Sloan's appointment is a historic moment
While I couldn't be everywhere during LeadingAge, to the best of my knowledge new executive and president Katie Smith Sloan didn't walk across the stage to the tune of a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie quote and a backdrop that said feminist, a la Beyonce.
But make no mistake: The moment may have been quieter, but is historic in long-term care.
Sloan is the first woman to lead the nation's largest group of non-profit nursing home providers since it was founded more than 50 years ago. In an industry where the majority of direct caregivers are women, not to mention the majority of residents, it's notable how few are in top executive roles. Following Larry Minnix's announcement of his retirement, there were people who believed during LeadingAge's national search that the board would never chose a woman to replace him.
Why does it matter? There are people who believe feminism is passe, that we live in an equal society, and that the best candidate always wins. These people are generally men.
If you think misogyny isn't embedded in our culture, peruse the news. Witness this week's Bloomingdale's holiday catalog ad tacitly encouraging date rape, or for that matter Bud Light's ad saying it's the “perfect beer for removing 'no' from your vocabulary for the night.” Or closer to home, we're part of an industry where large members are opposed to the contraception mandate, asserting that a woman's ability to afford and take birth control infringes on their religious freedom. We have all heard stories of workplace bullying that escalates to physical threats, or of case after case after case where pregnant workers in long-term care were fired.
Sloan, by all accounts, is a great leader, someone who listens, who is tough but fair. Unlike outgoing president and CEO Larry Minnix, my sense from interviews is she plays her cards close to the vest. There are a many big decisions ahead, not the least of which, in my opinion, is whether LeadingAge moves toward the more politically aggressive and press-release heavy model of other associations.
So while I don't expect her to start off 2016 talking about gender pay gaps in long-term care, there is a subtle and positive message being sent through her appointment to rising administrators, directors of nursing and incoming employees, both male and female: This is your new leader, a long-time policy wonk, world traveler, kayaker and mother of three. It's a new era.
Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's Long-Term Care News. Follow her @TigerELN.