November 2019 LeadingAge Catalyst

Ingleside, Rockville, MD

Ingleside photo

Excellence in Employee Engagement and Inclusion

Ingleside, based in Rockville, MD, is the umbrella organization of 3 life plan communities in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area (Ingleside at Rock Creek in Washington, DC, Westminster at Lake Ridge in Lake Ridge, VA, and Ingleside at King Farm in Rockville, MD). The organization also includes 3 other entities: Ingleside at Home, a home care company; the Westminster Ingleside Foundation; and Westminster Ingleside Group (WING), a development and project management agency.

In 2019, the entire organization went through a training process to achieve the SAGECare Platinum level lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender cultural competency credential. The effort involved organizing and training 300-plus full-time employees in keeping with the organization’s commitment to ensuring an inclusive environment for all residents, clients, family, friends, and employees.

For its mobilization of a large staff in service to building a more diverse and inclusive environment, Ingleside is this month’s LeadingAge Catalyst.

We spoke with Monique Eliezer, Ingleside’s chief officer of sales, marketing, & strategies, about what it took to complete this effort.

LeadingAge: When and why did Ingleside choose to make the organization more inclusive?

Monique Eliezer: As an organization, we have always been inclusive and diverse. We needed to ensure that all our staff understood the importance of inclusivity, diversity, and to all be on the same page.

So, the effort started 3 or 4 years ago, first with discussion of how to do it, and then last year we received approval for the SAGECare Certification training.

We asked SAGE to help and guide us through the certification process so that we could be credible to our audiences and stakeholders.

We started looking at this from the standpoint of our audience and staff, and in many discussions at the executive level, we asked, how are we going to send this message?

One couple in our Rockville community, as soon as same-sex marriage became legal in Maryland, got married and had their wedding reception at Ingleside at King Farm. The whole community was there-—residents and staff. So all this precipitated more thinking, culminating in learning what SAGE does, and assuming the commitment of saying yes, this is our message.

LeadingAge: Did you know about SAGE already, or did you have to do some research to figure out what exactly you were going to do?

Monique Eliezer: Well, we have been advertising at The Washington Blade. Through the newspaper, we learned more about SAGE, and we knew they were also working with LeadingAge. So all the pieces came together.

LeadingAge: So you decided to go for the Platinum Level credential, the highest level of credential they offer.

Monique Eliezer: Yes, we decided, if we are going to do this as an organization—we have around 400 full-time employees—we will have to do it right. We're going to commit to the certification across the entire organization.

And I have to tell you that one of the [things] that motivated me is that I am very focused on diversity, religion, nationality, race and sexual orientation. So that's what I wanted to bring to the organization.

LeadingAge: You are in marketing; was part of this a desire to reach out to the LGBT community for marketing purposes as well?

Monique Eliezer: That was a subsequent benefit, but the major goal was to say, “Let’s be talking one language. Let's make the organization committed to inclusion and diversity.”

LeadingAge: One thing that really interests me is making this process work with such a large number of people. How did you do it?

Monique Eliezer: Well, in order to get the Platinum certification, you have to have 80% of the employees trained.

So, we started with senior leadership. We brought the training to the headquarters, and it was a 4-hour [workshop] where the SAGE trainers gave us [everything from] theory to practical examples.

In the meantime, while we were organizing this, SAGE was very good about sending material that guided us through the process.

We asked ourselves, will we do this just with the communities? We decided that all entities that impacted residents would be included, and all full-time staff would be invited.

Staff have the right to refuse; you cannot make it compulsory. But we decided that if you’re coming to work with us, this is who we are, and we want you to be aware of who we are. With human resources, we strategized about how to offer this training and have continuity.

So, we set up 2 whole-day sessions at one of the communities, and we had other employees coming from the other communities to learn.

For those employees who have different shifts, and for our frontline employees, we offered a 1-hour training session. For those that could not be there in person, there was an online training, with the caveat that they could always go back and ask questions or talk to someone.

To get the certification, the executive-level and mid-management people needed to do the training in person. Frontline workers had the option of in-person online training and that would qualify for the certification.

LeadingAge: Is the online training an automated program, or was it a conference call with a trainer?

Monique Eliezer: It was an automated training, and there was a questionnaire they had to answer. The training was 1 hour online, and staff were paid for that time. Any [other training] was done in person, with a trainer.

LeadingAge: How did the staff respond to this?

Monique Eliezer: We learned that staff were excited to be able to discuss issues related to the LGBT community, and they were sharing experiences with their colleagues, and this turned the whole thing into much more than a training. You know, it was like, “Wow, I'm learning. And look, I am this or I am that or I identify with this or that.”

We got feedback from the employees saying, “This is one of the reasons I'm proud to be at Ingleside.”

They said, “I never knew anything about what I learned today; it was all brand-new.” And this comes from cultural differences. It was a very transparent training, very open. Staff actively participated; it was not just an obligation.

We need to be recertified every 3 years. The HR team is developing a plan for onboarding this SAGE training, at 1 hour online plus videos, for new employees.

LeadingAge: What's involved in the recertification?

Monique Eliezer: It is more training our employees. And, we have asked [SAGE] if it can build onto the initial training, to include more staff interacting with residents. And maybe the second step would be to offer the same training to residents.

LeadingAge: Speaking of residents, how did they respond to this?

Monique Eliezer: They were all 100% supportive. We learned that some of our residents have grandchildren who are part of the LGBT community, so even though they are from a closed-in generation, their grandchildren were more open and they [knew they] had to adjust in order to interact [with them].

So, this became a way for the residents to open up about their own families.

LeadingAge: Let's talk about outcomes. You achieved the certification. But what else did you see? What has changed as a result of this?

Monique Eliezer: Well, I think the first outcome was what we just talked regarding the staff, being open within themselves and feeling very comfortable in doing so, so that attitude of hiding something is not there anymore.

The camaraderie between them is much higher, and the level of trust is greater.

Here are some quotes from employees: "Looking ahead to the needs of this generation and going forward, it is very important that we are sensitive to people from all walks of life. Getting to know the person and their background better positions us to care for them and to meet their needs."

Another said, "I've always lived with the principle of treating people equally, but when I came to the training today, I learned something new. To treat people the way they really want to be treated, some of the topics were really eye-opening and I think Ingleside will benefit from this training a great deal. We will be more knowledgeable about the people we serve and meet them in their space."

Some other organizations became interested in what we’re doing. I have been invited to talk, for instance, at the American Society for Aging, and another organization is inviting me to share the experience. So, this I think is a beautiful outcome.

LeadingAge: How do you get the word out about this? How do you tell your story?

Monique Eliezer: There was a lot of discussion that came from our commitment to be an organization that is inclusive and diverse, and we are involved in those discussions. And that's great.

Also, with our marketing we use the certification logo and we think it opens a road to different markets. Not just here, but the whole East coast.

We published press releases, and all our collateral [materials] now show the certification. We have a tab on the website called inclusion. We also have a video of the SAGE training.

Editor’s note: Scroll to the end to see the video.

LeadingAge: What percentage of staff took the training?

Monique Eliezer: We actually had more than the required 80% of full-time staff take the training.

LeadingAge: Are you seeing more interest from LGBT elders interested in moving into one of your communities?

Monique Eliezer: Yes, and you know [people] have always asked us about being inclusive and diverse. Now we can say, yes, we are, and we are certified. This brings more credibility for our audience, including professionals. For instance, there are care managers who interact with doctors, and feel that our staff is very sensitive and knows how to interact with that audience. It's getting a lot of attention.

Gene Mitchell is editor of LeadingAge magazine.