Companies operating in senior living increasingly are taking steps to make their boards and C-suites look more like the customers they serve and the workers who serve them.

“Gender diversity in leadership is important in any industry, but it’s even more critical in healthcare,” Brookdale Senior Living President and CEO Lucinda “Cindy” Baier said last Tuesday on the organization’s second-quarter earnings call. “Approximately 65 percent of care recipients are female, 75 percent of caregivers are female, and 80 percent of healthcare decisions are made by women,” she pointed out.

Approximately 40% of Baier’s direct reports are now women, Baier said.

After having only one female, Jackie Clegg, on the board of directors from late 2005 through early 2018, Brookdale’s board, through conscious effort, now has four women — half of the board: Clegg, who will step down later this year; Baier, Rita Johnson-Mills and Denise Warren. The latter three joined the board in February, August and October 2018, respectively.

As I pointed out earlier this year, women are not strangers to the top ranks of senior living organizations. That’s one of the reasons the McKnight’s brands created the Women of Distinction awards program in 2018, to recognize the unsung contributions of women in senior living and skilled nursing (including those inside and outside the C-suite). Our subsequent first class of 41 honorees in 2019 included two people from Brookdale: Kim Estes Elliott, senior vice president of clinical services, and Sarah Belmont, senior vice president of financial planning and analysis.

Since I wrote the aforementioned column in January, industry C-suites have filled with even more women. We can’t wait to see who is nominated for a McKnight’s Women of Distinction award when the process for our 2020 awards opens in December.

Any company’s diversity efforts should go beyond the board and beyond gender, of course. Brookdale’s efforts do, Baier said.

“Today, our leadership better reflects our mix of associates, residents, patients and their families, and we will strive to continue to improve the overall diversity of the entire Brookdale team,” she said on the earnings call.

It’s important for the country’s largest senior living company to be “a leader not just in the senior housing industry, but in all publicly traded companies as well,” Baier told me in a follow-up interview. It’s a message she’s been sharing at industry events, too.

“I’ve made a point to, with each of my hires, seek out a diverse slate of candidates,” she said. And hiring is only a first step.

“Our goal at Brookdale is to build the best team in the industry,” Baier said. “And the only way that you can do that is with a diverse executive team. And not only to make sure that you’ve got a diverse team, but to make sure that everyone has a voice.”

CABLE, a Nashville-based leadership organization for women’s professional advancement, recently honored Brookdale as a corporate inductee on its Board Walk of Fame for having three or more women directors.

And Brookdale isn’t the only company operating in senior living that is paying attention to — and being recognized for — so-called “environmental, social and governance,” or ESG, efforts.

“We believe that our commitment to ESG principles underpins our long-term success,” Debra Cafaro, CEO and chairman of real estate investment trust Ventas, said on a recent earnings call. The REIT has been recognized several times for its efforts in these areas.

REITs HCP Inc. and Welltower are among other organizations that have prioritized ESG-related efforts.

It’s a smart and welcome approach.