Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace: 10 Questions for Dr. Barbara Adams

Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace: 10 Questions for Dr. Barbara Adams

October 25, 2018  |  Blog Post

Barbara B. Adams, PsyD, is the founder of GAR (Gender, Age, and Race) Diversity Consulting in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she advises healthcare, technology, financial, and educational services clients globally, on workforce diversity, and inclusion matters. Dr. Adams worked as a global management and technology consultant with American Management Systems, Inc (now CGI) before joining Kaiser Permanente (KP) as a director in the National Diversity and Inclusion office.

Women, Minorities, and Other Extraordinary People: The New Path to Workforce Diversity is Dr. Adams’ first book. In it, she offers actionable steps that companies and organizations can take to  make their workplaces more diverse and inclusive. Dr. Adams spoke with the Center for Healthcare Innovation (CHI) recently, about her work and her new book.

CHI: Diversity and Inclusion is a “hot topic”, what is the purpose of your new book in the discussion about it?

Dr. Adams: I wrote this book for anyone who wants change in the workplace, so it’s for business leaders, hiring managers, and other employees who believe that things can be done differently and could use some guidance. Diverse organizations have a real business advantage over homogenous organizations because they are more productive, more profitable, and outperform other companies. So there is a strong business case for workforce diversity and a strong moral case as well. Changing how we think is sometimes difficult and also people who run and work at organizations are looking for new models. At the end of each chapter is an synopsis and clear, actionable steps.

CHI: Diversity and inclusion is absolutely critical to how we think about making healthcare more equitable for people, how is your book relevant to what we’re trying to do in the healthcare space?

Dr. Adams: The need for diversity and inclusion at work is not unique to any one field. Within healthcare, when we focus only on outcomes sometimes we miss experiences that challenge this belief that all patients are treated equally. A clinician’s biases, both implicit stereotypes and prejudices, can impact the care given. For example, many older African American men do not trust their healthcare providers to act in their best interests. This distrust stems from historical and personal experiences, like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, when African American men were administered syphilis under the guise of free healthcare from the US government. The medical community must address this sense of distrust among African Americans and other minorities. Earning a patient’s trust requires hospitals and physicians to take steps towards understanding implicit biases and respecting different groups of people. Organizations must use data to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of their strategies for addressing inequities in care.

CHI: How did your experiences at Kaiser Permanente (KP), the largest nonprofit, integrated healthcare system in the United States, inform the writing of this book?

Dr. Adams: Patients assume clinical competence and expertise based on their physician’s education. However, effective care also requires empathy and compassion – both of these have an emotional impact in the healing process. However, medical education traditionally focuses on graduating skilled technicians, rather than communication with patients. Medical schools can ensure that upcoming physicians are properly trained by integrating such concepts into the curriculum. Physicians and other clinical staff are often open to learning about these topics (e.g. teaching relationship-building and effective communication skills and increased self-reflection) which leads to better outcomes. Organizations are recognizing that communication and leadership skills are essential for becoming a skilled physician. Medical schools are now implementing courses and seminars to teach students about compassion and empathy. Additionally, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) also includes four questions about human behavior and psychology.

CHI: As a director in the National Diversity & Inclusion office at Kaiser Permanente, what did you do there?

Dr. Adams: Kaiser Permanente (KP) is consistently ranked in the top 5 of the Top 50 companies in the annual DiversityInc survey. When I worked as a director in the National Diversity and Inclusion office at KP, I was responsible for inclusive leadership development, execution of unconscious bias learning solutions, and design of a virtual leadership academy for multicultural business resource groups.

CHI: Is your interest in this work something new?

Dr. Adams: I was always interested in human behavior which led me to study psychology and organizational development and because of the intersection of these topics, to diversity and inclusion at the organizational and national levels. And in my work in healthcare, I learned about disparities in care and inequity; along with reports about the lack of women and people of color in technology companies, I felt led to help create diverse and inclusive work environments.

CHI: What companies can we learn from in this space?

Dr. Adams: DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity features leaders in diversity management initiatives, like: Sodexo, Marriott, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Kaiser, CVS Health, Anthem, Aetna, and Humana are some examples in healthcare space.

CHI: Are there other ways to measure the benefit of diversity and inclusion beyond the bottom-line?  

Dr. Adams: The conventional measurement of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) compliance is calculated by counting the number of people within the organization who belong to each ethnic, racial, gender, or age group. A more innovative approach of measuring diversity utilizes organizational network analysis (ONA). ONA can be utilized to create a visual representation of the interactions between employees using company-wide surveys to collect data (e.g. Who do you turn to with questions?). The responses are used to map employee relationships. Analyzing these connections provides greater visibility into cultural competence, as well as conscious and unconscious biases.

CHI: Does Artificial Intelligence (AI) hold promise for making our workforce more diverse and inclusive?

Dr. Adams: Within medicine, AI can be used in provider training and continuing education programs to teach cultural competence using virtual reality (VR). VR training allows users to immerse themselves into the perceptions of other cultures through interactions or by stepping into the role of the other individual. This “virtual body swapping” funny term actually allows people to experience encounters as say, a vulnerable patient in different scenarios (e.g. how does it feel to be an African American female with a white male OB/GYN provider). This can help to develop empathy, compassion, and awareness of differences.

CHI: Why is it this work so hard?

Dr. Adams: Individuals are hard-wired to prefer the company of those similar to them (e.g. look and sound like them, share similar interests, experiences, and values). This leads to unconscious biases. So it’s hard for companies to become more diverse and inclusive because it is not “comfortable.” This work has to be intentional – people don’t naturally embrace differences.

CHI: Where are you touring with this book and is there a hashtag to follow your work?

Dr. Adams: We launched the book at an independent bookstore in San Francisco called Book Passage earlier this month. I was just in Washington D.C., at Solid State Books where I had the honor to talk about this book with Ambassador Ruth Davis, she is the first woman of color to lead the Foreign Service, she is also one of the endorsers. Next I head to Parnassus Books in Nashville, which is co-owned by the writer Ann Patchet and from there it’s onto my hometown of Providence and at Books on the Square bookstore, I will discuss this book with a woman named Princess Bomba, who is head of inclusion at The Wheeler School there. My website is https://www.drbarbadams.com/ and the hashtag for the book is how to follow my whereabouts. #GenderAgeRace+



Mounika Kata

Healthcare Analyst at CHI


Joseph Gaspero is the CEO and Co-Founder of CHI. He is a healthcare executive, strategist, and researcher. He co-founded CHI in 2009 to be an independent, objective, and interdisciplinary research and education institute for healthcare. Joseph leads CHI’s research and education initiatives focusing on including patient-driven healthcare, patient engagement, clinical trials, drug pricing, and other pressing healthcare issues. He sets and executes CHI’s strategy, devises marketing tactics, leads fundraising efforts, and manages CHI’s Management team. Joseph is passionate and committed to making healthcare and our world a better place. His leadership stems from a wide array of experiences, including founding and operating several non-profit and for-profit organizations, serving in the U.S. Air Force in support of 2 foreign wars, and deriving expertise from time spent in industries such as healthcare, financial services, and marketing. Joseph’s skills include strategy, management, entrepreneurship, healthcare, clinical trials, diversity & inclusion, life sciences, research, marketing, and finance. He has lived in six countries, traveled to over 30 more, and speaks 3 languages, all which help him view business strategy through the prism of a global, interconnected 21st century. Joseph has a B.S. in Finance from the University of Illinois at Chicago. When he’s not immersed in his work at CHI, he spends his time snowboarding backcountry, skydiving, mountain biking, volunteering, engaging in MMA, and rock climbing.