Finding Their Way: Women Leaders Carve Their Paths To Business Success

The Wenatchee World, Wash. By Mike Irwin

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A comprehensive look at women in business in Washington State. The article also highlights resources available to women at all levels during their professional journeys.

WENATCHEE

Young business woman Carissa Blair knows that doing it all -- family, career, community -- can be a tough balancing act. When she needs help, she turns for advice to a group of local women who have faced these challenges for years and thrived.

The 27-year-old Blair, a small-business adviser for Washington Trust Bank in East Wenatchee, finds guidance and support from members of Wenatchee Business and Professional Women, a nonprofit focused on mentoring business women of all ages in cultivating the skills for success, both in business and in life.

"Many BPW members are strong women who are strong role models," said Blair. "These are professionals, wives, mothers and community volunteers who have the experience to offer good ideas, solid advice and -- something I really appreciate -- friendship."

Established in 1921, BPW's Wenatchee chapter (called a "local") has grown over the last five years from a handful of members to 85, making it the largest of the state's 11 BPW groups and one of the most active.

That five-year growth spurt followed the group's renewed emphasis on mentoring young professionals, sponsoring women-centered events and providing scholarships for women age 25-plus returning to school for college degrees or career training.

Honoring the accomplishments of local business women through annual awards -- Woman of the Year, Trailblazer of the Year, Woman-owned Business of the Year -- also garnered attention (and members) for the group as the awards gained, year after year, in prominence and prestige.

"We try to give back to the community in any way we can," said BPW President Wendy DalPez, owner of The Entrepreneur's Source, an East Wenatchee company that provides career coaching and business advice. "It's part of our mission to recognize and reward success by women in business and other areas."

DalPez joined BPW in 2014 after attending a couple of meetings, forging new friendships and being "energized," she said, "by the group's history of women's rights and female empowerment."

Nearly a century of women's rights BPW got its start during World War I as the Women's War Council, an organization that put women to work at home for the war effort overseas.

The War Council soon evolved into the Business and Professional Women's Foundation, which was launched in Kentucky in 1919. In the 1930s, BPW became affiliated with the International Federation of Business and Professional Women and in the next decade spread in popularity across the nation.

BPW/USA was one of the first group's in the U.S. to work for women's rights in the workplace, specifically campaigning against legislation and policies that denied jobs to married women and encouraged employers to hire mostly unmarried men.

The group was also among the first national organizations to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment in 1937.

Through World War II, BPW worked against wage discrimination for women factory workers and, after the war, endorsed the Women's Pay Act -- the first-ever legislation to require equal pay.

"Unfortunately," said DalPez, "there's still plenty of work for us to do -- even today." Noting strides by women towards breaking the corporate glass ceiling to become CEOs, DalPez pointed to continuing pay inequality, lack of maternity leave in some companies, difficulties gaining promotions and the lack of encouragement for young women to enter the world of business.

"If I ask you to imagine a CEO," said DalPez, "is the image of a male? Thought so. We want to change that -- particularly for young women who we hope grow up with a different vision."

Breaking down barriers DalPez said her own company, The Entrepreneur's Source, provides a ready path around most workplace barriers by encouraging business ownership by women.

In the last four years, DalPez has helped clients -- many of them women -- launch 33 businesses around the country in a variety of categories.

Most recently, she said, a small women-owned cleaning business that The Entrepreneur's Source helped establish won a $1 million account.

"The barriers to a better business and a better life start to crumble," said DalPez, "when you own the company."

Blair, who joined Washington Trust in 2012, said she's helped "hundreds and hundreds of business people with loans and advice on hiring, expansion, equipment purchases, cost-cutting -- you name it. I like to say that 'I strive to be a partner in their success'. And I mean it."

Blair said she's come to rely on advice and encouragement from BPW members. "I've found that it's become important -- for me, at least -- to listen and learn from what they have to say. There's depth to this big stockpile of business know-how."

As director of the local BPW's Young Careerist program, Blair helps BPW members develop self-esteem, confidence and leadership skills through the research and presentation of a four-minute speech before judges at both regional and state levels.

Blair went through the program herself -- six months of preparation and training -- to "gain confidence I never knew I had."

Reaching out to the community Since 1999, one of BPW's top priorities has been the funding of scholarships for women 25 and older to enroll for post-secondary training or education.

More than $30,000 has been awarded in the last 18 years. In 2016, scholarships were presented to five women from Chelan and Douglas counties working towards degrees in accounting, nursing, graphic design, elementary education and health care administration.

The group has also worked closely with YWCA North Central Washington to sponsor drives for pajamas, diapers and essential items for the YWCA's emergency shelter. Last year, BPW joined with other area nonprofits to raise funds to upgrade the shelter with new carpeting.

In addition, BPW has sponsored Pizza, Pop and Power Tools, an annual event presented by Wenatchee Learns Connect and the Wenatchee School District to introduce eighth-grade girls to non-traditional careers for women -- carpentry, welding, firefighting, operating heavy equipment and stringing power lines.

Earlier this year, BPW also hosted a discussion by a panel of women business owners called "Women Rule the World." A packed room listened to seven local females in business detail their struggles and accomplishments.

BPW's biggest event is the presentation of its annual awards. Last October, the event drew more than 250 attendees to honor recipients of the Woman of the Year, Trailblazer of the Year and Woman-owned Business of the Year awards. This year, the event has been rescheduled for March 2018 -- an evening event to coincide with Women's History Month.

Working into the future In today's political climate, a group like BPW must constantly reassess its goals and mission, said DalPez.

"We're always looking at who we are, on what goals need our focus," said DalPez. "What we know for sure is that we'll continue to support and mentor women of all ages -- school age to retirement -- with programs that fit local needs."

She added, "Just look at how we've changed over the decades. Look at how we've grown. We'll continue to do that. To be relevant. To offer help in becoming balanced in a challenging world."

A salute to women in business

Four women in four different fields share their journeys to success, with a brief backward glance at just how far they've come.

Vicky Scharlau Age: "Old enough." Title: President and CEO of 501 Consultants Inc. in Cashmere Education: Bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism and agriculture economics from the University of Wisconsin; master's degree in public administration from the University of Washington. Family: Married with one son (age 26). Scharlau finds niche in nonprofit consulting

CASHMERE -- Vicky Scharlau's 501 Consultants Inc. caters to nonprofits.

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