Novant tops national ranking for diversity efforts; Atrium is 5th

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With diversity and inclusion among the hottest topics in the work world, two big North Carolina health systems scored leading positions in the 2021 Diversity MBA Magazine rankings for “Best Places for Women & Diverse Managers to Work.”

Novant Health ranked first in the national survey, while Atrium Health was fifth.  It is an accomplishment given that most of the Top 50 companies were Fortune 500 giants such as Clorox, Colgate-Palmolive, JPMorgan Chase and PNC Bank. Metrics in the rankings included strategy, representation, board diversity, recruitment, workplace inclusion & retention, succession planning and accountability.

Novant excels because it approaches diversity and inclusion as a “culture change strategy, not as a program,” says Tanya Blackmon, executive vice president and chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer for the Winston-Salem-based system. “It’s not a checklist that is later put into a drawer. It’s about embedding what you are doing into everything.”

Diversity typically implies racial differences. But Novant’s definition includes characteristics including age, gender, appearance and “less visible ones such as personality, ethnicity, religion, job function, life experience, sexual orientation, gender identity, geography, ability, regional differences, work experience and family situation – all of which make us similar to and different from one another.”

Blackmon joined Novant as a case management director in 1992 after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. She later headed the system’s Orthopedic and Huntersville hospitals in Mecklenburg County. In 2015 CEO Carl Armato named her a senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer. She is now an executive vice president and her title has been expanded to include equity.

“My job is to add value to those I touch and serve and I have almost 40,000 people to influence,” she says. “

She credits Armato for ensuring that diversity and inclusion matters at Novant. “He told us, `I don’t want it to just be words. It needs to permeate our fabric.”

Novant views diversity efforts as a “strategic lever in our business imperatives,” she says. She cites studies from McKinsey, Deloitte and EY suggesting that more diverse organizations are six times more ready to show resilience during downturns and twice as likely to exceed financial targets.

In an interview, Blackmon described a variety of initiatives that impressed Diversity MBA Magazine. They include 14 Business Resource Groups organized around common identities; efforts to boost spending with minority-owned vendors; continued education programs for all staff members and regular data gathering to monitor attitudes of employees and patients. The system also has a $15 an hour minimum wage.

While the COVID-19 pandemic revealed major racial disparities in health care, Blackmon says Novant leaders are largely pleased with the system’s response. Two new community-based clinics are being built in Wilmington in partnership with basketball icon Michael Jordan, who made a $10 million donation following Novant’s purchase of New Hanover Regional Medical System.

Novant employs more than 2,300 physicians and 35,000 employees at nearly 800 locations, including 15 hospitals. Its principal markets include Winston-Salem, Charlotte, Wilmington and northern Virginia.

Diversity MBA magazine is part of a Chicago-based holding company that also sells research, offers training programs and holds events. Founder Pamela McElvane started the business in 1997 after holding management jobs in the insurance industry.

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