Ayana King headshot
Ayana King

When you hear about diversity and inclusion in the workplace — specifically in the aging services industry — what comes to mind? If an uncomfortable knot forms in the pit of your stomach, don’t ignore it. That’s a sure sign a learning opportunity has presented itself. The question is: Are you ready for the lesson?

Diversity, equity and inclusion: Here’s why it matters

The racial makeup of America is changing. Many baby boomers, unlike previous generations, grew up in diverse, inclusive communities where they worked and lived side-by-side with people of different cultural backgrounds. Their family members and friends are multiracial, and may have different political and religious beliefs.

Boomers want to live in communities that reflect the neighborhoods they’ve long called home, but it may be difficult to find a multicultural utopia, even in the most active senior living communities across the country. And unless the industry can find real solutions to address this issue, boomers — especially older adults who identify as LGBTQ and people of color — may opt to age at home, in neighborhoods where they feel more welcome.

A look back

Historically, senior living operators have fallen short when it comes to encouraging diversity among the C-suite. Many providers can look at their teams and say emphatically, “our teams are diverse” — but a little digging uncovers some stark truths. In many cases, diversity doesn’t extend beyond hourly employment, meaning that most team members from the more diverse pool of talent are appointed to positions in housekeeping, dietary and caregiving. Inclusion rarely is addressed, and equity likely is a term only used among asset managers.

Fortunately, there’s a shift occurring that we can hope will create more transparency, balance and a commitment to ensuring both our communities and teams are more diverse and inclusive than in decades past.  But it takes strong leadership to steer an entire organization — a tough task when many executives at the helm don’t even realize they have a diversity and inclusion problem.

Where do we start?

Addressing diversity and inclusion in the workplace needs to take a top-down approach.

Why aren’t our communities more diverse? The easiest explanation might simply be because our executive-level teams aren’t.

If you’ve never examined unconscious bias, aren’t sure what microaggression means and start to sweat whenever race, ethnicity or discussions about the LGBTQ community come up, it’s probably time to take leadership to the next level and set your sights on learning about diversity, equity and inclusion and its effects on your organization.

Seek out experts who have made organizing and facilitating training on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace their life’s work. And while you research the right educator, here are four ways to balance the scales within your organization and show your leadership team embraces and encourages diversity and inclusion:

1. Assess hiring practices. When is the last time your human resources team assessed its recruiting strategy? If you aren’t already doing so, consider conducting blind resume reviews to help reduce the risk of bias. Also, expand your network to include diverse colleges and universities, such as historically black colleges and universities and other technical and vocational programs, where you’ll likely engage a more diverse pool of talent.

2. Give marketing materials a makeover. Take a look at your community’s marketing materials. See any patterns? Who is your target audience? Could you be accidentally excluding other groups? A picture is worth 10,000 words. Consider how your marketing team could include diverse images to communicate inclusivity to prospects and their loved ones.

3. Host cultural events and activities. Can we all agree that pulling out the sombrero on Cinco de Mayo and serving up tacos only on Tuesdays can seem a little insensitive? Tear down the old tropes and show a true commitment to teaching your community about the shared experiences of other cultural groups. Host an art exhibit with period pieces, or a cookout with authentic cultural cuisine, or enjoy live music or a storytelling event. Education is important at any age. Show your residents and prospects that your community celebrates and embraces cultural diversity.

4. Share resident reviews and testimonials. Our communities may not be as diverse as we’d like them to be – yet. But when residents in the minority find that yours is a community they can call home, don’t take it lightly. With permission, share their experiences with others, and begin to grow a diverse, inclusive community where everyone feels welcome.

It’s time our industry celebrated the cultural richness of our country, demonstrated by the diversity seen in our senior living communities. As in all things, change is upon us.

How will you lead your organization through the shift? Take a look at your teams and your resident population. If diversity and inclusion are important to the future of your organization, then have the courage to do what it takes to ensure your communities are a place everyone can call home. Now is the time for transformational leadership.

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