Implementing change at the Alzheimer's Association
The Alzheimer's Association acknowledges diversity and values equity and inclusion as fundamental to reaching everyone facing Alzheimer's and all other dementia. But we recognize a critical component of this work must happen internally. We've made strides toward becoming an organization with staff and volunteers who reflect the communities we serve — and those we still need to reach.
Strengthening our pursuit of equity and inclusion was established as a central mission pillar within the Association's strategic plan in 2018, and in 2019, we welcomed our first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer to lead a growing department. Later that year, we convened an Association workgroup focused on several key objectives, including improving internal engagement and community mobilization.
To gauge our effectiveness and, most importantly, to hone our approach, the Association partnered with Spectra Diversity LLC in 2022 to anonymously survey over 1,000 staff members about our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Overall, the assessment indicated that Association staff view this work as essential drivers of our mission but recognize significant opportunities for improvement, such as fostering a more diverse workforce through deliberate recruitment and retention efforts.
To increase representation in our recruiting practices, we are actively developing relationships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hispanic- and Latino-serving institutions, and tribal colleges and universities. An ongoing partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) offers paid Association internships to students from a growing list of HBCUs. In addition to attracting students to dementia-related professions, recruitment for Association staff positions following graduation is a long-term goal of this alliance.
We also recognize that many individuals from underserved communities have experienced systemic barriers to accessing higher education. For select open positions, we have started to remove education requirements that have precluded many candidates from receiving proper consideration. Our retention strategies include greater investment in staff training and mentoring opportunities toward career growth; recognition of culturally inclusive holidays like Juneteenth; and organizational support for employee affinity groups that are formed around shared identities to promote personal and professional development. These include the Indian Country Workgroup, the Hispanic/Latino Outreach Workgroup, the Black/African American Community Workgroup, the ALZ Pride Council, the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Workgroup and the Rural Community Workgroup.
Responses to the inclusion assessment survey also demonstrated that Association staff are eager for resources to help them cultivate a more inclusive workplace. In fiscal year 2023, one of the Association's strategic goals is to ensure all staff receive DEI training. All new hires are required to take a course on unconscious bias, which equips learners to challenge their assumptions and support a diverse work environment. All staff are offered three course options and must complete one annually to fulfill the requirement.
The Association also offers virtual and in-person education programs to senior staff on the topics of inclusive leadership and rethinking bias in talent management. Additionally, the Association has developed and delivered tailored team trainings to delve deeper into these themes.
A tenet of the work of the Association is to improve the quality of life for those affected by Alzheimer's disease. Our benefits programs are built on that same fundamental belief: to improve quality of life for our employees today and tomorrow. We have a responsibility to our staff to ensure that our health care plans are affordable, accessible and without hurdles, and offer comprehensive coverage to meet a wide variety of health care needs for our staff and their dependents. We actively engage staff in wellness initiatives that promote a healthy lifestyle and build financial stability, and provide paid leave programs to offset the financial burden often associated with taking care of personal and family medical needs.
A vital takeaway from the inclusion assessment is the importance of accountability and transparency. In order to set goals for ourselves as an organization, we must establish ways to measure our progress and make that information widely available. The Association has developed a tracking tool accessible to all staff that collects data on crucial demographic indicators, such as racial and ethnic representation among our employees, board, senior leadership, volunteers and constituents.
"We need to ensure people can look to the Association and see themselves," says Carl V. Hill, Ph.D., MPH, Alzheimer's Association chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. "By identifying metrics to measure our progress, we are holding ourselves accountable to translate our diversity, equity and inclusion goals into action."
Thurgood Marshall College Fund
As the nation's largest organization exclusively representing the Black college community, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) supports a large network of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominantly Black institutions (PBIs) — and serves as a resource for the nearly 300,000 students enrolled, providing opportunities on the journey to college, through college and into a career.
In 2021, the Alzheimer's Association and the TMCF launched a partnership to develop Alzheimer's advocates in Black communities, by offering paid Association internships to students from a growing list of HBCUs. In addition to attracting students to dementia-related professions, recruitment for Association staff positions following graduation is a long-term goal of this alliance.
Marie Charles, a Morgan State University student and TMCF scholarship recipient, has played a key role in a number of initiatives as an intern for the Alzheimer's Association Greater Maryland Chapter. Charles shares helpful resources for individuals and families through a variety of platforms, such as local media broadcasts, community events and regular webinars. In April, she presented at a Palm Sunday Alzheimer's awareness event hosted by her church to educate the community on the warning signs of the disease.
At the Alzheimer's Association Southeastern Virginia Chapter, TMCF scholarship recipients Allen Davis, Dejanae Clark and Madison Walker work with minority-owned business leaders and pillars of the faith communities to expand engagement. They have also collaborated with the Virginia Department of Health to cultivate education programs and support groups for churches across the state. Additionally, Davis has been instrumental in fostering relationships with HBCUs statewide, and presented to faculty and staff at Virginia State University about Alzheimer's and other dementia and the TMCF internship program.
Hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ Americans are living with Alzheimer's or another dementia. While each person's experience is unique, older LGBTQ+ adults experience disproportionate challenges to accessing care and resources, such as discrimination and smaller support networks as they age.
In 2014, the Alzheimer's Association partnered with SAGE Advocacy & Services for LGBTQ+ Elders, the country's largest and oldest organization of its kind. SAGE has conducted online and in-person trainings for Association staff nationwide to help us better understand and serve LGBTQ+ older adults. In addition, by working together, we have provided dozens of free webinars to educate our LGBTQ+ constituents on dementia-related topics tailored to their needs.