The face of leadership is changing. As the workforce continues to evolve in the wake of unprecedented global turmoil, women have taken vital strides in upper-level representation. This is especially true of senior leadership positions.
Women have gained traction in both the C-Suite and VP levels — with representation rising by 27 and 14%, respectively, across the US in the past year. Contributing to these gains is the senior living workforce, in which women hold nearly 70% of high-level leadership positions, well above the national average of around 50%.
As a senior living leader-turned-recruiter, Katie Churchill is well aware of the importance of championing women in leadership. A Managing Partner at the helm of Full Spectrum’s Senior Living practice, Katie brings a wealth of firsthand experience from her previous roles as the Regional Sales and Marketing Director, Sales Director, and Resident Relations Director for major senior living operators on the West Coast.
Katie points to a clear vision of the future. As a part of a largely female-led industry, Senior Living operators have the opportunity to serve as a model for the evolving national workforce. Recruiters have the opportunity to continue nurturing this growth by advocating for their candidates and by articulating the “why” in their stories to interested clients. Katie speaks to the positive and inclusive work culture she has experienced throughout her senior living career and at Full Spectrum. She details how instrumental the inspirational women and men in leadership have been in her growth.
Can you share brief summary of your career in senior living?
I started in the senior living industry when I was 12 years old, calling Bingo at a local senior living community. I knew instantly I wanted to work in senior living in some capacity. I went to college at CSU Chico studying Health Services Administration and Gerontology. I volunteered, interned, and worked for several senior living communities in Chico. I was a Life Enrichment Director and did an internship with Prestige for 4 months — which skyrocketed my career in senior living.
Prestige hired me out of my internship to be the Community Relations Director at their community in Battle Ground, WA. I was there for 9 months before becoming a Sales Specialist, traveling to any of our 44 communities, boosting census, revamping marketing plans, outreach, coaching, and training. After being a specialist, I was quickly promoted to a Regional Sales and Marketing Director, overseeing 14 communities in WA, OR, CA, and AZ.
Traveling [eventually became] too much, and I was thinking of starting a family, so I transitioned to Kisco Senior Living as Sales Director for their community in Walnut Creek. Shortly after joining Kisco, I was promoted to the Resident Relations Director role — which [serves as the] right-hand woman to the ED, supports operations, and oversees the concierge team and customer service throughout the community. It was a fantastic community and an opportunity to grow.
After I had my son, Lyle, we decided to relocate to Southern CA. Fast forward a year and a half and 9 months into COVID, [our CEO, Max McNamara] found me on LinkedIn, and I joined the team at Full Spectrum as a recruiter for Senior Living. Currently, I am a Managing Partner with Full Spectrum overseeing the West Coast senior living practice. I develop relationships with our current clients, support our recruiters, and assist with the closing of candidates. I utilize my industry knowledge and experience to deliver the best results — including salary analysis, industry insights, and market trends.
Which women have inspired you in your career?
My first leader in this industry was Carrie Parker, the VP of Sales and Marketing with Prestige. She essentially grew and supported me in my role from a Community Relations Director to Sales Specialist and then Regional Sales Director. She became such a good friend to me, was always ready with fresh ideas, and loved to travel just as much as I did. We just had so much fun working together. She taught me so much about leadership, having tough conversations, and encouraging growth in my team. She was instrumental in my career growth: she believed in me and showed me how to find my “why” in what I do every day. She taught me to lean in on that — if I ever lost sight of my “why” to pause and reset.
[Another inspiration] has been my sister, Brittany. My sister is a Transitional Kindergarten teacher (TK). My whole life I have literally followed her wherever she went — she went to Chico. I went to Chico. She moved to the bay. I moved to the Bay. She moved back to our hometown, and I did, too. When she bought a house — guess who bought one 2 doors down? She is my very best friend. She pushes me. She encourages me to be a more patient person, to be a good mom and a good wife, to balance life and work, to take time for myself, and more importantly, to never stop learning and growing.
During the pandemic, she had both of her children home, teaching TK to other 4 and 5-year-olds through a Zoom screen. Can you even begin to imagine? She was creating fun for her own children at home (both of which were not even 1 year old and 3 years old) and trying to teach and educate her classroom for almost 1.5 years over ZOOM. She is my inspiration. If I can be just like her one day, gosh, that would be incredible.
How have you used this inspiration in your own career?
Throughout my career, I have used my inspiration from Carrie Parker to push the envelope on what I can do. I never thought [I’d be] recruiting — ever — in my wildest dreams. However, all she has taught me about sales in senior living completely translates to recruiting — it’s just a different kind of sale.
She bought me the book from Simon Sinek: Find Your Why. It’s always on my desk and my constant reminder to never forget why I am choosing to make a difference in the lives I get the privilege to touch.
