Senior Living Companies Shatter Glass Ceilings to Boost Performance

The United States may not have elected the nation’s first female president, but just as Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman ever to be nominated by a major party for the American presidency, the senior housing sector continues to make strides to shatter its own glass ceilings.

Many companies are continuing to break down barriers that have prevented women from reaching executive leadership positions. There are still relatively few female CEOs in the industry, though there are indeed more women at the executive level of companies than there might have been five to 10 years ago, according to Brenda Bacon, President and CEO of Brandywine Senior Living.

Bacon is one of several high-profile women in senior housing, with other well-known names including Juniper Communities Founder and President Lynne Katzmann; Ventas Inc. (NYSE: VTR) Chairman and CEO Debra A. Cafaro; LTC Properties Inc. (NYSE: LTC) CEO Wendy Simpson; and many others.

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The industry is full of examples, and Lifespace Communities is a noteworthy one, where six out of 10 members on the senior leadership team are women. Within about two years, the Des Moines, Iowa-based company’s first female CEO, Sloan Bentley, put together an experienced team, over half of which is female, to oversee the ownership and operations of 12 communities.

“One of the reasons I came here is the drive and the business sense of Sloan,” Ann Walsh, senior vice president of operations for Lifespace Communities, tells Senior Housing News. “She has a very caring and compassionate approach to our residents and our team members, and that’s our culture. We lead from the heart, and we are smart and savvy business people at the same time.”

The Business Case

Given that gender-balanced teams boost business performance, according to Sodexo in its 2016 Workplace Trends report, the senior housing industry stands to benefit from further emphasis on diverse leadership.

In an internal study analyzing key business performance indicators from 100 global entities and 50,000 managers in 80 countries, Sodexo identified noteworthy success when a male-female ratio between 40% and 60% was maintained. Brand awareness for companies with this ration was 5% higher between 2010 and 2012, and gross profit skyrocketed by 23%.

“This study reinforces the conviction that gender balance is a significant driver of performance and only delivers results if it is embedded in the global strategy and systematically addressed at all levels of the organization,” the Sodexo report states.

Beyond the business impact of gender-balanced teams, though, is the confidence and inspiration that women in leadership provide. It’s not that women in the senior housing industry are seeking out preferential treatment, nor that they have necessarily endured discrimination. For most, it’s the opportunity to have a seat at the table, and what it means for a company as a whole.

“I can work with anyone,” Jodi Bleier, vice president of financial operations and strategic growth for Lifespace Communities, tells SHN. “I don’t ask for any special treatment because I’m a woman. But looking around and seeing that balance—there’s no substitution for that.”

Understanding the Customer

Focusing on gender gaps or differences isn’t always the way to go, however, according to Brandywine’s Bacon.

“The more we focus on gender, or race, or sexual orientation, or anything that makes us different, the less work we get done,” Bacon tells SHN. “I prefer to focus on what people are bringing to the table, rather than characteristics or what category they fit into.”

Even so, there’s no denying the benefits to having women in senior living leadership, says Patricia Will, Founder and CEO of Belmont Village Senior Living.

“In this industry, we have some real advantages,” she tells SHN. “The main customers are women. The first person out looking for seniors housing is typically a daughter, and we understand the emotional side of these decisions. The largest segment of our workforce is women, and from a workforce perspective, we understand the challenges of work and child care, as most of us female leaders have had to balance that.”

And while senior housing has continued to pave the way as a great place for women to enter and for their careers and grow, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

“We’re not there yet in terms of the opportunities out there to grow women into important leadership roles,” Will says, noting that one surefire way for women to be in charge and become a leader is for them to start their own companies.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

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