Inside Eclipse Senior Living’s New IDEA Campaign to Increase Workforce Diversity

Eclipse Senior Living is forging ahead with a new dedicated effort to boost its workforce diversity — and hopefully set an example for the rest of the industry to follow in the process.

The Lake Oswego, Oregon-based company earlier this year launched a campaign called IDEA, which is based on four cornerstones: inclusion, diversity, equality and acceptance. The campaign is a multi-pronged effort to recruit new workers while identifying career paths to grow diversity among its leadership teams, according to COO Shamim Wu.

“Representation matters,” Wu told Senior Housing News. “Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, what your life experience is, how you identify, your race, creed, sexual orientation — if you are a talented individual who is committed to our mission and our performance goals, there is a place for you here.”

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Meeting the moment

In striving to boost its own diversity, Eclipse is heeding a wider call that the senior living industry needs to do more to foster diversity among its leadership in order to reflect the different groups of people living and working in communities across the country. It’s an issue that has gained increased prominence in 2020 thanks to momentum around the Black Lives Matter movement. The pandemic is also widening the gap between the haves and have-nots in the U.S.

“Having more and more companies commit to a pathway for inclusion and growth for people and communities who are currently marginalized really is more important than ever,” Wu said. “If we’re ever going to create more equity as a society, it has to start with how we think about jobs and careers.”

Many of the leadership roles at Eclipse are already filled by people of color, and 66% of the company’s executive leadership positions are staffed by women. Women make up 87% of the company’s associate workforce, 57% of its workforce identifies as a race other than white — an increase of 7% since March, Wu said.

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For Eclipse CEO Kai Hsiao, the IDEA effort is also personal. As the son of parents who immigrated to the U.S., Hsiao jokes that he was “made in Taiwan.” In striving to make a new life for themselves, his parents made sacrifices and endured hardships, including racism. Informed by that experience, Hsiao wants Eclipse to lead the way in making the senior living industry more welcoming for all.

“We don’t have to accept [racism] anymore, and that doesn’t have to be a part of the deal,” Hsiao said. “So, if we can cause a bit of evolution, and be a part of that evolution for the industry, I think that’s a good thing.”

Big IDEA

In striving to build a more diverse company, Eclipse is making an effort that goes beyond corporate lip service. Sara Lee, vice president of human resources at Eclipse, is helping to lead the IDEA effort on the ground.

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The initiative has four overarching goals:

  • Garner applications from a more diverse job applicant pool; especially for leadership roles
  • Create a pathway for students to go from studying at universities to working in Eclipse communities
  • Connect existing associates who want to grow their careers with two-way mentorship programs and leadership pathways
  • Create professional development and succession planning programs aimed at fostering more diversity in leadership ranks

Eclipse measures how its associates feel about their job, peers and work environment in an annual associate engagement survey. Although Eclipse currently asks employees to self-identify their race in that survey, some opt out. That has prompted the company to look for another local or team-based metric to help it better measure and compare diversity within the company.

On the recruiting level, the company is partnering with Diversity.com to expand its typical sourcing methods to 12 job different sites focused on diversity. The company is also educating its hiring managers on how to overcome unconscious biases when looking for new candidates.

“We really are committed to consciously hiring the person that may be underrepresented,” Wu said.

The company is also leveraging its connections to prominent universities to feed its hiring pool. Eclipse and its leaders are initially focusing on talent recruitment and educational partnerships with several colleges, including with the University of Southern California (USC); Cornell University and its Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and Senior Living Institute; and Washington State University’s Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living and School of Hospitality Business Management. And that might be the tip of the iceberg.

“One of the questions that we’re constantly having conversations around is, how do we get into community colleges?” Wu said. “How do we create that excitement and awareness around a career path … and then how do we get those folks to join an organization in senior living?”

For its current associates, Eclipse plans to open up more career pathways to broaden and diversify its leadership. To achieve that, the company plans to establish two-way mentorship and advocacy programs between more diverse associates and senior leaders. For example, Eclipse seeks to create “interim” assignments or experiences that serve as both a preview of a particular leadership role and an opportunity for building professional skills.

“There just are not a lot of executive leaders in our industry today who are homegrown, who really started their career at the entry level positions in our industry,” Wu said.

Part of the reason that’s so important for Wu and Hsiao is because of their own career paths. Wu started her career as an entry-level sales director of a small assisted living community in Los Angeles, while Hsiao came from outside the senior living industry and benefitted from mentorship while learning the ropes. Both hope to create similar opportunities within Eclipse for employees who are willing to “raise their hand.”

“One of the keys to creating diversity is going to be getting people in at these entry-level positions, and creating a pathway for them to the C-suite so that they learn, but stay in the industry,” Wu said.

Although the senior living industry is no doubt facing unprecedented challenges with the Covid-19 pandemic, diversity should still be at top of mind for providers everywhere. And the pandemic is no excuse for shirking those responsibilities, Hsiao said.

“Can we deal with Covid while addressing diversity? Yeah, I think we can,” he added. “Having something positive that is inspiring and that people can go after is a good contrast.”

Other efforts and strategies included in the IDEA campaign include communications focusing on diversity, including profiles and cultural recognition weeks or months; introducing a multicultural day where associates can take time off when it is important to them; and implementing more management training around diversity, culture and bias.

In looking toward the future, both leaders understand that fostering diversity will be a challenge for the long-haul, and that the work is never truly done.

“This is just how we have to work and what we do. It is part of the company’s DNA,” Hsiao said. “So, the hope is that occurs with other operators as well, and that this isn’t a check-the-box initiative for them.”

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