Diane Massey headshot
Diane Massey

I belong.  

This feeling of assuredness should define every resident’s experience in a senior living community. 

We have made positive strides in the field to move the dial on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, or DEIB, initiatives for residents. We believe there also should be an increased awareness of and attention to those who encompass our communities, including family members, vendors, board members and, perhaps most of all, staff members. 

After all, the individuals who make up an organization should feel welcomed and respected, regardless of which generation they belong to, or their backgrounds and differences. 

As a field faced with recruitment and retention issues, senior living leaders must find proactive ways to support DEIB initiatives to better engage the workforce. 

Start by taking the time to listen to the ideas of residents and staff, and by providing the resources needed to implement those creative measures.  

Engaging in a system-wide DEIB committee 

One way to impact the perception of senior living is to retain and engage those already working in the field. 

At Kendal, I have the pleasure of being a co-leader in a system-wide DEIB committee. We work to encourage each Kendal-affiliated community to voice its concerns and triumphs in efforts related to inclusion and diversity, especially when it comes to the workforce. 

After being part of the committee for years, I started to note the different vantage points of each campus. For some communities, the focus centered around engaging executive leadership, whereas others discovered the need to better connect with their local community groups. Still others wanted to find ways to promote collaboration between residents and staff on various projects.

Although each community had a different idea on how to approach DEIB initiatives as it relates to workforce, I couldn’t help but notice that a common need was funding to give those ideas life.

Connecting the philanthropic arm of Kendal

As the committee’s work evolved into a set of strong foundational concepts and actionable items, the opportunity to more intentionally support this work through Kendal Charitable Funds, Kendal’s philanthropic arm, piqued the board’s interest.

How could KCF complement the efforts of this system-wide DEIB committee? 

As the KCF Board of Directors became more aware and informed of the committee’s work, they agreed that individual grants to each community would have the most impact and should be the focus of that year’s affiliate grant process. We could provide a broad focus on DEIB and the workforce, but each community would have the creativity to select and implement the best ideas for the campus. 

Lessons learned from the grant funds 

As interim executive director for Kendal Charitable Funds, it was fascinating and energizing to see how quickly affiliates latched onto the idea and the array of proposals that were submitted to KCF. It really hit home the idea that each community needs to address its DEIB concerns in unique ways. 

One example that stands out to me is Kendal at Hanover in New Hampshire.

Kendal at Hanover’s first step was to provide the community with SAGECare training, a highly regarded program that increases LGBTQ+ aging cultural competence. An impressive 90% of Kendal at Hanover staff members participated in this training, earning the highest level of SAGECare certification.  

The community also committed to a three-part gender awareness series to educate residents and staff members. When I spoke to David Urso, chief operating officer of Kendal at Hanover, he shared that the campus carefully chose this topic because residents and employees expressed that they wanted to be more supportive of their peers but didn’t know how to start conversations.

The first workshop provided a basic overview of definitions and concepts related to the LGBTQ+ population. In the second and third sessions, guest speakers included a doctor specializing in gender services, a graduate student currently transitioning, and a woman walking alongside her son, who was transitioning. Those sessions allowed residents and staff members to feel educated on gender differences and empowered to have conversations with diverse individuals.  

Collington, a Kendal affiliate in Mitchellville, MD, took a completely different approach, using consultants to engage with the executive leadership team. The consultants provided specialized expertise around data collection and digital surveying methods. The data they collected from leadership shaped the short and long-term goals for inclusion and belonging on campus. Finally, the consultants used those findings to develop a distinctive and meaningful training session for leadership around DEIB issues. 

Advice to other senior living communities 

I encourage other senior living communities to find ways to support the individual ideas of communities or departments. By allowing the people who live and work in the community to design programs and initiatives, I believe you will see more meaningful and sustainable change. 

Here are four simple steps to get started: 

  1. Start a system-wide DEIB committee - Meaningful sharing happens through organization-wide meetings and touchpoints. If you don’t already have a DEIB committee with representatives from all the campuses or programs, start there. Those meetings offer a platform for mutual understanding and collaborative problem solving regarding shared challenges, along with the opportunity to celebrate successes. This, in turn, ignites inspiration in others to emulate similar achievements.   
  2. Find the right community partners – Each senior living organization has unique opportunities. Defining the areas to improve and creating a framework for accomplishing that change will allow you to attract the right community partners. Gather your leadership team and DEIB committee members to define your goals and figure out the best ways to communicate them to potential partners. 
  3. Don’t give up – Change takes time. It can be discouraging if there is not immediate appreciation, engagement, perceived improvement or change, but small steps forward are still steps forward. Stay the course, continue the work, engage others in ongoing discussions and seek input from staff members regarding what they would like to see by way of your DEIB efforts, as well as what the barriers (perceived or real) might be to staff engagement. This is an ongoing journey and evolution. 
  4. Share your successes – At Kendal, we have worked strategically to share how each community used the KCF grant funding. We publish stories on the employee intranet, forward-facing website and social media. Develop a process, early-on, to share the stories and lessons from DEIB initiatives across the organization. Doing so will help keep your motivation while also letting others learn from your experience. 

DEIB is everyone’s responsibility 

The senior living workforce challenges span beyond DEIB issues, but every positive change we can make in recruiting and retaining staff members makes a difference. We will see real and impactful change when we empower individuals and communities to design and implement the programs that matter most to them.  

Diane Massey is the director of outreach and engagement at The Kendal Corporation and interim executive director of Kendal Charitable Funds. Kendal Charitable Funds, the philanthropic arm of Kendal, provides grants and resources to Kendal affiliates and other community organizations. 

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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