, less innovative, less self-questioning.

How does having a diverse team help?
One always faces situations that are new and unpredictable. Challenges will arise, and being locked into a homogenous group of people, you may miss the ability to see what others might see. If you have a diverse group, then, in a decision-making process, you’re getting a lot of different points of view. And you’re not getting locked into an echo chamber where myself as a 60-year-old white male, if I were surrounding myself with 60-year-old white males, we might all think the same way about something and miss a very important point that somebody else might bring to the table.

You have spoken out against racism at employee town halls. Why have you felt a need to do that?
We’re an enormously diverse organization. We have huge numbers of underrepresented minorities who work with us, and I felt it was important for me as the CEO to speak on behalf of those people who may feel that they have been cast aside or feel marginalized. After the racist comments by Roseanne Barr, I felt a line was crossed. Our employees needed to know that that’s not the way that I feel and not the way that we are going to run the hospital. And that I would stand up for them.

What kind of response did you get?
I did not expect the reaction that I got. One employee said, “I’m the mother of two young adult black males and your description of the black male experience in this country really resonated with me. And I really appreciate that you understood that.” A DACA recipient said, “I really appreciate that you’ve taken this on because I worry every day as to whether I’m going to be sent back to a country that I don’t even remember.” People sent me emails saying, “I’ve lived with racism. I know what it feels like to be treated as a subhuman.” They were very powerful, and affected me very much.

How do diverse employee cultures factor into patient care?
When you’re taking care of a patient and involved on the care team, it really doesn’t matter what culture somebody came from; it matters how everyone interacts on the team. When we’ve had Celebrate Your Culture events, people get really jazzed about it. We weren’t asking people to come to work and dispense with their culture. We were asking people to come to work and bring their culture with them and fit into a larger culture, where we all are working together to care for patients. By embracing diversity, inclusion, and belonging as core values, we are able to provide better care to our patients in all the communities we serve.

What do diversity, inclusion, and belonging mean to you?
I heard someone say that diversity means that you’ve been invited to the dance, inclusion means that you’ve been asked to dance, and belonging means that you can dance your own dance. We can look diverse, but then it’s important to ask: Is everybody being included in the process, and then, does everyone feel that they belong, that they’re contributing, that they really are part of it? Not just that they were included in it, but they’ve been an active participant in it. The way I see these values, it’s a journey from diversity to inclusion to belonging.