By Jacquelyn Kung
Racism is a hot topic in the news and politics these days. Senior living leaders shouldn’t turn a blind eye to this news. Our industry may be incredibly racist as well. And it’s manifesting in the most counterproductive way possible.
Let me explain.
Many senior living organizations require a college degree to be a director or an executive director. Who has more access to finishing a college education? Or let’s ask ourselves the reverse: who does NOT have access? (Hint: picture the many colors of people.)
Here’s how it hurts us as an industry: We have a huge shortage of talent and a huge shortage of great leaders.
Yet, we have many hungry associates in our midst who may not have had the opportunities we ourselves have had and who, when given the chance, often make for amazing leaders.
When I’ve asked executives in our industry why they have that rule of needing a college degree to be an executive director, I don’t get good answers; like being able to think clearly and make good decisions. Doesn’t that come with life skills and observing what’s worked and what hasn’t? Or like, being able to communicate with staff, family members, and residents. Doesn’t that come with empathy and people skills and perhaps some high school, not a college degree?
I’m definitely one who can’t stand dumb people (those of you who know me know that). But I also know that having a college degree doesn’t make someone smart.
We’ve been living this notion on my own team. Several members of our team do not have college degrees. And they are among our most talented and hungry performers and leaders.
Just as the assisted living of today is the nursing home of two decades ago, colleges are the high schools of yesteryear.
Let’s not make college degrees mandatory to being an executive director.
Do you agree – or disagree? Please leave your thoughts below.
What an irresponsible article! I’ve never seen a more broad brush use of the race card against an entire industry.
I know quite a bit about the topic of employment in Senior Living as owner of Senior Living Recruiters. And I’ve seen racism in hiring in the industry.
But, to equate a college degree requirement with racism is pure lazy and an indication of a flawed world view on the part of this author.
If you want to debate the pros and cons of college requirements, that’s a good topic. But, to indict an entire industry is the height of race baiting madness.
Brad in fairness my two cents:
1. When I look at the industry, go to NIC, Argentum, LeadingAge and you will see a group of leaders that are what 97% 98% white? And yet, when you get to the front-line my guess is that it is 70%-80% non-white and that seems like a problem to me. Is it racism in the sense of people setting out to discriminate the answer is no. But in truth we all tend to hire and promote people who are like us because they make us feel most comfortable. So I do think race is a problem.
2. Her big point was that at a time when we have a serious shortage of qualified leaders we put up barriers to jobs that may not be legitimate and that those barriers need to be revisited. I would rock as the CEO of a senior living organization or an executive director, but for a variety of reasons, that all come down to not fitting the right mold I would never be hired into one of those positions.
It’s true that we’re quick to cite racism as the predominant form of injustice in our society. That can be overdone as a kind of mindless political correctness. Still, I think that Ms. Kung is here making a more subtle point. We do have a problem in the narrowness with which Human Resources job descriptions limit the field of possible candidates for a position. We have a further, and more sweeping, problem in that not everyone can readily afford a college education. Not only that but many capable people are born into cultures that don’t encourage education through the college level.
Even among people with a bachelor’s degree, many have no more than a vocational degree in which they are taught to master textbooks which limit thinking to today’s practices. They learn to respect authority rather than to gain discernment and critical thinking. We need a balance between expertise and the potential for advancement. Textbook learning can have practical application, but it doesn’t prepare one directly for the kinds of human nature challenges with which an Executive Director is expected to cope.
Traditionally, innovators and great leaders have either been self-taught like Abraham Lincoln or Andrew Carnegie or they have been educated principally in the Humanities like Franklin Roosevelt. They then use the general insight and learning techniques they gained from their reading and writing to master as needed the vocational knowhow to excel and to advance. There is much to be said for the self-taught individual who comes late to leadership. Moreover, not all college educated people are cut out for leadership.
At one time, LeadingAge offered a program, the Certified Aging Services Professional program, by which anyone could prepare for a senior positive in the eldercare industry. That program was then turned over to the University of North Texas and, eventually, LeadingAge allowed it to fold. Today, LeadingAge offers a Leadership Academy to which people must be named by their employers, and LeadingAge is working with the University of Massachusetts to develop a university program that later starters with families may not be able to afford.
Ms. Kung is right. Culture and cost can be barriers to our desire to encourage the most qualified individuals to pursue careers in senior living. We need a content-filled, examination-tested program like the Certified Aging Services Professional program so that most anyone of gumption and ambition can prepare for higher responsibility. Our core American value that all are created equal suggests that we are not at our best when we set artificial barriers – like the rigid requirement of a college degree – to people of talent who might otherwise lift senior services toward its full potential.
Thank you, Jacqueline Kung, for a thought-provoking article. Is it racism to require a credential that many are culturally less likely to possess? I suppose it could be seen as such. And given that likelihood why require something artificial that doesn’t relate to the substance of the position.