Team makeup can have a profound effect on teams in every industry. Particularly in nursing, building a diverse team can create a number of advantages and result in more effective performance across a variety of metrics.
Diversity doesn’t just happen – it takes intentionality and action in not only recruitment and hiring but in ongoing management processes to create and maintain diverse nursing teams. However, the advantages are well worth that extra effort.
Forms of Diversity in Nursing
Anyone who read the title of this article might immediately think of certain demographics or types of diversity. Oftentimes though, other areas in which we as both human beings and medical professionals might differ from each other might not come to mind.
Here are some of the most common lenses through which we can assess and increase diversity, though this is not an exhaustive list:
Sex and Gender
A nursing professional comes to mind, do you picture a woman? This is an example of a long-standing stereotype and inhibitor against healthy diversity in the nursing field. However, this reality is changing. Men and nonbinary individuals are increasingly entering the nursing field. Sexuality and gender provides a strong example of how diversity can strengthen nursing team performance.
Though stereotypes must leave plenty of room for outliers, in general men bring a different set of skills, tendencies, and life experiences to their careers as nurses than women often do. Patients also respond differently to men than they do women.
In some circumstances, this can create advantages that benefit both the patient and the nurse. (The same can be said for female or nonbinary nurses in other situations.) The same principle applies for LGBTQIA+ individuals. When a nursing team includes a variety of sex and gender representation amongst its members, the team is capable of dealing positively and effectively with a larger set of scenarios than nondiverse teams.
Race and Ethnicity
Every culture, race, and ethnic group is born of a unique cocktail of histories, perspectives, experiences, value sets, and tendencies. These attributes create diversity in thinking, problem solving, attitudes, strengths, and abilities.
All of these can contribute meaningfully to strengthening a team’s performance and problem-solving capabilities. Diversity in this area also helps a team better relate to a more diverse pool of patients, especially in cases where patients might speak other languages.
The nursing profession has not always been kind to older individuals. Historically, many healthcare organizations preferred to hire young nurses with more “shelf life” that would be happy with lower salaries. However, hiring practice is realizing how much that hampers the health of nursing practice as a whole.
Older nurses offer invaluable experience, unique resilience, and different mindsets than younger generations of nurses. They can also help mentor and develop younger nursing professionals at the start of their career.
Nurses that started in different careers may not have the medical experience of similarly aged candidates that started in nursing. However, they can offer different perspectives and ideas that individuals who have not experienced work in other jobs or industries would never be able to contribute.
Differently abled candidates are still often discounted. Nursing can be a physically demanding job and require certain abilities that can hamper those who are physically handicapped or limited from being able to fulfill some tasks.
However, those with different physical abilities contain skills, resilience, creativity, problem solving, and empathy that those who are able-bodied will simply never match in some ways. They offer unique and valuable contributions to nursing teams. As with every form of diversity hiring, this one requires that the team and management are ready to learn how to work together to cover for differences in ability. But this process can be highly rewarding and beneficial for everyone involved.
How Diversity Impacts Overall Quality of Care
As alluded to above, one reason diversity is so important in nursing teams is because different types of individuals bring different skill sets and histories to their work and to the team. In nursing, the quality of care provided by a team is an important metric for assessing success.
The quality of care a team can provide is heavily reliant on the nursing team’s level of empathy, relatability, and soft skills with patients. Thus, increasing quality of care is one of the biggest advantages that diverse nursing teams can offer.
How Diversity Impacts Team Performance and Problem Solving
Especially in settings where the nursing team faces problems or challenges, they need to navigate as a group, the team’s problem-solving abilities and proficiency in adapting and responding positively to adversity are all critical to its success. This is another area in which diverse team makeup can have a discernible impact on the team’s success. Greater variability in thought processes, experience, values, and perspectives result in higher-quality solutions. Though it often takes more effort upfront to help diverse teams relate to each other and learn how to effectively communicate and work together, the return on that investment can be significant and result in much higher performance in the long run.
The Effect Diversity Can Have on Discrimination
Another benefit of building diverse nursing teams is a bit more esoteric, but is a poignant contribution to lessening existing discrimination not only across the medical landscape but in patient populations as well. Nurses often experience various forms of discrimination during the course of doing their work.
This discrimination can come from other medical professionals, patients, patient families and friends, and more. When nursing teams include diversity amongst its members, the way that team operates and demonstrates respect for each member can create a powerful example of nondiscrimination that can challenge stereotypes or discriminatory perspectives. Diverse teams also mean that when one nurse is experiencing negative discrimination behavior, other members of the team can defend their teammate and mitigate or challenge that behavior.
For these reasons and more, if you have any decision-making power over hiring, work to implement diverse hiring practices and cultivate a diverse nursing team. The benefits are significant and long-lasting.