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March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on challenges to gender equality in the workplace and call attention to women in leadership and their many accomplishments. We chatted with Linda Kirschbaum, Senior Vice President of Quality & Services for the Oregon Health Care Association, to talk about being a female leader in the senior living space.

  1. You’ve worked in various roles with increasing levels of responsibility — were there times that you felt your path to success was more challenging as a woman? I feel incredibly fortunate to have not experienced significant challenges achieving success based on the sole fact that I am a woman. That said, it is critical to acknowledge and empathize with the reality that this is not the experience of all women. I would attribute my  personal experience to the healthcare sector I work in. Long term care offers multiple career pathways and opportunity for advancement.  My introduction to long term care began when I worked a nursing assistant. I later completed a six-month administrator in training program as a college internship, then took the job of swing-shift supervisor in a nursing home. Next, I stepped into the role of nursing home administrator and then became COO for a six-hundred-person, full-service, long-term care campus (SNF, ALF, IL), all in the span of ten years. Similarly, the association work I have been engaged in over the past two decades has offered job diversity and progressive responsibility. The other factor that influenced my outlook on achievement was growing up in an egalitarian family. My mom was a “working mom” in banking in the 60s and 70s, and my dad ran his own manufacturing company. All of my siblings supported the family business, and jobs were not assigned based on gender. We learned all aspects of the business from using the machines to accounting. Not once did I ever hear, “you can’t do that because you are female.”  We all stand on the shoulders of women who came before us and women need to lead the way and mentor the next generation of women leaders so that everyone has a better path forward cohort after cohort.
  2. Many women work in healthcare, but fewer advance to high-level management or board member status. Why do you think that is?  From the vantage point of working in Oregon’s long-term care sector for over thirty-plus years, I have borne witness to just the opposite. Many women advance to mid-level regional director positions and C-Suite positions such as clinical directors, COOs, and CEOs. I know several women in the long-term care profession who own management companies, consulting firms, or other sector-related businesses.  However, there is room for these leadership and board positions to expand.  It is imperative that all organizations examine themselves critically to assess the diversity and equity within their leadership ranks and develop strategic and development  plans to address and fill the gaps.
  3. What can organizations do to ensure that boards, C-suite, and upper management level roles are filled by an equal proportion of women? There are inherent career ladders in most job categories of long-term care. Organizations can actively promote diversity and equity in their workforce strategic planning. Strategies should include active recruitment and leadership development opportunities. Women hone their leadership skills organically and strategically. Successful companies are “learning organizations” and they cultivate personal and professional leadership development at all levels and for all individuals in the organization.
  4. When it comes to pay, there are multiple reasons why women make less than men on average. What is your best tip for women wanting to ensure they are paid equally? Do your homework and inform yourself! Conduct research, network, make inquiries with all genders. This is one area where being polite does not pay off. It helps to have a relationship with the individual but it’s fair game to professionally and diplomatically engage on this topic. In addition to person-to-person inquiries, there is a plethora of public information at our fingertips. Find comparable positions to get an understanding of compensation and benefits. Know your facts going in. If the average salary for an administrator is x, use that as a benchmark. Couple that with your experience, skills, and successes. An organization that values an individual’s accomplishments and capabilities will typically value and want to compensate for those skills and assets or offer opportunities for growth.
  5. There have been concerns that COVID-19 may be undoing years of progress when it comes to gender equality in the workforce, as more women than men may be cutting back hours or leaving jobs altogether to care for children who’ve been attending virtual school. How can organizations help to recover these losses moving forward? Is it just about hiring more women back, or do additional steps need to be taken?  Organizations can evaluate and align their compensation packages (salary, benefits, health care) as well as quality-of-life accommodations (workweeks, work-from-home, flex scheduling, etc.) to help bring women back to work.  It is key to understand what is important to candidates; of all genders —  their lifestyle, career goals, values, family, finances, etc.  What motivates one woman may not be the same set of drivers for another, whether that is growth and career advancement, work/life balance, or a flexible schedule to meet family obligations. Many women care for both younger and older family members, each bringing different needs and demands and necessitates flexible schedules.  We have learned how to pivot, innovate and be more flexible through the pandemic and these factors will also help pave the way to get people back to work.  Meeting individual and organizational needs are not mutually exclusive.
  6. March 8th was International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme was #choosetochallenge, meaning “We can choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequity. We can choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements.” What is your advice for people in the senior living workplace wanting to challenge norms and inequities based on gender?   Choose to challenge and assert yourself if you do not feel you are being offered opportunities to grow and advance or if you are not being compensated equitably. Often women accept what is offered or are reluctant to engage in negotiating compensation. There can be a perceived imbalance of power or position during a job interview or annual evaluation. It takes courage to speak up but speaking truth to fact is powerful and empowering. Therefore, it is essential to have points at hand so that you can provide data to show why the proposal on the table may be insufficient or inequitable. Choose to challenge, choose to meet your needs.
  7. What do you recommend senior care organizations do to ensure that their policies, pay rates, benefits, etc., support and promote women?  What the pandemic has affirmed is that the most successful long-term care organizations are the ones that recognize their staff as their greatest asset, and who create cultures that actively demonstrate their commitment to their workforce. These staff-centric organizations have higher retention rates, better quality measures, and outcome rankings, and they also experience higher levels of satisfaction among residents, family, and staff. This is achieved by offering competitive wages — not necessarily the highest in the market — but not lagging, either. Companies should demonstrate genuine action to support worker training and education, to connect their employees fully to the organization’s mission, and to offer them opportunities for advancement and skill-building.  People want to belong and to have purpose. The long term care profession is an amazing place to find joy and bring your passion to work every day, to be part of something that is so important and where each person makes a difference in the lives of so many.
  8. Anything else you’d like to share?  Best advice: when job hunting, you are selecting an organization to work for just as much as they are selecting you. Be sure it is the right fit for you in terms of your needs and career goals and remember that the selection process is a two-way street. Discover your superpowers. Self-reflect, inventory your skills, understand where you need and want to grow, and quantify the strengths and value you bring to an organization.  You will know when it is right and where you valued.