Where my ladies at?

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

If you went to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care conference for the first time three years ago, as I did, you'd be forgiven for recognizing its importance, but agreeing with the sentiment that it's a “WORM” (White Old Rich Men) crowd.

But that is changing, with NIC drawing in more women and, to a lesser extent, minorities. NIC's annual fall conference this week drew more than 2,000 attendees, 500 of whom were there for the first time. Without having hard data, it's clear that anecdotally people agree it's become a place where more than the traditional suits are welcome.

The rise of women is not something NIC is taking credit for, says Robert Kramer, NIC's president. There are multiple factors: There are more former female executives going off to start their own companies, and when Kramer speaks at business schools, 40% to 50% of the crowd is made up of women, he notes. A third of NIC's Future Leaders Council are women.

Thursday afternoon's Hail to the REITS: REIT CEOs Talk Big Growth Amid Big Changes featured three speakers: Debra A. Cafaro, chairwoman and CEO of Ventas Inc., Lauralee Martin, president and CEO of HCP, Inc., and Wendy Simpson, chairwoman and president of LTC Properties Inc. Minority, and minority women, are still “woefully underrepresented,” Kramer notes, but there are trailblazers such as Brenda Bacon, the CEO, cofounder, and president of Brandywine Senior Living, which operates 24 senior living communities in five states.

So why does any of this matter, and what can we do better?

There are a few reasons around the first.The majority of the long-term care customer base is female. It's often the first-born daughter in a family who is making the decision about where to put her parents. There are going to be increasing waves of wealthy families, including immigrant families, who want to see a diverse and inclusive long-term care community. To pretend not to care about any of these factors is to shut the door to potential new markets.  

But don't get me wrong: NIC is still predominantly men, and it's an environment focused on money, power and deal-making. It's a place where I heard a man yelling at 7:30 a.m. in a hallway about a lack of a written policy, and a man snarling in a heavy New York accent, “I'm not going to sugarcoat it for them.” Testosterone still flows through the halls of NIC as if it were attached to an intravenous drip.  

To that end, older women who have achieved success have an obligation to reach out to promising younger women, and male CEOs should look carefully at who is on their team to encourage a diversity of voices. One look at the NFL lately will indicate what happens when there's, shall we say, too much consensus.

There's a fear sometimes in any group around sharing a small pie, as The Middlesteins' author Jami Attenberg has discussed. While she was talking about publishing, the lesson is the same: Realize there is no pie. In senior housing, there is so much growth and so much opportunity that making the introduction, or offering advice, or being a mentor won't take anything away from what you are doing. There will just be more pies.

People like Severine Petras, the managing member and CEO of Lamplight Communities in Ohio, spoke about the need for women to recognize and reach out to each other.

“We need more owner/operators, we need to protect ourselves and we need to support each other,” she says. “We need to encourage other women. It's 2014, but it is still a male-dominated industry, and there is power in numbers.”

This year I also was fortunate to be invited to Waller Law's Annual Women's Breakfast, which was actual fun. I met women that included Susannah Myerson, ProMatura's vice president of research and applied strategies and NIC speaker, Alice Katz, the president of the Vinca Group in Maryland and Tonya W. Scharf, a Waller attorney who organized the breakfast. She encouraged everyone there Thursday morning to bring another woman with them to next year's breakfast as a way to encourage networking and partnerships. I hope to see you there.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's Long-Term Care News. Follow her @TigerELN.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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