Perceptions of DEI in health services and policy research workplaces


Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health Tongtan (Bert) Chantarat co-directed a study published in Health Services Research, which quantifies issues related to work climate, culture, and job discrimination faced by researchers in the field of health services and policy research (HSPR). His collaborators are Taylor B. Rogers (University of California, Los Angeles), Carmen R. Mitchell (University of Louisville) and Michelle J. Ko (University of California, Davis).

In the field of HSPR, researchers use multidisciplinary research approaches to understand health and health care issues. Their work includes identifying strategies to dismantle structural oppression and its effects on health. To do this, it is essential that researchers examine the challenges of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in their own field.

Previous research has shown that significant gaps remain for groups historically and structurally excluded from health professions, including those who are Black, Hispanic/Latin, and LGBQTI+. The study interviewed 906 researchers and trainees in the United States to understand the professional climate in HSPR workplaces, such as universities, non-university institutes, and private corporations, and to determine efforts to advance DEI in the HSPR workforce.

The search found:

  • Less than 30% of respondents agreed that their work environment reflects the diversity of their community
  • Nearly 40% of respondents thought DEI initiatives at their institutions were “token” or symbolic rather than substantive
  • Respondents who identify as female, members of the LGBQTI+ community, Black/African American or Hispanic/Latinx, and persons with disabilities felt that their DEI institutional efforts were more symbolic than respondents who were male, heterosexual, white or non-disabled
  • Less than 40% of respondents who were Black/African American, Hispanic/Latin, LGBTQI+ and/or disabled reported feeling a sense of belonging within their institution
  • 70% of Black/African American participants, 55% of Hispanic/Latin participants, and 54% of South Asian participants said they had experienced discrimination in the workplace because of their race and/or ethnicity, while only 4% of non-Hispanic/Latin white respondents said they had experienced discrimination

“When people talk about DEI, most focus on the diversity part because they can report statistics to show ‘progress,'” Chantarat said. “But it is equally important to ensure that workplaces have systems in place to support the success of people from historically and structurally excluded groups. We will not achieve health equity if we continue to maintain harmful environments that alienate researchers from our workforce.

These results help identify areas of growth to strengthen HSPR’s work climate. Previous research has shown that non-inclusive working conditions have caused black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx scholars to leave academic institutions.

Equity and inclusion in the workplace are also necessary elements to ensure the sustainability of DEI efforts. HSPR research plays a critical role in health equity work, and it is critical that self-awareness, accountability, and substantial institutional reform occur within the field itself. The Workplace Culture Survey, which the study team used to collect the data, is available for future projects.

This work is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in cooperation with the UC Davis Center for a Diverse Health Workforce. Participant recruitment support was provided by AcademyHealth; however, AcademyHealth did not provide financial support for this project and was not involved in the design of the study or in the analysis and interpretation of the results. Additional technical support was provided by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the UCLA Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice, and Health.


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