Welcome to the 6th episode of the SPS Check-in. In this video, SPS President Regina Weger discusses the important topic of diversity and inclusion with Hanger President and CEO Vinit Asar. In this discussion, Vinit and Regina discuss Hanger’s Diversity and Inclusion Pledge, and expound on the tangible actions that can be taken to enact meaningful change against racism and inequality, to in turn, create a more inclusive profession.
The following includes a lightly edited transcript of their conversation:
Regina: I would like to welcome to the SPS Check-in Vinit Asar, President and CEO of Hanger, Inc. Thank you for being here. I'm really excited to talk with you about Hanger’s recent pledge on diversity and inclusion. As I was doing some research on this, I pulled together some definitions that helped me put diversity and inclusion into perspective. What I read was that diversity really means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing the differences, whether it be race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, cultural, political, religious, and other affiliations. What I thought was interesting is that it is the lens in which we perceive our life experiences. So I think I was very surprised that diversity is a much wider scope than I ever recognized.
Vinit: First of all, thank you for bringing this topic to the forefront in this forum. I think it's such an important topic. The way I like to frame diversity is take the nine members of the Hanger leadership team as an example. If all nine members look like me, talk like me, think like me, and had the same experiences as I did, then there would be no need for eight out of the nine members. That's how I look at it.
Regina: It’s interesting, the inclusion part is used to describe the active, intentional and ongoing engagement and integration with diverse individuals. So how do you perceive inclusion within Hanger’s Diversity and Inclusion pledge?
Vinit: From my perspective, the inclusion is almost more important than the diversity aspect because we have to make sure we are including various thoughts, various backgrounds, various experiences, and we have to be proactive about it. We have to go out and bring people into the dialogue. We have to engage people into the thought process. So in my mind, inclusion is almost more important than diversity. That's why when we think of it, we don't think of just diversity or just inclusion. We think of them together. Diversity and Inclusion are very important together.
Regina: You know, I've benefited from a number of initiatives that have been in place for some time regarding women in leadership. I have attended a lot of different classes that bring to light the advantages of having women in leadership. Can you tell me what prompted this specific diversity and inclusion pledge?
Vinit: First of all, I'm really proud of the pledge because it has emanated from every level in the Hanger and SPS organization. So this isn't just something we pinned, and said, “Okay, now everyone's got to follow it.” I firmly believe this has emanated from within the organization, and I'm proud to be able to represent that pledge.
Eight or nine years ago, it was clear to me and the team that the representation from a gender basis was pervasively male in leadership ranks within O&P. Women were underrepresented even though the graduating classes from O&P schools, at that time, were maybe 30 – 40% women. Today, as we know, 50 - 60% of graduating classes are women. So eight or nine years ago, we sat down and said, “Wait a minute, we have to put in efforts to get women in leadership more of a focus.” I'm glad we were able to do that.
Fast forward to the last couple of years, it became even more evident that diversity from a race perspective was an area that we had not focused on in this industry, or in the healthcare industry in general. When you look at the O&P industry, less than 2% of the graduating classes are black, yet we know that the patient population is way more represented by the African American and Black community than our clinicians. We have to do something to make sure we make meaningful progress on the representation of diversity. I wanted to do more than just put out a statement. Anybody can put out a statement. I wanted to put out a pledge with tangible actions to make meaningful change. I'm hopeful that the rest of the O&P industry takes this as a rallying cry from a company like Hanger and SPS.
Regina: There are five specific call-outs in the pledge. Can you tell me about each one of those and how you see Hanger taking the lead here?
Vinit: Sure, they are in no particular order. One of the things that we all know, whether we're clinicians or business people in O&P, we all know that there is a disproportionate impact on Blacks when it comes to amputation level. We also know that diabetes affects Hispanics and Blacks more than it does the rest of the community. We know those things, but we haven't studied them. We are in a unique position to study that and come up with tangible data that we can share with our community so we can create awareness and action plans. I'm not talking about three, five, or seven years from now. We're beginning that work this year, in 2020.
