Grace Kong: Establishing Positive and Memorable Experiences for Employees

The Most Influential Women in Diversity & Inclusion- 2024

Grace Kong

Grace Kong is the Chief Diversity Officer & Head of Talent Strategies at Bayshore HealthCare, responsible for establishing positive and memorable employee experiences across the enterprise. She does that through moments that matter the most and with the lens focused on ensuring that the offerings are equitable, diverse, and inclusive.

For employees, she strives to establish notable experiences through corporate culture as well as via new or enhanced offerings, programs, policies and/or procedures. Grace inspires, influences, and motivates individuals, and strives to get the best out of them. When she sees those, that she’s influenced succeed, she feels accomplished. “Success is knowing that I have made an impact on the lives or the career of others,” she says.

 She also believes that success means building strong teams and doing meaningful work in an inclusive environment that impacts and contributes to a great employee experience. It involves creating moments and value that matter the most to individuals so they can bring their best selves forward. As a leader, she is “authentic” in every sense of the word.

The Beginning in Human Resources

More than 25 years ago, Grace began her career in human resources. It was not her original career choice. She chose the HR field because of her “deplorable experience” at a “toxic organisation,” where the leadership lacked integrity. She recalls that unethical practices were the norm and the interest, and the safety of the employees were never a priority. She never wanted to face such a “horrible experience” again. This sparked her determination to help create organisations where positive employee experiences were the norm. “With that aspiration in mind, I enrolled in the post-graduate Human Resources program to begin my fulfilling career,” she says. “To this day, I’m proud to say, I’ve been able to fulfil that aspiration through many organisations I’ve worked for.”

In February of 2022, Grace joined Bayshore. Before that, she traversed many different paths. Those experiences, exposed her to all the facets related to the world of work – both locally and globally. She also gained unique and invaluable experiences because of that. As a Human Resources Professional and a Certified Executive Coach, she also acquired great learnings working across a wide variety of industries, including healthcare, pharmaceutical, technology, automotive, and financial services. A majority of the companies she worked for were progressive global organisations, such as Cox Automotive, GlaxoSmithKline, Baxter International, EMD Serono, Fidelity Investments, Merrill Lynch, and Softchoice Corp. Several of them she had shared that she had achieved distinct recognition and awards for them as top employers.

Over the years, she has been recognized in different ways for her leadership in Human Resources; for example, through leadership awards, trips, speaking engagements, and/or new opportunities. But, for Grace, the best recognition, which truly makes her proud, comes from aspiring young individuals. They are the ones who have expressed their desire to meet and learn from her, follow her leadership footsteps, or those that have expressed their interest and their desire to build a career just like hers when they grow up. “Being seen as a role model by aspiring leaders and having such an influence on others is truly the greatest recognition I could ever receive as a leader,” she says.

Stepping Into a DE&I Leadership Role

Over the years, Grace has learned a lot from other leaders, especially from those who she looked up to. Including those that have shaped her into the leader that she has become today. Her team sees her as a leader who instils the values of inclusivity, collaboration, and co-creation in building trust and innovative strategies in the work they do.

Grace’s journey to leadership, however, was a challenging one. She had to overcome several barriers. For example, a senior leader, she recalls, insinuated that she didn’t need to work hard as there was no risk of her losing her job because the company needed individuals who looked like her to represent the diversity on the team. And, many of the leaders she looked up to didn’t exhibit similar visible diversity, cultural values, or shared the same gender identity that she did. Undeterred by all that, Grace continued her journey towards leadership. She was “very conscious” that she had the chance to pave a path forward as a role model for other aspiring young leaders who were female or Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Colour (BIPOC).

“The opportunity to step into a DE&I leadership role was the best chance to continue to role model and shape cultures into inclusive organisations by establishing connections and bringing the collective wealth of diverse individuals and mindsets together,” Grace says.

