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Strategic grant initiatives: How to increase diversity and inclusion in senior living communities

I belong.

This sense of security should define every resident’s experience in a senior living community.

We have made positive progress on the ground to shift choice to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, or DEIB, initiatives for residents. We believe that there should also be greater awareness and consideration for those who comprise our communities, including family members, vendors, board members and perhaps most of all, employees.

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

As a field that faces recruitment and retention issues, leaders in the senior living sector 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 providing the resources needed to implement those creative measures.

Participate in a system-wide DEIB committee

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

At Kendal, I have the pleasure of co-leading a system-wide DEIB committee. We work to encourage each Kendal member community to voice its concerns and successes in efforts related to inclusion and diversity, especially as it relates to the workforce.

After years of serving on the committee, I began to take note of the different perspectives of each campus. For some communities, the focus was on engaging executive leadership, while 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.

While each community had a different idea of ​​how to approach DEIB initiatives when it came to workforce, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a common need for funding to bring those ideas to life.

Connecting Kendal’s philanthropic arm

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

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

As the KCF Board of Directors became more aware and informed about the committee’s work, they agreed that individual grants to each community would have the most impact and should be the focus of the grant process for affiliates organizations of that year. 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 subsidy funds

As Interim Executive Director of Kendal Charitable Funds, it has been fascinating and stimulating to see how quickly member companies latched onto the idea and the range of proposals submitted to KCF. It really drove home the idea that each community needs to address its DEIB issues in unique ways.

An example that stands out to me is Kendal in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Kendal’s first step in Hanover was to provide the community with SAGECare training, a highly regarded program that increases the cultural competency of LGBTQ+ aging. An impressive 90% of Kendal’s Hannover employees took part in this training, achieving the highest level of SAGECare certification.

The community has also committed to a three-part gender awareness series to educate residents and staff. When I spoke with David Urso, Chief Operating Officer of Kendal in Hanover, he said the campus carefully chose this topic because residents and staff said they wanted to be more supportive of their peers, but didn’t know how to start a conversation.

The first workshop provided a basic overview of definitions and concepts related to the LGBTQ+ population. The second and third sessions included a physician specializing in gender counseling, a graduate student who is currently transitioning, and a woman walking next to her son, who was transitioning. These sessions ensured that residents and staff felt informed about gender differences and were able to have conversations with diverse individuals.

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

Advice to other senior living communities

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

Here are four easy steps to get started:

  1. Start a system-wide DEIB committee – Meaningful sharing happens through organization-wide meetings and contact moments. If you don’t already have a DEIB committee with representatives from all campuses or programs, start there. These meetings provide a platform for mutual understanding and joint problem-solving on shared challenges, along with the opportunity to celebrate successes. This in turn fuels the inspiration in others to pursue similar achievements.
  2. Find the right community partners – Every senior living organization has unique opportunities. By defining the areas that need improvement and creating a framework to drive that change, you can 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. Do not give up – Change takes time. It can be discouraging when there is no immediate appreciation, commitment, perceived improvement or change, but small steps forward are still steps forward. Stay the course, continue the work, involve others in ongoing discussions, and seek input from employees on what they would like to see through your DEIB efforts, and on what the barriers (perceived or real) might be to employee involvement staff. This is an ongoing journey and evolution.
  4. Share your successes– At Kendal, we have worked strategically to share how each community has used KCF grant funding. We publish stories on the employee intranet, the forward-looking website and social media. Develop a process early on to share the stories and lessons learned from DEIB initiatives across the organization. Doing this will keep you motivated and help others learn from your experiences as well.

DEIB is everyone’s responsibility

The challenges of senior living extend beyond DEIB issues, but every positive change we can make in recruiting and retaining staff 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 director of outreach and engagement at The Kendal Corporation and interim director of Kendal Charitable Funds. Kendal Charitable Funds, Kendal’s philanthropic arm, 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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