Joshua Scales, Founder and CEO of Uniti Health, talks with Vanessa Hickman and Darrell Freeman about the importance of hiring and retaining diverse talent.

As healthcare IT leaders reckon with the lack of diversity in their industry, it’s important to understand the causes of that inequality and to actively promote both diversity and inclusion.

After all, as Vanessa Hickman points out, there’s a big difference between inviting diverse talent into your company and knowing how to foster inclusion once they’ve been hired. 

In this episode of HIT Focus, brought to you by Tennessee HIMSS, Joshua Scales, Founder and CEO of Uniti Health, talks with Zycron Inc. Founder Darrell Freeman and BNA CIO and Vice President Vanessa Hickman about some of the strategies leaders can use to attract and retain diverse talent.

Why Diversity Matters

Freeman and Hickman both believe that diversity is about so much more than just filling a quota. When leaders hire diverse talent, they’re setting themselves up for success.

“The stats all show, companies who are ethnically diverse are 35% more likely to outperform,” Hickman explained. “So given the trends in our population, a company who is blind to diversity is potentially on the track for failure.”

In fact, Freeman said, companies that are actively seeking to hire the best talent will usually end up with a diverse team in the process.

Though Freeman has often had to prove himself because of his race, he’s confident that he can deliver great results because he’s good at his job, not because he fulfills some diversity initiative. 

“When we walk in a door, people will cubbyhole us as some kind of diversity and inclusion effort, when actually, we should’ve been part of an excellence effort,” he said. 

Common Barriers to Diversity

Beyond just discrimination, there are other factors that play into the lack of diversity in healthcare IT, and Hickman and Freeman encourage leaders to tackle them head on.

One of the biggest barriers to recruiting diverse talent stems from the way most CEOs approach hiring. Since people tend to hire candidates they already know, people with unique backgrounds or identities are often overlooked completely. Hickman and Freeman both stressed the importance of extending recruiting efforts to a diverse group of colleges and universities, since great talent isn’t only found at the most prestigious schools. 

Additionally, Freeman argued that lack of diversity partly stems from the fact that few people of color are starting their own healthcare IT companies. 

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but I don’t want to just leave it to, ‘Is health IT hiring more people of color?’ They probably are, but I also want to flip it to, ‘Are people of color starting their own companies so that they can hire more diverse talent?’”

For Hickman, another key factor is the economic inequality that puts poorer individuals at a disadvantage from a young age. 

“It starts at 6 years old or younger. If you’re hungry, and you’re tired and you’re cold, you can’t learn. If you can’t learn, you can’t catch up. If you can’t catch up, you can’t compete,” she explained. “We need leaders to engage early and often, serve as mentors, and understand what’s happening so we can level the playing field at the very beginning and get that talent where it needs to be. We often as a minority group are coming from behind.”

Finding Opportunities as a Woman or Minority 

Though it’s crucial for industry leaders to take action and improve diversity in their companies, Freeman and Hickman also offered some advice for women and people of color who want to break into the healthcare IT industry. 

Freeman emphasized the importance of building relationships and expanding your network in order to find new opportunities. 

“A lot of the hiring decisions are based on relationships. So if you are African American or a person of color or a woman, you’ve got to make sure that you’re constantly building relationships,” he said. “Because people hire people that they know and that they trust and that they like.”

Additionally, Hickman pointed out that many IT companies are looking to hire people with unique backgrounds, so lack of experience isn’t always a barrier to entry, especially at smaller companies. 

“Don’t limit yourself or think ‘Oh I’m not this so I can’t be that, I can’t compete for that opportunity.’ You might be able to. You may be the change they’re looking for, a fresh start.”

And while discrimination and inequality can be incredibly difficult to overcome, Freeman argued that the best defense is to pursue excellence.  

“One way that you can help overcome a person’s discrimination is to be excellent at what you do,” he said. “When you’re excellent at what you do, people will choose you. So be the best. If you’re the best, you’ll win. You may not win the first time, but eventually you will win if you are the best. It’s hard to overlook excellence.”

This episode is sponsored by MEDHOST. For 35 years, MEDHOST has been partnering with community hospitals and specialty healthcare facilities to focus on what matters most — effectively taking care of their patients. Trusted by over 1,000 healthcare facilities, MEDHOST offers a full suite of healthcare IT and business solutions, including an EHR and emergency department information system. Healthcare providers need a partner who can help them meet patient needs with agility. Backed by world class support, MEDHOST’s solutions are an ideal match for facilities wanting to enhance patient care. To learn more, go to