Her goal is to continue to be the voice, the advocate, and the individual who pushes the agenda forward on creating inclusive cultures and progressing more women into leadership roles. She also wants to leverage the opportunity to contribute to the evolving future where gender parity, racial differences, sexual orientation, or diversity of any sort no longer matter in how someone shows up as a leader.

Grace draws inspiration from Stephen Covey’s philosophy of “seeking to understand and then to be understood.” It has guided her in her journey to become an effective leader, which she is today. She highlights that Stephen Covey’s philosophy has helped her throughout her journey as a female, visible minority leader. It has taught her to listen first, acknowledge biases that others may have, and know when to de-prioritise her own needs. Grace has always been open to “collectively” accept the differences of others. “Accepting and understanding the differences of others has always enhanced and strengthened my capabilities as a leader,” she says.

At Bayshore, Grace follows its vision of “being the difference” to lead her team. She says that as a leader, the “little differences” she takes in leading has gone a very long way in motivating them. The little differences that she makes include: being there to listen, empowering and encouraging them, and from time to time, being their cheerleader.

Valuable Lessons Learned from Roadblocks

 Early in her career, Grace realized that everyone is unique in their own way. “What is seen on the surface, assumptions, and personal biases potentially become the roadblocks that get in the way of what is true, what is known or unknown about an individual’s upbringing, or the unique offerings they bring,” she says. This realization made her quickly learn a valuable lesson. She learned that based on who she was, she could never rely on perceptions others may or may not have of her and her capabilities; nor, could she solely rely on her merit of high performance and keeping her head down, with her fingers crossed in hopes for the next great opportunity.

She also recognised that it was important to build her own brand and not allow roadblocks, such as her gender or racial diverse identity, to hold her back. She also realised that investing in her personal brand was critical to her success and growth in her career. Grace explains that building upon “Me Inc.” meant investing in time to further her education, taking calculated risks by changing jobs through specific companies and industries, and/or strategically seeking and taking on untraditional career opportunities, include taking on a second job as a college instructor. These opportunities in some cases resulted in progressive roles, while in other cases led to accepting lateral or lower positions with less compensation – with the anticipation of gaining more diverse experiences that would ultimately lead to further progressive growth opportunities in the future.

A Brief Introduction to Bayshore HealthCare

 Bayshore HealthCare, a leader in the provision of home and community healthcare services, is dedicated to the quality of life, dignity, and independence of all Canadians. It is recognised for clinical excellence and digital innovation. Although it was originally founded in 1966, it became a wholly-owned Canadian company in 1993.

“We believe in creating special moments for our clients every day, whether at the bedside, on the phone, or in the clinic,” Grace says. “These moments touch the lives of our clients and our employees, and they guide the way we run our business.” These moments also inspire, change, and encourage every individual working at Bayshore Healthcare. Grace points out that they call that the “Bayshore difference.”

The company has locations across the country, including more than 80 homecare offices, 11 pharmacies, and over 100 community care clinics. It has more than 18,000+ staff members, of which 50% were born outside of Canada and 85% identify as women. “Many of these team members provide care to over ~350,000+ clients annually, delivering over 20M+ hours of care that allows clients to live their lives in the comfort of their own home,” Grace says.

Bayshore’s wide range of offerings sets it apart from its competitors. Its diverse offerings to its clients include Home Health (medical and non-medical home care and staffing services), Home Care Solutions (home care services for government care programs), Specialty Rx (specialty pharmacy, infusion, and pharmaceutical patient support services), along with solutions from two innovation teams: Integrated Care Solutions and Digital.

Since 2006, Bayshore HealthCare has been a recipient of Canada’s Best Managed Companies award, and recently, it won the 2023 Forbes Canada’s Best Employer award. “Our employees are everything to Bayshore,” Stuart Cottrelle, President at Bayshore HealthCare, says. “Their dedication and compassion set us apart as they consistently go the extra mile to make a difference in the lives of those we care for.”

He also says that they are a detail-obsessed organisation and committed to caring for others. “If that continues to make us one of the industry’s best-kept secrets, we are honoured to hold that title,” he adds.

