Racism has long been an issue in healthcare and other industries, but the pandemic brought this concern front and center and shined a light on its impact on our workforce.
At the start of the 2020 Annual Summit of the Advancing Excellence in Long-Term Care Collaborative (AELTCC) late last year, Larry Minnix, author, consultant, and former CEO of LeadingAge, shared a hard truth: “If you are a person of color, you are likely to get poorer quality of care, fewer choices. We have people providing care who aren’t getting adequate benefits or play. This is where we need to start.”
Keynote speaker Freeman Hrabowski, II, president of University of Maryland Baltimore County, said “We need to begin with the notion that it’s difficult to be honest with ourselves sometimes. We need to be looking in the mirror to understand what we’ve done well and what the problems are. Discrimination, prejudice based on race and ethnicity, is at right up there at the top of list.” He observed that there is structural racism in education and in the post-acute and long-term care (PALTC) industry, where the people at the bottom of the organizational structure are often people of color, paid the least, and have the fewest benefits. “We need to look at practices that have led to this. We need to develop professional career ladders. CNAs and others need to know where they go from here,” he said.
Hrabowski talked about the need to diversify leadership with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion and increased representation in areas where there are underrepresented groups. He suggested a few steps to start on this path:
- Have high expectations for people in educational programs. Look for ways to be champions and mentors to them.
- Build community with more initiatives that focus on a cohort of leaders talking about these issues.
- Bring more people of all races into these efforts.
- Look for ways to create and maintain cultures that promote diversity and inclusion.
This isn’t an easy process, Hrabowski admitted. “We have biases our parents taught us. The fact is that we are all dealing with this.”
Marvell Adams, Jr., CEO for The Kendal Corporation, observed, “When I started out, there were few people of color in my position.” He suggested to his audience, “Think of your own circle of professionals, and you likely would be hard pressed to develop a list of people of color in your own network.” He added, “There is a tendency for all of us to be in circles of individuals who are comfortable for us. But this comfort level is a very gray area to talk about.”
Fortunately, Adams noted that there is more interest in having a more diverse slate of candidates for C-suite and upper-level management positions. This calls for a concerted effort to find candidates who are people of color. Boards of directors need to look beyond their own circles and networks to for leadership candidates. This may mean some efforts such as seeking search firms that are able and committed to finding diverse individuals with the right qualifications.
Systemic racism won’t go away tomorrow, Adam stress. “We have to work on this over time. To start we have to address inclusion and diversity within systemic racism and be bold decision-makers and influencers committed to promoting inclusion and diversity. Without this, our chance for success seems very small.”