Business leaders are usually uncomfortably aware of just how much a company can be affected by outside forces. It’s common for owners and managers to feel they have no influence over changes to external regulations, public policy, and economic trends. While in some cases that may be true, there’s also a lot that individuals can do to advocate and generate influence for an industry. And when an industry benefits, the organizations and niche businesses operating in that industry also benefit—meaning everyone wins. Here’s why it’s important to advocate for your industry, and how to get started.
WHY ADVOCATING FOR YOUR INDUSTRY MATTERS
The purpose of advocacy is to achieve change—and more specifically, change for the better. By becoming an advocate for their industry, business owners and leaders can make a difference. It doesn’t matter how humble your position, if you’re an owner or a manager, you have some influence, somewhere. Use that influence to speak up, speak out, and amplify the voices of those who don’t have a similar platform. That’s how you create constructive change.
Getting started as an advocate for your industry might sound daunting, so I’ve broken it down into four easy-to-manage steps.
1. RESEARCH YOUR OPTIONS
Begin by seeking board and leadership positions outside your company, within the broader industry environment. Conduct research into associations that stand for and effect change, such as member associations or organizations focused on industry advancement.
I’m personally a board member of several organizations serving the rehab industry, as well as technology associations. These activities give me a platform with a longer reach than my voice might have on its own. Once your research is complete, pick issues that connect with your business and your customers. With advocacy, speaking from experience and understanding goes a long way in connecting with your legislators.
2. LEARN HOW TO LOBBY
The idea of lobbying tends to have negative connotations, but it’s an accepted way for leaders to use their voices to create change. National organizations, like the APTA, AOTA, APTQI, and ASHA in the rehab therapy industry all have PACs (political action committees) that work with lobbying groups that have established relationships with national and local legislators. Working through these organizations can help get your foot in the door to get your voice heard on important issues.
As you continue to grow, there are options to create a PAC within your own company to lobby on issues that may be more specific to your company’s needs and also get your team more involved in the advocacy push. For example, access to telehealth for rehab therapists is a current issue all of the aforementioned organizations have been working on via the Expanded Telehealth Access Act IHR. 2168. Congress will have to act in order to accomplish this change, and lobbying is the means to making that a possibility for rehab therapists in the future.
Companies in any industry can affect change by finding out who the federal and local government representatives are and which of them support similar causes. Government representatives care about their constituents—the individuals and businesses that reside in their districts. As a growing business (by adding employees, you make an impact locally, statewide, and nationally), we found it easier to build relationships with our specific district and state legislators who then could make warm introductions to others playing key roles in areas that were of interest to my company.
3. JOIN FORCES
It’s critical to get out of the silo mentality. If you want to make a difference, you need to build relationships with your peers in your own industry and in parallel industries. Yes, that might sometimes include your so-called competitors.
Remember, a win for the industry is a win for all. Don’t be afraid of a bit of rivalry; it’s healthy for everyone concerned. Instead, view it as “coopetition,” or the uniting of forces to create a critical mass. We have seen this in action this year with the postponement of Medicare reimbursement cuts to rehab therapists. The cuts were going to affect many healthcare providers, but working collaboratively made the collective voice so loud that in the eleventh hour, Congress passed an extension to provide some providers relief from these cuts until 2023.
If you can achieve that kind of collaboration, you’ll begin to see a groundswell of advocacy that has its roots in the smallest of actions—linking arms with your competitors.
4. PROMOTE DIVERSITY
An industry shouldn’t be dominated by only a few. We need to amplify diverse voices for equitable representation and meaningful change. And it starts by looking within your industry. For example, the rehab therapy industry has demonstrated a major diversity imbalance. According to the 2019 U.S. census, 39.9% of the U.S. population identifies as BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color). Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows only 22.2% of employed PTs identify as BIPOC. I have used my leadership and influence in the industry to speak out on this particular issue. This led to the launch of Rizing Tide, a foundation aimed at helping BIPOC students pursue rehab therapy as a career through scholarship support. Increasing diversity and inclusiveness in any industry is a guaranteed way to embrace underrepresented community groups, amplify their voices, and serve their needs. In the end, advocacy is about rising the tide to help lift all boats.
We all have important roles to play in building up our various industries. Start doing this by making room in your organization for a diverse range of voices, listening to the needs of others, and stepping outside the boundaries to advocate on behalf of your industry. Take up the mantle of advocacy and become a change-maker for your industry. Help others win and you’ll experience the fulfillment of knowing you have genuinely paid it forward.
Dr. Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC, is the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of WebPT, the leading software solution for rehab therapists.