Although workplace diversity has long been seen as a difference-maker for organizations, it’s still rare to see a major company’s board of directors made up of mostly women.
In fact, when it comes to representation in U.S. boardrooms, women only make up 20% of public company directors, according to data from the Diligent Institute.
In this regard, the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based Amedisys Inc. (Nasdaq: AMED) stands out among some of its health care peers. The home health, hospice and personal care services provider operates in 39 states and Washington, D.C.
Currently, women make up the majority of Amedisys’ board of directors. In December, the company’s newest addition to the board, Ivanetta Davis Samuels, joined the team.
Additionally, as a woman of color, Samuels understands the importance of diverse perspectives. Samuels is currently a senior vice president, general counsel and the corporate secretary for Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.
“A diverse perspective is important — both in terms of your own personal life journey and professional experience,” she told Home Health Care News. “I think you get a better product and better service when you’re inclusive, regardless of the entity.”
Samuels was immediately struck by how many women made up Amedisys’ governing board. When the opportunity to join was first presented, she was also impressed with how “innate” this was for the company.
“In talking to [CEO Paul Kusserow] about Amedisys, that was not his lead,” Samuels said. “You would think when you’re talking to a woman, you’d almost want to make it a bragging point.
Kusserow said he believes that Samuels’ legal and public policy experience will give the company deeper insight and an all-around broader perspective.
“Meharry is a really interesting place,” he told HHCN. “They also run a public hospital. They see things in health care that are incredibly complex issues from a policy perspective — and from a public service perspective. We really wanted to have that understanding on our board.”
Last summer, protests against police violence toward Black Americans and other people of color ignited wide-ranging conversations about diversity gaps in almost every power center in the U.S.
This caused many companies to take a closer look at issues pertaining to workplace diversity and inclusion. Conversations became especially crucial for the health care sector, where women and people of color make up a good amount of the front-line workforce.
Amedisys has a workforce that is roughly 85% women and 30% people of color, for example.
“If your employees look like your patients, if your management team looks like your employees, and if your governing body looks like your employees and patients, then there are no cracks in the middle,” Kusserow said.
For Amedisys, the protests last summer also reinforced the importance of having conversations about racial equity, according to Regarner Thompson, senior vice president of hospice and co-chair of the company’s diversity council.
“We’re no longer sitting in silence,” she told HHCN. “We’re having an open dialogue to bring everybody to the table of belonging. I think that’s what our diversity council and other groups are doing — we’re giving [racial equity] a voice.”
Building off of Amedisys’ diversity council, the company also has plans to launch an additional employee resource group.
“We had about 400 or so team members that wanted to be a part of the diversity council that we established the summer of last year,” Thompson said.
It’s been well-publicized that building and promoting a diverse workforce can contribute to a company’s financial well-being.
For example, companies that have more than 30% of executives who are women were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30%, according to data from McKinsey & Company.
Kusserow believes that it’s in every company’s best interest to make diversity a priority. He hopes that the company will be able to lead by example.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “I think we are way ahead of the industry. I think as people start to see our success and understand that [diversity] is one of the key pillars our success is built on, my hope is that [others] move toward this.”