We're also committed to attracting more diverse candidates into the O&P community. I'm done with the excuse that there's only 2% Blacks in O&P schools, so we can't do much in the O&P community. I believe Hanger is in a unique leadership position to go into the high school communities and create awareness so we can attract more people into O&P schools. So we've sent out letters to most or all of the O&P schools to see if we can partner with them.
We have also created a diversity and inclusion council that I'm chairing, and there's 14 of us, and I'm happy that you're on that council as well. As you know, we discussed some very meaningful issues in terms of priorities and what Hanger should do.
We have conducted unconscious bias training across our leadership ranks, and we plan on making sure that permeates down to everyone at Hanger.
And then last, but not the least, we have created affinity groups. I think it's important that a community like ours has affinity groups where someone from the LGBTQ community can interact with a broader group, where veterans can interact with a broader group, where people of color can interact with a broader group. We've created these affinity groups at Hanger that are seeing enormous participation.
So those are the things we've pledged to do. I can assure you, we're moving forward. And we're hoping that we will see some movement from everybody in the industry, from O&P companies large and small, and even manufacturers.
Regina: Right, I was surprised by the number of our employees who contacted me and said, “Hey, I really want to be part of this.” So I was just like, “I think we can make that happen.” I think we're going to be rotating people on and off the council. I really see this as being beneficial, not just to this organization, but outside of the walls of this organization. I feel like this is a unique time in O&P history that I'm really excited about.
Vinit: Same here, Regina. Well said. I believe that the O&P community is ready to evolve just like Hanger is. But you know, we believe that we're in this unique leadership position, and we're hoping that it will create a rallying cry within the broader O&P community.
Regina: Because this is a pretty bold pledge, what do you see success will look like? Is there anything that has come to fruition since this started?
Vinit: For me, success is about making a step change, a meaningful change in how we operate as a community. The five elements that I just took you through, we're already seeing progress on literally all five of them. But to me, success is making sure that we attract more people with diverse backgrounds into the O&P community. Success to me isn't about saying we're going to increase the number of diverse candidates by 5% or 50%. I think maybe at some point we'll get there, but I certainly want to see more than just 2%. Success is about seeing a step change on that front and then, at the end of the day, it's about making sure that our patients are taken care of. If we're getting diverse patients coming into all of our clinics, whether it’s Hanger or whether it's any company, we want to make sure that those patients feel at ease and feel comfortable because they see other people just like them in these clinics. So to me, success is making a step change on that front.
Regina: There are studies that state that companies who have a diverse workforce are exponentially more successful long term. I thought, “Wow, that's really fascinating that having a diverse culture leads to long-term success.” I think that’s fascinating.
Vinit: I subscribe to that philosophy wholeheartedly. I believe the tone starts at the top. If you look at our board of directors, today we have a board of 10 individuals, out of those 10, five are diverse candidates in the sense we have three minorities and two women on the board of 10. Especially for a publicly traded company, that puts us in the upper echelon of diverse boards, and I'm really proud of it.
Regina: Very exciting to see. Any other closing remarks you'd like to share with the industry? We have quite an audience with SPS customers and supplier partners. I do want to thank you for your time, but is there anything in closing that you'd like to say?
Vinit: First off, thank you for doing this. I also want to thank all the SPS customers for providing SPS the business that they do. I think it's tremendous. It's a great relationship that SPS has with its customers. In the spirit of this particular discussion, I'm hoping that what we've shared here is something that can help our viewers with their diversity and inclusion initiatives. If there is anything Hanger or SPS can do to help you with your diversity and inclusion initiatives, we'd be happy to help, even if it's just a conversation with some of our diversity leaders. We'd be happy to arrange that.
Regina: Well, thank you again, Vinit. I hope that you will join us on future SPS Check-in videos. I really appreciate your time.
Vinit: Thanks. And likewise.
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