When I headed to Chicago last week for our first, in-person Women of Distinction event since 2019, I managed to squeeze in the tiniest bit of sightseeing too.

I used a lunch break to head 103 stories above Lake Michigan and stand atop “The Ledge,” an all-glass, dizziness-inducing perch that juts out from the side of the famed Willis Tower.

Of course, I snapped the obligatory selfie of my feet far above the Chicago River and the dozens of smaller skyscrapers below me. And, of course, I put that signature snap onto my social media feed while killing time in the airport Friday evening.

The view from the ledge.

Ironically, a friend commented that the “glass ceiling” had become the floor. It was ironic because she had no idea I was in town to celebrate more than 40 women who are changing long-term care for the better — and often doing it in their own trailblazing fashion.

But it was also ironic because the barriers keeping women from the sector’s pinnacle led to a down moment in an event otherwise filled with bright spots and inspirational tales.

While sharing lessons from her own career and encouraging others to seek mentorships and educational opportunities to further their careers and organizations, Cassie Mistretta noted that certain LTC roles still tend to be dominated by men.

The CEO of Senior Living Properties, Mistretta said women won’t fully be able to execute on all their ideas until they can claim more of the capital. She noted that women like 2022 McKnight’s Women of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Patricia Will are still the exception to the rule.

Will transitioned from a broader healthcare real estate career to focus on senior living, and as she set out to launch Belmont Village Senior Living, she often met with potential investors who wanted to wait to hear her pitch until her boss showed up.

Will has been THE boss —  owner, developer and operator —  since 1997. She’s less lonely for female peers at the top than she used to be, particularly when it comes to finding women leaders in top management and operational positions.

But when Mistretta, during an educational panel Friday, asked for a show of hands from female owners or those who work for organizations owned by women, there was just Will to lay claim.

And so, in a room packed with talent, there was a poignant reminder that there are still significant gains to be made.

The glass ceiling problem isn’t exactly new for skilled nursing, but it seems the time could be now to seize the opportunity. Though financial pressures are building, capital remains abundant for the right properties and concepts. 

Investors, male and female alike, would do themselves a favor to take note of ideas and business models springing from the creative, problem-solving minds of female healthcare and senior care executives.

Women, by some standards, seem well positioned to stake a more wizened entrepreneurial perspective here. As speakers noted throughout our two days in Chicago, they may bring more compassion to their treatment of employees, a better understanding of the work-life balance driving staffing challenges, and a more knowing eye when it comes to family caregivers and what makes residents tick. Like Will, many turned to long-term care after taking on caregiving duties in their own families.

For women who are biding their time or charting a course, I’m excited to see you step out onto the ledge and to share your stories in years to come. The industry needs your leadership. 

So aim high, and then aim a little higher. As I tell my kids, if you shoot for the moon and don’t quite make it, you’ll still be among the stars.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.