Governing Board’s Role in Health Equity and Diversity

Trustees are in a unique position to take a leadership role on health equity, diversity, and inclusion. They are business and community leaders and can work closely with their hospital leadership to develop a board strategy and ensure that health equity is included in their organization’s strategic plan. Having a board member serve as a champion for health equity, diversity and inclusion will help to underscore the importance of developing, implementing and executing a strategy.

Trustees can be effective leaders in not only developing the strategy, but also in having an important voice in the community for the hospital or health system when implementing and executing the health equity strategy.

The board should also consider if its composition is reflective of the community it represents. If not, boards are encouraged to develop a recruitment strategy for new and diverse board members. Boards are encouraged to work with community groups and local businesses to identify potential candidates for the board.

How to Get Started

Board education on health equity, diversity and inclusion and cultural competency is a critical first step. The best place to start is understanding what health equity is, and what it is not. When considering board education, consider utilizing your hospital or health system staff, and/or partner with local experts to help your board begin health equity discussions.

In addition, boards should consider creating a Health Equity Committee or combining health equity with another board committee such as the quality committee, community and population health committee or the governance committee. To assist in developing an action plan including goals and objectives, the Committee should focus on understanding data that describes the community. Board members need to ask about the race, ethnicity and gender identity data. The hospital or health system’s community health needs assessment is a good tool to use to identify what the needs of the community are and what the health differences may be among the different populations. Understanding the data by zip code including the social determinants of health and identifying disparities can be part of your board strategy to improve health outcomes. Developing a health equity dashboard with actionable goals and outcomes is also important for the board to track progress.

The Health Equity Committee can also help develop ideas on equity education for the full board. A Health Equity Committee can also assist in developing a board recruitment strategy for the full board to consider.

Key Questions Trustees Can Begin to Ask and Discuss

  • What should our board strategy for health equity be?
  • Should our board develop a diversity recruitment strategy so our board can be more representative of the community?
  • Should we develop a new health equity committee or include the issues within an existing committee?
  • Do we have a board education strategy on health equity, diversity, and inclusion?
  • What are the demographics our hospital serves?
  • What health disparities exist in our patient population and community?
  • What steps can our organization take to address these disparities?
  • What organizations can we collaborate with to improve health equity?
  • How can health equity be incorporated into our strategic plan?
  • How will we assess progress on health equity?

AHA’s Trustee Services has a broad range of resources on health equity, board diversity and unconscious bias. Visit to view the resources.

Sue Ellen Wagner ( is vice president, trustee engagement and strategy, at the American Hospital Association.