Taylorsville’s Summit Vista takes ‘ElevateHer’ challenge to help women ‘lean in’ for success
Jun 24, 2019 03:41PM
By Jennifer J Johnson
Summit Vista’s Raquel Braithwaite is a member of the executive team and is director of community life for the community. (Summit Vista Life Plan Community)
By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]
The Summit Vista Life Plan Community is “all about successful aging,” according to Summit Vista Executive Director and CEO Mark Erickson.
Summit Vista is a retirement community, billed as Utah’s first Life Plan community, based in Taylorsville, which is focused on maximizing opportunities for people to stay socially and occupationally engaged.
The 3-year-old senior-living startup company is backed by investment dollars from some household names in Utah business and politics, with developer Kem Gardner as the company’s founder, Sen. Mitt Romney’s Solamere Capital as a prominent investor and publicly traded Istar lending its real-estate investment expertise.
While Summit Vista’s customer—or resident—focus is on successful aging, the well-heeled company also seems to be all about successful career development for the 110 employees who staff the retirement community.
“The most important part of our business are our employees,” said Erickson.
However, a lot of companies give sound bites without action to back it up. It is as if they learned about the importance of valuing employees in a human resources seminar—but are excessively poor at really creating a company culture around valuing employees.
There seem to be no empty gestures at Summit Vista, an organization seemingly committed to successfully recruiting and retaining employees.
A tight national, even tighter local and even tighter residence-care talent market
While it might be viewed as altruism, Erickson’s commitment to employees is also a case of simple good business practices in action.
“The labor market is going to be one of the biggest challenges over the next couple of years,” he said.
Erickson’s partner and the company’s Chief Marketing Officer Kelly Ornberg almost viscerally felt this pinch last fall, when the company, after receiving significant financial infusion, was tasked with hiring 100 employees in just 60 days.
“Now that the chaos has settled, what are the opportunities (for retention and recruitment)?” she asked.
Summit Vista is in a sweet spot of selling a product/service to what is called the “Silver Tsunami”—the lucrative care needs of the aging baby boomer market.
However, Ornberg said the employment retention in this industry is anything but sweet, with there being a 23 percent turnover in hospitality markets and a whopping 34 percent turnover in their specific space of senior housing.
The ‘ElevateHer Challenge’ as a key component to Summit Vista’s commitment to diversity
In April, the Taylorsville Journal wrote about Summit Vista’s being a positive work opportunity for Taylorsville High School students.
The company’s proactive works in recruitment again deem it newsworthy, as in May, Summit Vista joined more than 30 businesses across Salt Lake and Utah counties who made a public commitment to elevate women in business.
The “ElevateHer Challenge” is sponsored by the Women’s Leadership Institute, an innovative Utah organization whose mission is to elevate the stature and talents of women. The ElevateHer Corporate Challenge encourages organizations to pledge to elevate the stature of women in six key ways:
1. Increase the percentage of women in senior leadership
2. Increase the retention rate of women at all levels
3. Increase the number of women on board of directors and encourage women to serve on community and corporate boards
4. Monitor pay by gender and close identified gaps
5. Establish-enhance leadership development, mentoring and sponsorship programs for women
6. Urge-support women to run for public office (City Journals wrote about WLI’s Political Training Series in February)
Developing, prioritizing and elevating a proactive culture
Ornberg credits the company’s HR leadership as developing a culture which already considered many of the WLI six-step challenge.
“We were very thoughtful as a startup,” she reflects. “I had a plan for 18 months in advance and backed into it. We didn’t skip steps—did not want to bring on people until we had a culture ourselves.”
Summit Vista, according to Ornberg, has a workforce which is 60 percent female. A full 40 percent of managers and 40 percent of top executives are also female.
“Women don’t always feel confident,” she observes. “We want to be able to create a company that allows women to step up, lean in.”
Support from the highest level
Ornberg has the full support of Erickson and did so from the outset.
“All of the aspects of the ElevateHer Challenge are applicable and important,” he said. “One of the unique things about being a startup is that we get to launch with these principles from day one. It can be hard to change an organization’s culture and/or leadership teams. But when you get to start with these principles as part of your corporate DNA, it sets the expectations and hopefully becomes business as usual.”
Of Ornberg, Erickson notes: “Kelly is a smart and passionate business executive who is capable of driving results and navigating complex relationships. She has taught me that ‘sales skills’ are simply good relationship skills that can be applied when serving a customer or leading a team.”
Summit Vista is a new company and even newer to WLI and the ElevateHer challenge. From the sound of it, though, the company is fully committed to what it deems “partnering” with WLI. Ornberg reports that Summit Vista will host an Aug. 7 WLI career-development event at its facility.
“The lack of gender equality at senior leadership levels throughout Utah makes this a critical issue that is not going to solve itself,” insists Erickson. “It is going to take going to take a concerted effort by leading companies to achieve more balance at leadership levels.”
Once again, a case of not just altruism but good business sense. University of California–Davis research of business performance of the 400 largest public companies in California shows that companies with women in leadership at the highest levels had returns on assets and equity at least 74 percent higher than those that did not.