The Norm – Putting the Well-Being of Others First

 Compassion, care, and putting the well-being of others first are the norms at Bayshore. Stuart Cottrelle points out that care, respect, and dignity are ingrained in the DNA of their “wildly passionate group” of team members. They just don’t do what they are supposed to do but they also find new or innovative ways to make an even greater difference in the lives of others and in what they do each day.

Grace adds that the choice difference with Bayshore is about how they deliver their services differently to those they care for, work with, and in their communities. “As we imagine being the difference, we are committed to continuing to elevate the human experience, with innovative, digital, and inclusive strategies that are supported by the strength of our diverse and inclusive culture,” she says.

Plan for the Future

Bayshore is committed to helping every Canadian who requires healthcare services to live their best lives outside of hospitals and other institutions. The organisation has built an integrated suite of healthcare services that allows patients to receive complex care in the community.

Grace reveals that the two most significant areas of future focus for Bayshore are: providing care to seniors aging in place and those individuals who are living with chronic diseases outside of institutions. She shares that demographics and connected technologies will continue to create growth in both of these spaces.

“We also believe that a patient’s choice, healthcare system costs, and technology will result in a large transfer of funding/resources over the next decade to home and community care,” Grace shares. Hence, the organization has prepared for this shift to community and believe it will be the best for patients and their families.

Fortunate to Be a Part of the Healthcare Industry

For Grace, throughout her career, as a woman – and even more so as a female visible minority – it has been important to push through barriers that specifically affect women’s entrance into leadership. And she feels fortunate to be a part of the healthcare industry because it allows women to continue to outpace other industries in the representation, hiring, and advancement of women. However, there is always room for improvement, especially for women in Leadership, she says.

As a role model to her daughter and niece who lost her mother – Grace’s sister – at a very young age or as a mentor or coach to aspiring young women, Grace recognised the huge opportunity to influence and shape the future of the next younger generation. “With that in mind, I took it upon myself to step forward on several occasions to present as a keynote or panel speaker at several leadership conferences for women, and I also held the seat of executive chairperson to a couple of women in leadership committees,” she says.

Beyond that, she had devoted her time to helping students in high schools. She leveraged her science degree to build the confidence of female STEM students and encouraged them to create a future for themselves. Grace points out to them, that they can make a difference in the male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, where according to research, women make up only 34% of the workforce.

Work-Life Balance and Lifelong Goal

Highly successful leaders often stress the importance of maintaining a work-life balance. Grace took years to come to peace with herself and realise that balancing personal and professional life is very important. Her career and personal life suffered when she could not maintain a balance between work and home.

“Having a balance of one without the other has impacted me personally in the past and my overall success,” she says. “Who I am today is only a result of ensuring that I strategically dedicate equally as much time to balance both.”

Grace gains meaning in life through her family, experiences and adventures, and the purposeful work she does is a way to enhance the “great life” she lives. And, in order to live her best life, she has intentionally created boundaries and removed obstacles that no longer add value to her life. She is also mindful to take time for herself so that she can rejuvenate. Grace points out that although it is tough to do, as dwelling on others has always been her focus, taking time for herself had to become a priority to ensure that she is able to live her life to the fullest by adding balance into her life.

“Refocusing on the positive things in my life that I could control, has set me on the right path as I work towards my lifelong goal of reaching the ripe old age of 102 years old,” she says.

Message to Aspiring DE&I Leaders

Grace wants aspiring DE&I leaders to aim to be intentional in bringing together diverse points of view. In her message to them, she also advises them to recognise and celebrate the unique differences and experiences of those around them and take every opportunity to create a safe inclusive environment where continuous learning, awareness and being open minded foster a culture of understanding amongst all. Grace says, “Doing so will lead to improved engagement, enhanced innovation, increased loyalty and retention, and the collective brilliance and diversity of individuals will be unleashed and celebrated, to be harnessed for the greater good of the organization and it’s community,”.