Amid ‘DEI Fatigue,’ Senior Living Providers Strive for More Progress

Amid ‘DEI Fatigue,’ Senior Living Providers Strive for More Progress

DEI Fatigue

While there are signs of “DEI fatigue” in a variety of industries, leaders within senior living are pointing to progress that has been made and all the work that remains related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Giving in to so-called DEI fatigue would be a disservice to the “incredibly diverse” frontline staff, according to Erica Thrash-Sall, CEO of Horizon House.

“The front lines are filled with people of color, it would send an awful message,” Thrash-Sall told Senior Housing News. “There’s DEI fatigue, meaning there’s just not the financial investment to move things forward. And there are real challenges with wages and things that organizations are facing, but there is not the lack of desire for it at all.”

Corporate DEIB initiatives surged in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd, but progress appears to have slowed across many sectors, as reflected in findings from the 2023 Kelly Global Re: work Report. For example, the report showed the prevalence of senior managers holding open conversations on inclusion dropped from 30% in 2022 to 21% in 2023, with the report authors questioning whether this is a sign of DEIB fatigue.

“Executives … are aware of DEIB shortfalls – and progress has declined over the past year,” the report authors wrote.

Amid ‘DEI Fatigue,’ Senior Living Providers Strive for More Progress Source: Kelly Re: work Report 2023

And while the Black Lives Matter movement propelled action in senior living, the sector was not as active as some others, such as higher education, in activating DEIB initiatives, according to Marvell Adams, Jr., co-founder and CEO of W. Lawson Company.

“I think what we saw in the last four or so years, within senior living is … many providers waking up to the notion that we weren’t necessarily serving in a very diverse or inclusive way that was demonstrative,” Adams said. “I think the push forward wasn’t as big of a push as some other institutions may have seen, industry-wise.”

That’s not to say there haven’t been DEIB initiatives still actively taking place. After about a year of workforce sessions and input from company members, Covenant Living’s board recently approved DEIB programming in February, according to Dee Brown, chief human resources officer. The programming is going to focus mostly on educating leadership and promoting a sense of belonging among residents and staff.

For Rob Liebreich, president and CEO of Goodwin Living, DEIB is an inevitability for the industry, with a growing population of people of color that is anticipated to make up around half of the anticipated 95 million adults aged 65 and up by 2060.

“We need to be leaning into this, not leaning away from this or not exiting out of the conversation,” Liebreich said. “Just from that vantage point of a diversity element, we need to be already shifting into being more attentive and more welcoming, and better able to accommodate the diversity that’s already growing in front of us.”

Needed intentionality

Thrash-Sall noted there isn’t a lack of diversity within senior housing. However, there is a power imbalance between frontline staff and executive leadership roles where decisions are made. From her experience within senior living, Thrash-Sall said she knows there are life plan communities that are interested in diversifying their resident bases, and progress is being made.

Additionally, she noted she is seeing more diverse boards within the industry to appeal to those diverse future residents. Liebreich said Goodwin Living currently has the most diverse board it has ever seen, including people of color, differing religions, and a variety of sexual orientations, and the company has only been rewarded for doing so.

“[Boards] understand the impact of not just having tokenism,” Thrash-Sall said. “That is a change. People understand what it means to have a diverse organization. But again, I think that there needs to be a significant amount of work.”

Both Thrash-Sall and Adams noted Goodwin Living is among the organizations that are focusing on intentionality in DEIB efforts. What this looks like, according to Liebreich, is a holistic approach across the entire organization, which was sparked following the attention George Floyd’s death brought to the matter. The following weeks led to Goodwin identifying the areas most in need of focus, primarily within the company’s leadership, which led to a plan to ensure “a very diverse and representative leadership within the organization.”

Alongside general education and awareness on inclusion, such as having calendars out for team members and residents highlighting the variety of holidays around the world, Goodwin Living has made an effort to change its hiring practices to “reach into a diverse community background.”

“We’ve been intentional about teaming up and sponsoring events and being active. We have a very high focus on the LGBT community,” Liebreich said. “We have a whole summer’s program going in motion right now with the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce that we’re excited for that will help with education … It’s not just a once-and-done thing. Because of that, now we’re having [many] more in-depth opportunities to come together and co-sponsor events and make things more meaningful.”

However, Adams noted while there have been improvements in education surrounding the importance of diversity, there still hasn’t been an industry-wide shift in the decision-making structure or power dynamics that would create the action needed for systemic change.

A long way to go

Amid ‘DEI Fatigue,’ Senior Living Providers Strive for More Progress

To help aid with inclusion efforts, Adams co-founded the Longevity Inclusion Alliance Fellows Program to recognize the need for more representation and diversity amongst leaders in the field. While the program has been a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go, he said, and it can’t be the only avenue for improving inclusivity.

“The reason we started the Fellows Program is that we have to help ensure that current leaders, white males in particular, gain the cultural competence to be able to lead more inclusively,” Adams said.

Alongside direct community and company leadership, Adams noted there is a need for additional diversity within business partners working with senior living operators, such as in the fields of architecture, development, and financing, which are still largely white-dominated.

Thrash-Sall noted she is in a very inclusive area of Seattle, but she wants to ensure that the efforts being made don’t fade. With that goal in mind, she is looking to the next generation and investing in young people, particularly students with diverse backgrounds, and educating them about what it means to work in senior living.

“Diversity is a norm for us, but it’s not something you can take for granted,” Thrash-Sall said. “Part of the work we do is when we have vendors, we’re asking … ‘Do you have programs, internships … for diverse students from diverse backgrounds?’”

Thrash-Sall added that even within a diverse community, such as the community that makes up Horizon House, there is still a call to do more, particularly for people of color, including those from Asian, Indian, and Latino backgrounds.

To prepare for the future, Thrash-Sall added that her teams are focusing on leadership development for the diverse workforce of Horizon House, to be ready for retirements expected to happen within the next decade.

“For me, success looks like that I can bring up people from our diverse backgrounds … [from] entry-level management or middle management, and we can bring them up,” she said. “That is success to me, and that our leadership team will be reflective of the greater Seattle community, as well as our workforce.”

While there is a way to go, Adams said there is a lot of optimism to be gained from the development of new communities, particularly in the western parts of the country, which are leaning in to serve the diverse demographics of those geographic areas, and the rising trend of intergenerational living, which is creating more inclusive spaces.

“Because you’re trying to be more inclusive, you can then be more inclusive of other cultures. It also works for cultures that maybe have been more privileged and have more choices in the places that they are,” Adams said.

The reasons for the rise of intergenerational housing are various, including dynamics in the economy and the scarcity of affordable housing. Still, there is a recognition that bringing different generations together offers a pathway for improving overall diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“More and more individuals are recognizing that’s how we can create a community that is a bit more inclusive,” Adams said.

Also Read:

Senior Living Operators Manage ‘Balancing Act’ of Rising Acuity, Falling Margins

Source link


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *