Make good change. Take the opportunity in front of you. Run with it.

That’s some of the sage advice that emerged from the McKnight’s Women of Distinction Forum session Wednesday “Lessons learned along the way.” A pair of Lifetime Achievement Award winners dispensed it.

Lynne Katzmann, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Juniper Communities and last year’s winner, and Wendy Simpson, president and CEO of LTC Properties and this year’s winner, shared what they’ve learned during their long-term care journeys.

Katzmann acknowledged the workplace has changed dramatically since her career began, but added that women still have a ways to go.

“In my lifetime, I remember not being able to play sports — there was no Title IX, [the Family and Medical Leave Act] became part of our everyday world, and we have more control over what we do with our own bodies,” Katzmann said, adding that although change has been “monumental,” women still struggle. ”We are still having to serve ourselves and make sure there is an appropriate place for us at the table, and enough of us at the table.”

Simpson said when she attended college, she often was the only woman in her accounting and business classes. Today, she estimated, more than 50% of students in those classes are women.

“One of the things that happened is there are just more of us. We can’t be ignored,” she shared with McKnight’s Senior Living Editor Lois A. Bowers, who moderated the session. 

Women may have equity in the workplace, Katzmann said, but they still struggle with equality.

“The way we are viewed and the way we view ourselves is an important thing to look at,” she said. “I think we, as women, continue to have to think about how others see us, rather than just be ourselves. We have edges; we have smooth spots. We’re smart, but we have to think about what we say and how we say it for women in business. It’s one thing we need to pay attention to.”

One critical way to address equality in the workplace, Katzmann said, is to ensure that women are in the boardroom and in the C-suite. The current Black Lives Matter movement, she added, shines a light on the fact that people need to be seen as individuals and seen for who they are — not for their color or sex — but to really understand them.

“We all deserve that chance,” Katzmann said. “Education and fairness of issues about equity and inclusion are all important.”

Chances to lead

The speakers agreed that women dominate the senior living and skilled nursing fields, at least at the operating level.

“Who do we serve? Women. Who works for us? Women. If nothing else sets us apart, that sets us apart,” Katzmann said. “I also think the business itself — we’re engaged in nurturing and caring for people who need assistance — I think that is something that many women gravitate to naturally.”

The industry provides women with great opportunity to lead and show the way to make a difference, she said.

Simpson said it’s interesting to see more women at the operating level, but noted that the numbers of women drop off at the senior management level.

“Where business is larger, men tend to gravitate to the top,” Katzmann said. “Women have not necessarily had the confidence at times to think of themselves in that way. It’s been a bit of a club. I think it goes back to networking, and I think we just need to continue to make space.”

One of the reasons men have dominated the industries is that they help their friends, Simpson said. Women, she added, should be no different. She said women should recognize their accomplished friends and offer them opportunities when they arise. 

Katzmann said the McKnight’s Women of Distinction program provides a platform for the industry to identify qualified individuals who are willing to go the extra mile and give back to the industry by serving on a board or in some other way.

Women leaders who want to be successful have to show up every day, do their jobs, help others do their jobs, and do them with positive attitudes, Simpson added.

“Getting out there, making connections, listening and continuous learning are really key,” Katzmann said. “For women leaders, it is speaking to more people, hearing newer ideas and being right in front of people is critical.”

The session is available on-demand; to watch, sign in or register here.