diversity, equity, inclusion and access
Engage Magazine Fall 2021

LeadingAge Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative

By Natasha Bryant, Managing Director/Senior Research Associate, LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMASS Boston

The field of long-term services and supports (LTSS) is not immune from the racial inequities that have received well-deserved attention across our nation over the past year. On the contrary, the LTSS sector is a microcosm of the systemic racism that exists in our society. 

Across the nation, half of frontline professional caregivers are non-white, and this percentage is substantially higher in many aging services organizations. In contrast, mid- and senior-level managers and board members in these organizations are predominately white. Research has identified this lack of diversity in management and leadership as a major contributor to turnover and recruitment challenges among frontline staff in LTSS organizations.

To address these concerns, LeadingAge identified increased racial diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace as one of the key elements of its strategic goal to transform the LTSS workforce across all settings. As part of this effort, the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston engaged in three applied research activities to better understand the current state of DEI activities among LeadingAge members. 

DEI Survey of Organizational Leaders 

In early 2021, LeadingAge researchers conducted a survey of chief executive officers (CEO) of multi-setting LTSS organizations and life plan communities to gauge their level of DEI-related activity. Survey highlights include the following:

Demographics: The senior leadership teams and boards at provider organizations are predominately white.

DEI Initiatives: Only half of survey respondents have DEI initiatives in place, and many are in the beginning stages of establishing a formal DEI program. The majority of respondents have launched a DEI council or taskforce. Between one-third and almost one half have developed a DEI strategic plan, allocated budget or other resources toward DEI, or established a board-level DEI subcommittee or taskforce. 

DEI Priorities: The top two DEI priorities among survey respondents are:

  • Holding DEI training for employees.
  • Fostering a DEI workplace culture.

DEI Challenges: Providers face the following challenges in advancing their DEI strategy and goals:

  • Employee engagement
  • External, cultural, societal, or sector shifts
  • Lack of benchmarks to define DEI goals
  • Organizational crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Inadequate resources and infrastructure to support DEI

DEI Metrics: Only one in five providers has established DEI goals and metrics that define success. The top metrics are:

  • General employee engagement.
  • Employee retention rates.
  • Increased racial or ethnic diversity among senior leaders and board members.
  • Employee recruitment.

DEI Interviews with Organizational Leaders and Leaders of Color

The LTSS Center research team conducted interviews with leaders at 10 LTSS organizations: the CEO and the person who oversees the DEI initiatives, often called the chief diversity officer. Leaders discussed their current DEI efforts and the challenges they face as they work toward their DEI goals.

Researchers also interviewed 10 leaders of color with experience in the LTSS sector. These leaders discussed the special challenges they faced as they sought to enter and advance in our field. Findings from the interviews will not be available until fall 2021. Here are a few preliminary themes:

Organizational Commitment: The commitment and support of the board, CEO, and other senior leaders is critical to advancing DEI and integrating it into the organizational culture. 

Strategic Planning: DEI should be woven into the organization’s strategic plan and goals so board members and senior leaders will pay attention to DEI issues and feel accountable for the organization’s DEI progress.  

Intentional Hiring: It is important for organizations to be intentional in hiring senior leaders of color and recruiting board members of color. The composition of the leadership and board teams should match the composition of frontline staff and the people being served.

Assessing Beliefs: Organizations should begin the DEI process by assessing staff members’ DEI-related beliefs and perspectives. This assessment will help the organization identify gaps in its DEI strategies and take steps to initiate its DEI work.

Partnership with the United Negro College Fund 

LeadingAge began a collaboration with UNCF (the United Negro College Fund) to build career awareness of the LTSS field among people of color and to increase diversity in mid-level and senior-level positions. The multi-pronged strategy, which also involves other stakeholders, will focus on developing formal programs and partnerships to support students, alumni, faculty, and the institutions that serve them, and to help accelerate the entry of more diverse leaders into the aging services sector.

Our DEI Commitment

LeadingAge is committed to increasing diversity and inclusion in the LTSS field. Through these efforts, we will address challenges to and strategies for achieving success in creating awareness about LTSS career opportunities for people of color and building a pipeline for expanding racial diversity in the LTSS managerial and leadership ranks across all settings. 

Our goal over the next three years is to offer each LeadingAge member the tools and resources it needs to develop a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

Learn more about the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMASS Boston: ltsscenter.org.