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In the Room Where it Happens: Female Leaders Shine at the 2024 Women in DSO Empower and Grow Conference

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At the recent Women in DSO Empower and Grow conference dental professionals from throughout the industry connected to share challenges and successes.

In the Room Where it Happens: Female Leaders Shine at the 2024 Women in DSO Empower and Grow Conference | Image Credit: © Beth Gaddis

Image Credit: © Beth Gaddis

The face of dentistry is changing, both in the practice and in the boardroom.

Women now make up 36% of working dentists, an exponential increase from 1980 when only 4% of dentists were female, according to the American Dental Association and Pew Research Center.

In dental support organizations (DSOs), women are breaking the glass ceiling. Back in 2008, Margaret McGuckin, MBA, was the Chief Operations Officer of ClearChoice Dental Implants, a position rarely held by a woman in the industry. At the time, she was the only female executive "in the room where it happens.” This year, more than 900 leaders cheered as the recently-appointed CEO of ClearChoice Dental Implants, Rahma Samow, took the stage as one of the keynote speakers at the Women in DSO Empower and Grow conference in Las Vegas, March 6-8.

“Women in DSO is a meeting of the minds. I was very impressed with the insights and trending changes shared by the executives and business leaders on the different panels. It was very touching to hear stories of the keynote speakers, Rahma Samow and Marion Bergman, MD. It is amazing to know that women shared the same challenges on different continents,” says Emily Letran, DDS, executive coach at Exceptional Leverage, Inc, who owns two multi-specialty group practices in southern California, and is the author of several books including A Modern Woman: To Have It All Without Sacrifices, which offers insights and strategies on building a strong business.

Creating a Safe Space for Honest Conversations

For many women leaders, rising to the top does mean making sacrifices – especially when it comes to balancing work with family. Many leaders shared stories on-stage and off-stage about spouses, family, or friends actively discouraging them from pursuing their careers and making judgmental comments when they missed milestone moments like their child’s first steps, school field trips, or sporting events. Many women shared personal details about health problems, relationships, and children.

“I didn't know what to anticipate as a first-time attendee,” says Ashley Bodien, communications and marketing director at My Community Dental Centers, which runs 34 dental centers in Michigan, forming one of the most comprehensive non-profit dental care networks in the country. “The relationships I made transcend industry boundaries, experience levels, and job titles. While the on-stage content presented valuable strategies and a powerful message of women's empowerment, what resonated with me was the personal interactions outside formal meetings. The heartfelt discussions at social events about family, marriage, career goals, and breaking gender stereotypes while managing the responsibilities of motherhood and personal relationships were truly impactful. These connections went beyond mere networking and exchanging business cards; they were profound, filled with laughter, empathy, and support."

Another first-time attendee was Morgan Baum, the director of human resources at Smile Design Dentistry, a DSO with 56 affiliated practices in Florida.

“I loved it. It felt very welcoming, and everyone was very humble. I didn’t feel out of place,” Baum says. “I liked that the conference put a lot of opportunities in place to network and I was able to make connections in the industry that I can use to help evaluate our processes. And I was able to have conversations about personal things that other women can relate to. We were seen as humans, not just as dental professionals. It felt like a safe space to share and deepened the connections we made even more.”

Carrie Mauterer, DDS, the clinical director at Peak Dental Services’ 40-affiliated practices in Colorado and Texas, has been to all three Women in DSO conferences.

“Leadership in dentistry can sometimes leave you feeling isolated or even like an imposter. The environment that Women in DSO nurtures is a safe place where anyone of any gender identity can share failures, successes, ideas and frustrations with other leaders in the field,” says Dr Mauterer. “Each year I learn more about the growth and trends of our dental industry through the poignant panel discussions. The most important part of the conference for me is hearing other women’s incredible stories of their lives and careers. That inspiration carries me through the next year until I can attend again.”

Celebrating Trailblazers, Mentors and Rising Stars

The themes of inspiration, innovation, overcoming obstacles, and blazing the way for the next generation of leaders come up often.

“What I found to be most inspiring this year was the keynote from (pulmonologist) Dr Marion Bergman when she shared that a family member told her she could not be a doctor. But she persevered, with the support and encouragement of her parents. We all should listen to that message, and keep going when you are told no,” says Dee Fischer, CEO of Fischer’s Professional Group and a partner in two DSOs, each with three practices. Fischer was one of the first female executives in the DSO space in the mid-1990s. She received the Women in DSO Leadership Award for Business Excellence in 2023. Fischer has mentored female practice owners and operations leaders for more than 20 years.

“There was a lot of buzz about educating the next group of leaders, especially about finding creative ways to juggle budgets and talent as private equity becomes a challenge in this economic market,” says Fischer. “Women, just like men, are looking for a coach that can align their career goals with the right training.”

Shawna Eury is the president, South Division of Dental Care Alliance (DCA), which has more than 425 affiliated practices in 24 states. Eury started as an office manager at DCA in 2009 when there were about 75 practices, and was promoted to Regional Manager, then Director of Business Improvement, then South Division Vice President, and then to President this year.

Eury has been very active in Women in DSO since it was founded three years ago and was an emcee at this year’s event.

“We’ve doubled in membership and the organization has evolved into a safe place where peers can share best practices, build relationships, leverage what we learn to enhance our own organizations, and really bring out each other’s strengths.” Eury says. “It’s not just an annual event. Women in DSO members participate in the mentorship program and in the Exchange Circles, which are 45-minute webinars where leaders share their top tips and tackle difficult topics including pay equity, incentive programs, creative staffing solutions, merger and acquisition trends, etc.”

