Posted: 16 Jun. 2022 5 min. read

Why workforce DE&I is essential for advancing health equity

By Chelsie White, manager, and Matt Garrett, senior manager, Deloitte Consulting, LLP

It has been one year since President Biden designated June 19 as a federally recognized holiday. Some organizations might use this year’s Juneteenth holiday to highlight their efforts to improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), or to demonstrate their commitment to creating a more diverse workforce. It might also be a good time for public health organizations to assess their DEI strategy and identify ways to improve the experiences of their employees.

Many hospitals and health systems, health plans, and life sciences companies are trying to build more diverse workforces, as we noted in our report, Advancing diversity in health care. A majority of executives understand the strong connection between health equity and a workforce that has a range of lived experiences. Last year, health equity was a top priority among health system and health plan CEOs who were surveyed and interviewed by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. Diversity fosters innovation, creativity, and empathy in ways that homogeneous work environments rarely do. Moreover, a diverse and inclusive workforce—both in clinical and corporate/nonclinical settings—can help improve trust and empathy and strengthen the connection to patients, clients, and communities.

Diversity is also important in the public health sector. Developing an ethnically and racially diverse workforce to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse nation is among the most urgent and challenging priorities for public health organizations, according to a 2020 Public Health Management article.1 Less than half (42%) of governmental public health workers belong to racial or ethnic minority groups, according to the report. At the state and local health department levels, a majority of minority employees work in administrative and clerical positions. Meanwhile, a greater proportion of non-Hispanic whites hold supervisory and managerial positions.

Helping to ensure diversity among leaders and executives should start with a clear and achievable path for career advancement…from the bottom to the very top of an organization. Developing a diverse educational pipeline—combined with organizational strategies to improve recruitment and retention—could pave the way for a more diverse public health workforce. This could lead to more opportunities for ethnic and racial minorities to advance into leadership positions. We encourage our clients and collaborators in public health to consider these three components to improve their DEI workforce strategy:

1. Diversify the pipeline: Early exposure to public health as a career option could lead to a more diverse pipeline of employees and future leaders. Many public health employees share a common story of accidentally pursuing public health after deciding that a career in medicine was not the best fit. (Many of us at Deloitte wound up in public health after first exploring medical or nursing schools.) More than 60% of public health majors go straight into a job upon graduation, while 26% pursue graduate education, according to the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health. While interest in public health has been growing among university students, the COVID-19 pandemic generated more interest in public health as a career option.2

2. Collect and assess workforce demographic information: Data about the composition of employee teams can provide public health organizations with insight into their internal DEI efforts. We advise organizations to be honest about where diversity might be lacking. This could influence how they approach recruiting. Recruiting from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and/or Minority Serving Institutions could help improve workforce diversity. Public health organizations could further broaden their recruitment efforts by reaching out to diverse student populations within all college and universities—particularly students who are pursuing non-traditional career paths.

3. Strengthen retention strategies: There is a strong connection between retention and upward mobility. Limited opportunity for internal mobility is one of the top reasons young employees leave their jobs.3 Public health organizations should consider standing up formal sponsorship programs to help position proteges to move up the career ladder at an equitable pace. This could help address the homogeny that tends to exist at upper levels of management.

Creating a more diverse workforce could help to make public health more equitable, but it is only part of the solution. To move the needle on health equity, we also should unravel existing systems and strengthen partnerships and collaboration with health care and public health organizations.

As we celebrate Juneteenth, we reflect on the pain of slavery, the joy of liberation, and the progress being made in making health more equitable. The pandemic made it even more clear that the public health sector is positioned to make health care more accessible to everyone. The ability to attract curious, innovative, and passionate minds and compassionate hearts—from all backgrounds—to public health could lead to healthier communities and a more equitable health care system.

Acknowledgements: Alicia Jones, Shawnee Bernstein, Hana Jun, Grace Bachman

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.

Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.


1 Understanding the dynamics of diversity in the public health workforce, Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, August 2020

2 How Coronavirus spotlights public health majors, US News & World Report, September 23, 2020

3 Retaining talent through a culture of mobility, Forbes, July 21, 2021

Return to the Health Forward home page to discover more insights from our leaders.

Subscribe to the Health Forward blog via email