Health equity improvement


How COOs can promote health equity

COO Agenda

In our last article, we introduced the concept of health equity, highlighted the association of health disparities with disadvantaged groups, and outlined four domains where COOs can take action. Now, we’ll discuss real-life health equity strategies you can use to tackle health inequities and make a positive impact along the way.

Below are the four domains of health equity activation. Last time, we examined important questions in each domain that guide strategic direction. Those same domains also offer a useful way to evaluate what success looks like. For inspiration, we’ll pull examples from the sweeping plans introduced by Unilever and Johnson & Johnson.


Any successful health equity initiative needs support from the top; if it has the attention of senior management, the rest of the organization is more likely to lend their support. Even better is to make these initiatives a standing Board of Directors agenda item.

A strategy to address health disparity should be embedded in the business strategy. The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) is a key ally here since health equity goes hand-in -hand with diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is reflected in Unilever’s commitment to reskill or upskill all employees by 2025 and pilot more secure and flexible ways of working by 2030.

To keep momentum going, set specific goals and metrics that create meaningful incentives for the leadership team and enable the organization to gauge its progress.

And to further legitimize your efforts, stand up and resource a dedicated full-time health equity team with dedicated leaders that report directly to the COO. In addition to overseeing planning and execution, this team can spearhead health equity into the organization’s culture.


When it comes to your organization’s goods or services, we’re seeing health equity create business value in areas like innovation, operational efficiency, and risk mitigation (e.g., resource retention and staffing). Producing more equitable health outcomes for employees and consumers also addresses social, economic, and environmental expectations of employees (e.g., talent retention) and consumers (e.g., brand differentiation).

Another consideration is how the company’s products are made. Johnson & Johnson took a step closer to health equity in its supply chain when, in 2020, it expanded its already-extensive supplier requirements to include human rights evaluation criteria. By tracing the supply chain from raw material to finished product, you can gauge the health equity impacts of each supplier—not just within their organization but in their environmental impact as well.

Whether opportunities are related to quality, efficiency, or other improvements, data-driven insights can help determine what’s working and where you might direct your resources more effectively. Conversely, data analysis can also reveal costs or performance losses attributed to unmet health equity needs and highlight areas that could benefit from transformation.


As you build your health equity strategy, you’ll likely identify success factors that are outside the scope of what your organization can provide. For example, a company could contract with foodservice providers to improve employee access to healthy food, but find itself limited in its ability to tackle the quality of employee housing or the safety of their neighborhoods. (For a fuller picture, explore an interactive model of the ecosystem of factors driving health.)

That’s where community engagement comes in. By collaborating with local community organizations and leaders, organizations can close health equity gaps while building trust and transparency. Johnson & Johnson is taking a partnership approach through its Center for Health Worker Innovation, which aims to mobilize one million frontline health workers by 2030.

The key is to prioritize geographies by need and where there’s a high density of employees, consumers, or other stakeholders for investment. Be sure to consult communities directly and regularly, both for oversight and to understand what they need, and keep track of improvements.


For larger-scale challenges, consider working through ecosystem alliances. Just as outside partners help you redefine your offerings, accelerate and broaden innovation, and deliver solutions, they can help you achieve better outcomes with health equity. Collaborating on health equity can also elevate the profile of the organization as well as individual leaders.

Don’t hesitate to leverage your position in the value chain to advocate for health equity or equity considerations across policies and embed health equity performance measures in your contracts. Another option is using purchasing power to advance equitable suppliers and providers. Unilever, whose supplier network extends across 190 countries, has set a goal for all of its goods and services providers to earn a living wage by 2030. Your partners may also have health equity goals of their own for which they’d like your cooperation, further extending your organization’s engagement on health equity as a moral imperative requiring a business solution.

Taking bold action for change

By now, you’ve probably picked up on several recurring themes. First, health equity isn’t an ivory tower exercise; it takes deep and broad support, awareness, and engagement to be successful—even with a COO leading the way. Second, let the numbers be your guide. Data and measurement can help you surface opportunities, monitor results, and hold responsible parties accountable. Third, be practical. The more you can tie health equity outcomes to business outcomes, the more credibility and traction the endeavor is likely to gain.

In our next post, we’ll look at some common pitfalls organizations tend to make in activating health equity, along with ways to sidestep them.

Driving health equity in the organization

Article 1: Health equity: What is it, and why should COOs care? 

Article 2: How COOs can promote health equity

Health equity framework

Health care executive perspectives on health equity

Back to the COO Agenda Series

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