This year, Dental Care Alliance brought 16 team members to the conference, from all levels of the organization including the CEO, CFO, regional managers, hygiene coaches, and from marketing, recruiting, and training. Many dental groups also sent more team members than ever before.

“This was my first time attending this event and it was incredible to see the talent, amazing energy and collaboration between this amazing group of leaders. I can’t wait to come back next year and bring future talent to learn from the best!” says Ana Bolin, vice president of operations at Rodeo Dental and Orthodontics, a DSO with 44 affiliated locations in Texas, Arizona, and Colorado. Rodeo Dental had five team members attend this year.

Many of the women participate as either mentors or as mentees through the Women in DSO matching program.

Caitlin Waters is the associate director of communications at Risas Dental and Braces, a group with 27 locations in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas. Waters has been an advisory board member with Women in DSO since 2022 and was the recipient of the “Rising Star” award, which was given for the first time at the 2024 conference.

“The Women in DSO mentorship program pairs women looking to advance in their careers, and in life, with industry leaders to provide coaching, leadership development, personal guidance, and much more. My mentor ‘match’ could not have been more perfect. We are now each other’s friend, accountability partner, and life coach,” she says.

Waters’ mentor is Sarah Ruberg, CEO of Our Thrive Tribe, a social media agency that amplifies the voices of individual leaders, DSO organizations, and DSO vendor partners. Ruberg was a Top 5 Finalist for the Women in DSO Leadership Award, Business Operations.

“I almost backed out of being a mentor because it started the Monday after my Dad had passed away, and I thought how am I going to be able to provide any value to anybody right now. But mentorship was something that was really important to my Dad and it was important to me that I carry that on,” she says. “I learned so much about myself as I went through scenarios with Caitlin, would give her advice, see the results, and that increased my confidence, too.”

Elevating Networking – and the Next Generation of Dental Leaders

Women in DSO is a non-profit organization started by Aman Kaur, BDS, an experienced DSO executive with a background as CEO, COO, and Dental Director for multiple dental groups since 2010.

“Dentistry has always been a woman-dominated industry. Despite the lion’s share of work in various dental organizations being managed by women, most organization’s leadership teams continue to be male dominated,” says Dr Kaur.

“Women In DSO has a simple mission of working with these organizations, as well as the women in the industry, to ensure we have similar representation in leadership positions. It has been a joy to see Women In DSO emerge as a strong community of like-minded individuals—men and women—who are committed to elevating the dental industry by supporting each other. I look forward to seeing all of their hard work come to fruition as we lead the way for the entire healthcare industry, not just the dental teams,” she says as the 3-day conference ended.

The women who attended represented different ages, ethnicities, leadership roles, and organization sizes. Some were new to dentistry; others had worked in the industry for decades.

Both Virginia Jones, PhD, the CEO of Village Family Dental / Valleygate Dental Surgery Centers, which has 14 affiliated locations, and Juliana Pereira, the operations manager at Tend Dental, a DSO with more than 25 affiliated practices, appreciated having the opportunity to discuss current issues including technology, practical applications of AI, and cybersecurity concerns.

“We now stand as leaders in innovation, and our impact extends across all facets of dentistry. I’m grateful for the entrepreneurial women, vendors, operators and clinicians I met at the event,” says Pereira.

The networking at Women in DSO just feels different than at other events.

“I love that Women in DSO is not about competing against each other, it is about raising each other up and creating a space in which providers want to be,” says Misty Mattingly, RDH, senior vice president and chief dental hygiene officer at Sage Dental, a DSO with more than 100 affiliated practices in Florida and Georgia. Mattingly was the winner of the 2023 Women in DSO Leadership Award for Clinical Excellence and is a member of the Georgia Board of Dentistry. “It is great to collaborate and help each other since we are all dealing with similar issues, such as staffing shortages, a changing economy, and payor mix challenges.”

Teresa Williams, COO of Dental Express, a DSO with 7 affiliated locations in southern California, agrees. “The energy at Women in DSO creates an inclusive environment in which women are primed to show up for each other. You find yourself asking each other “How can I help you” instead of looking for the next big thing for your own business.”

“The biggest value stemmed not just from personal and professional growth, but also from the networking opportunities, the knowledge sharing without limitations, and the connections I made,” said Enis Guri, MS, vice president of operations for NYC Dental Smile Team, a prosthodontics and restorative group with three locations in New York City. Guri also leads M&A change implementation and integration efforts for Edgard El Chaar, DDS, PC, an interdisciplinary group practice specializing in periodontics and implants, which operates 2 locations in NYC. “As a first-time attendee at Women in DSO, the immense energy I felt is still resonating with me.”

And that’s what this non-profit organization is all about: Women In DSO gives women leaders not only a stage to share how they have overcome challenges in their personal and professional lives, but a network of friends and colleagues they can rely on throughout the year.

Waters, the recipient of the Rising Star Award, is already paying it forward.

“My advice? Take another woman with you to Empower and Grow, especially if they’ve never attended a conference before. I had the pleasure of attending with a woman whose first conference ever was last year’s Women in DSO event. It was an honor to see her confidence triple this year; she truly shined. That’s what this conference and Women in DSO is all about,” she says.

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