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

COO Agenda

Explore the COO’s perspective on how health equity can impact areas such as workforce productivity, consumer expectations, and more.

Health equity has been much in the news lately. September saw the formation of the Health Equity and Access Leadership Coalition, which has backing from companies such as Microsoft, Google, and AT&T.1 In January, the FAIR 100 Health Equity Stock Index opened for trading on Bloomberg.2 That same month, President Biden and Vice President Harris created a health equity task force related to COVID-19.3 And in March, pharmaceutical giant Merck announced a fresh round of grants to reduce disparities in maternity care.

So, what is health equity? At Deloitte, we define it as “the fair and just opportunity to fulfill our human potential in all aspects of health and well-being.” We take a broad notion of health as an overall state of well-being encompassing physical, mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and financial health that is influenced by not just health care, but also social, economic, and environmental factors. A wide range of factors is important to consider, including access to health care, housing instability, food insecurity, and a lack of affordable and reliable transportation.

A sweeping challenge

Health equity isn’t just a matter of public policy and the delivery of care. It crosses industry lines and can affect value chains from one end to the other. From the COO’s perspective, health equity can impact areas such as:

Workforce productivity. Barriers to health equity can result in higher levels of absenteeism, as well as presenteeism (when employees come to work but aren’t able to do their best).

Consumer expectations. From contact centers to field technicians, employees who have the most contact with the public often face greater barriers to health, affecting the organization’s ability to meet the expectations of an increasingly empowered consumer.

Global suppliers. Labor and environmental conditions can spell greater health vulnerability among workers along the supply chain, potentially affecting the organization’s procurement function, reputation, and even long-term viability.

Legal and compliance. Disparities in occupational health and safety among the broader employee population, for example, can exacerbate health inequity, as well as expose the organization to greater risk.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals. Health inequities can disproportionately impact the career progression of individuals from affected groups, leading to underrepresentation across key roles and at the management level.

Where to take action now

As these examples show, health equity has implications for multiple facets of operations management. It’s also a complex issue that touches on areas where a COO may have limited visibility.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t take action now. One place to start is by recognizing that health disparities are often associated with disadvantaged groups. The COVID-19 crisis brought this reality into the spotlight last year, when UK data revealed higher rates of diagnosis among ethnic minorities.4 A key reason was that minority populations are more likely to live and work in conditions that increased their exposure to the virus. In the United States, the Kellogg Foundation found that addressing race-based disparities would boost economic output by $2.7 trillion a year.5

In other words, an analysis of your organization’s operations can help to bring health equity opportunities into sharper focus. At one pharmaceutical brand, for instance, we worked with key stakeholders across different teams to incorporate health equity into the organization’s go-to-market strategy. We also collaborated with a state-level task force on a data-driven approach to promote equity in how COVID-19 testing and resources were distributed across the state. And a large health system now has a strategic road map to drive health equity in 21 markets based on our analysis of its workforce, employee engagement, and data at the clinical and community levels.

Consider swinging the lens over these four domains:

  1. Organization. Look at your organization’s workforce. How diverse is it? How can you reimagine your approach to diversity, inclusion, and belonging to advance equity among the workforce and address unmet social needs?
  2. Offerings. How does the makeup of your workforce change by product and service line? How can your products and/or services more effectively meet the needs of your customers across demographic groups?
  3. Community. What is the level of diversity in the communities where you operate and recruit your staff? How can you serve local communities as a health equity leader?
  4. Business ecosystem. How do you strategically amplify your positive impact through vendors, partners, and public platform? What is your public record and leadership in the space?

With this information in hand, it becomes feasible to compare health and wellness indicators by race, ethnicity, and other identity characteristics. Any gaps that appear can be singled out for further investigation and possible intervention. From there, you can identify opportunities to improve business processes, implement processes that benefit employee well-being, and manage critical risks.

The four domains of health equity activation

Click to enlarge.

Laying the groundwork for change

Health equity—the principle of breaking down obstacles to a healthy life—is more than about doing the right thing as an organization. It’s also about doing the right thing for your organization, especially in light of the existing and potential economic costs. With scrutiny growing among leading businesses, investor communities, and the highest levels of government, now is the time to prepare your own organizational response and help set the health equity agenda.

In our next post, we’ll discuss some real-life strategies that COOs can use to tackle health inequities and make a positive impact along the way.

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


1. Katie Adams, “Google, Microsoft, AT&T & more partner to mitigate health disparities through technology,” Becker’s Hospital Review, September 30, 2020,

2. StateFair, “StateFair Launches New ‘FAIR 100 Health Equity’ Stock Index,”, PR Newswire, January 5, 2021,

3. The White House, “President Biden Announces Members of the Biden-Harris Administration COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force,” February 10, 2021,

4. Jason Douglas, “Research Lays Bare COVID-19’s Outsize Impact on Ethnic Minorities,” Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2020,

5. Ani Turner, “The Business Case for Racial Equity,” W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 2018,

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