Female Senior Living Execs Talk Work-Life Balance, ‘Doing It All’

Currently, almost 70% of the employees in senior living management roles are women—and they shouldn’t always have to sacrifice quality time with their families for their jobs.

That’s according to four female senior living leaders who spoke on a Tuesday panel about women in leadership at the 2018 Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference in San Diego.

During the discussion, the panelists spoke about the idea of “doing it all,” the mentors who shaped their careers and the support they’ve received from their colleagues both inside and outside of the workplace.


‘Doing it all’

For female senior housing executives, work-life balance isn’t necessarily elusive—it’s just a mischaracterization of the truth.

“I start by not calling it ‘balance,’” Shamim Wu, COO of Elmcroft by Eclipse Senior Living, explained during the session. “I really look at it like a blend.”


Sometimes, work is going to cut into family time, and family time is inevitably going to distract from the job.

“There are days, weeks, or even months, where work dominates your life, because that… is what the business requires,” Wu noted. “But there are times where your family dominates your life.”

Wu’s children know that there might be times on a Saturday when she has to take a call for work, and her team at Elmcroft knows that she might miss an 11 a.m. meeting because she has to attend her children’s school orientation.

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“Neither party makes any bones about it,” Wu said.

Still, work should rarely take precedence over an event that’s important to your family, according to Brandywine Senior Living President and CEO Brenda Bacon.

“Decide now that you’re always going to choose that thing that’s important to your family and your kids,” Bacon advised. “And that doesn’t mean when you show up that you aren’t going to still outwork and outshine every man in the room.”

It’s also not a bad idea to actually bring your kids to work, panelists agreed.

“My kids have been to several snow storms, they have shoveled, they have worked in the dining room,” Michelle Hamilton, senior vice president of operations at The Arbor Company, said. “It helps to build your children… you’re building that integrity in your children about what is it to work, and to give back.”

Learning to stop being a perfectionist has helped Belmont Village Senior Living founder and CEO Patricia Will achieve greater work-life balance throughout her career.

“Learning how to be the last mom to the baseball game and not knowing which team is winning and cheering for the wrong ones—that’s okay,” she explained.

In this regard, female executives can learn from their male counterparts.

“Guys have a very easy time doing just good enough, and then walking away,” Will said.

Be true to yourself

Above all, women in any workforce—not just senior living—should stay true to themselves when they decide whether or not to pursue a career after having children, the panelists suggested.

“I can’t imagine me not working,” Hamilton said. “I absolutely have no regrets.”

Hamilton also advocated against trying to be someone you’re not outside of work.

“I tried to be a PTA mother. Can you imagine me?” Hamilton said. “I am not cut out to be in the PTA. It’s just not good for me, and it wasn’t good for our kids.”

It’s also critical to find a mentor who truly believes in your potential. For Wu, that’s her mother.

“The day I turned 35, [my mom] texted me,” Wu said. “She said, ‘Shamim, on your birthday today, I want you to remember, that as of today, you can run for President of the United States.'”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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