senior man with care worker at home
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The continued evolution and growth of diversity, equity and inclusion [DEI] initiatives is one way long-term care providers can retain employees in a tight labor market, a nurse and attorney with more than 25 years in healthcare said Thursday.

Robust programs give voice to concerns of employees at all levels, recognize cultural differences and social barriers that may limit a worker’s success and adopt policies and goals that embed equity in a provider’s culture, said LaShuan Bethea, executive director of the National Center for Assisted Living.

The former Genesis HealthCare executive led an hour-long webinar exploring the state of DEI, an event co-sponsored by the Advancing Excellence in Long-Term Care Collaborative and the Center for Excellence in Assisted Living.

She noted that while efforts to improve diversity of demographics — and thought — had been around since the 1960s, today’s focus on inclusion is helping to drive real change in skilled nursing and other healthcare sectors.

“It’s not enough to have a seat at the table,” she said. “We also need to make sure that the people who are of a diverse background that have a seat at the table also have an opportunity to contribute.”

Bethea noted that making candidate pools more diverse is just the beginning. For employees who are already on board, it’s key to understand and account for social determinants that might impede their on-the-job success. Helping them build skills, for example, learning a new language that many of your residents speak, might not only improve their abilities but also their job satisfaction. She said encouraging employees’ own goal-setting and also problem-solving through an equity lens could also lead to happier workers.

She also shared several ways in which including disparate voices in decision-making groups could drive retention. Small leadership groups that set company holidays, for instance, should include representatives that practice religions beyond what’s typical for the company. In one timely example, she discussed the impact changes in bus schedules or stops could have on worker availability. Leaders trying to understand a sudden jump in turnover might not know about those changes, especially if they don’t give employees a pathway to share that information.

Let it fly

She emphasized that creating truly inclusive workplaces means having safe spaces for employees to share ideas.

“Are you cultivating a culture where people feel welcome, where they feel supported and where they feel inspired to do their best?” Bethea asked. “People are innovative, and you don’t want to dampen that.”

She said it’s important that both leaders and subordinates be able to ask questions and raise issues in a productive way. In outlining phases of becoming an inclusive leader, one area that Bethea noted is an ongoing challenge is the fear of making a misstep.

“In this environment, where people are often crucified if they make a mistake, people are often afraid to move into the ‘action’ phase, even though they may want to take steps,” she said. “They might be fearful that if they say the wrong thing or if they take the wrong approach, that they will be crucified in the public eye. And that is particularly true for people who are not in the minority.”

One of the most important parts of an organization’s DEI journey, she said, should be learning how to speak inclusively and how to manage particular situations. That process, she said, should include grace for those who are willing to learn and work toward eliminating inequities.

Bethea said she had not seen a dampening of DEI efforts after Florida this spring adopted the Stop WOKE Act, which limits diversity training in schools and workplaces with more than 15 employees. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the law on April 22. 

A group of Duane Morris attorneys advised earlier this month that “Florida employers who conduct diversity-related training … take note of this new law since it prohibits an employer from mandating training and instruction that promotes, advances, espouses or compels employees to believe certain specified topics as delineated in the law.

“However, there remain any number of approaches that may be utilized to provide meaningful and effective implicit bias training in Florida,” the attorneys added.

Bethea suggested any DEI advocates in long-term care worried about their states taking similar action should approach their legislators, and emphasize the strategy’s role in improving care and workforce retention.

“You absolutely need to be vocal about that,” she said. “This is not something that you want to be shy about.”