With my sister, Brittany: her patience, her steadiness, her ability to balance her family life and work life is a constant inspiration. We talk probably 100 times a day; we’re neighbors; our kids spend time together every day of the week. She listens to me, allows me to vent, and then snaps me out of whatever funk I am in. She is my go-to sounding board.
How have you felt empowered in your career?
[I have felt ] very empowered as a woman.
Senior Living is a majority female industry — which is certainly unique compared to other industries. When you look at leaders — C-suite and VP positions — it is predominantly female. [This] always made me feel like I can be there one day, too.
Full Spectrum’s CEO, Max, is very hands-on. However, he wants to watch us grow — which is something I really admire about him. He’s the “hey I am always here, but why don’t you try this and see how it goes” leader.
It allows us to make mistakes, or follow through with our gut instincts and make choices that lead to better results. Max also has a unique way of having a conversation with me where he is asking specific, pointed questions to allow me to come up with my own solution. He probably knew the solution the entire time, but he wanted to give me the chance to strategize and grow from it.
I also look at Karen Schmidt, the President of Sanford Rose Associates, our network firm. She is a woman in leadership that has worked in a recruiting capacity for 20+ years. She has trained countless recruiters, sales development reps, and even business owners, on making positive, strategic changes to develop their own businesses. She has been instrumental in building out an incredible team of men and women who live and breathe everything recruiting and truly want firms like Full Spectrum to be a leader in the industry we serve.
How can recruiters advocate for the women they place?
Recruiters have the opportunity to find a candidate, talk them through their current careers, and find them the role that gets them closer to their next career goal. We have the ability to be able to maybe support them with a higher salary or a promotion they so very much so deserve.
I think about a candidate I recently placed: She was a Health Services Director for a well-known company, and I placed her in a Health Services Specialist role. With her previous company, she was constantly overlooked or passed up internally for this promotion because of “length of tenure” within the company — but then they would hire an external candidate.
For her, she was like why not me? I have worked here for X years, I know the company, but you’re going to hire someone externally? I feel like this is that opportunity, as recruiters, to talk about career growth and where you see yourself in X years. We can paint the story of the candidate and WHY this candidate deserves an opportunity for a promotion with an entirely new company.
As recruiters, we advocate for all people, but for women specifically: women can get overlooked because we have kids, we have soccer practice to get to, or a sick kid at home — and how is that going to affect the business when this woman is calling out or can’t travel because of a sick kid at home?
I had another candidate recently say to me: “Katie, I am 10 weeks pregnant. Should I tell them? Do you think this will affect my chances of getting the job?” I mean how sad is that? She should be celebrating her next personal adventure, and she’s worried her pregnancy is going to affect her chance for her to get this new opportunity.
And this is where it’s not so much the candidate as a woman, but it is a society wanting the most out of every single individual. Work-life balance plays a huge part in our candidates’ lives right now. It’s pivotal to find a good “home” for them.
I think back to my initial conversations with Max and before joining Full Spectrum. I think probably for half the time, we talked about our kids and our family. I explained that I am the go-to parent. Yes my husband works full time, and I will be too, but more often, when the kids are ill, they want mom and not dad (hey I don’t make the rules here for my kids), but it’s true. And his response “I get it and I don’t want you to worry about that. I have kids too — I get it completely, Katie, and please don’t think I would ever make you feel guilty for taking time to be with your kids or your family when they need you.”
This is the support we need in our careers, in our lives, and just to have more productive people in general.
When you treat your people right, you get better results. Trust me.
How can this advocacy help promote equitable pay?
I’ve thought about this a lot. Part of what we do at Full Spectrum is salary analysis.
I can tell you, truthfully, I don’t see a wage gap in senior living as you would see in maybe other industries.
I do think that is because women mainly lead our industry and set that standard and pay scale. Sales directors are typically paid a set salary — no matter the length of experience they might have — male or female. I’ve seen female EDs make much more than male EDs and vice versa. Senior living bases salaries on length of experience, knowledge, and skillset, rather than gender.
What advice would you give to women who aspire to a leadership role?
Don’t for a second hesitate. If you want it, take it. Always make your career goals known to your leaders. Ask questions, be curious, accept feedback — as hard as it is. Use it, internalize it, and grow from it.
Never stop learning, always read new books to continue to strengthen your skills or work on skills that need fine-tuning.
Don’t take “no” for an answer. Your leader might say “no” to a promotion right now, but instead of getting discouraged, ask: “What do I need to do to change that “no” to a “yes?” and “Can you help and support me in getting there?”
Don’t be afraid to get rejected, with rejection comes growth.
If you’re interested in learning more about the ways Katie and the team advocate for leaders in healthcare, connect with Full Spectrum.