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.


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.

“We are experts in providing services and guidance to nonprofits and agencies that are interested in being intentional,” she said. “We make a critical impact.”

That might include helping clients with strategic planning, grant writing, management, governance training or helping streamline operations and identify problem areas in the business.

In addition to providing short-term services on specific projects or programs, the company offers full management services in the form of office staff, covering everything from newsletters and correspondence to board and committee meetings and planning conventions.

Although based in Cashmere, the company is better known regionally and nationally than in the Wenatchee Valley, Scharlau said.

She expects that might change in the next decade. One of her goals, both locally and beyond, is to create a peer group for nonprofits that can serve as a support system and sounding board.

Scharlau’s background is in agriculture marketing. She worked for the state Department of Agriculture in Olympia before moving to Wenatchee in 1984 to take a job at the Washington Apple Commission. She was there 10 years, then moved to the Washington State Horticulture Association where she spent three years helping the organization expand “to the next level.”

After that, she turned her attention on her own consulting firm, naming it 501 Consultants, a nod to the IRS tax code for nonprofits.

“I realized working with nonprofits was my skill set and I wanted to focus on that. It became clear that my expertise and successes had all been in nonprofits,” she said.

Her company has grown by design since then.

Not by design is the all-woman staff of 10. It just turned out that way.

“I think over time, I created an environment conducive to women. We have many young mothers here. We can accommodate the sometimes chaotic schedule that goes with that,” she said. “There was a time when it was not acceptable for a professional to have a child. I don’t want young professionals to have to make that choice.”

Scharlau said in her own experience as a business owner, gender has not been an issue.

“Being a female was never a factor in what I could or couldn’t do. I never thought about it that way,” she said.

“It’s a perspective, but it might be an attitude as well.”

Marsha Hays
Age: 49
Title: Owner, Clear View Services Inc., a full-service commercial janitorial service based in East Wenatchee.
Education: AA degree, also attended Trend Business College.
Family: Married to Edwin Hays; with two grown boys — Chris Lingenbau, 30, and Jason Hays, 22; three grandchildren (Sophia, 10, Skyler, 7, and Savin, 5)
Hays cleans up with Clear View Services

EAST WENATCHEE — Marsha Hays planned for a career in office management, working for other people.

When her husband Edwin started a window washing business in 1999, she helped him keep the books and handled marketing duties while holding down her own job as office manager for a physical therapist.

Two years into the operation, he was sidelined with a back injury, so she took the reins of Clear View Services Inc., growing it into a full-service commercial janitorial service that now has 16 employees.

By the time she took over, the company already had shifted from strictly window cleaning to janitorial services.
The advantage of commercial work is it evens out the seasonal highs and lows enough to avoid the need to hire and then layoff employees.

The ability to retain employees year-round has helped the company get where it is today, she said.

For the past 11 years, Hays has been able to work mostly on the management side, though she is known to pull a cleaning shift or two when needed. She has a full-time office manager to handle the basics, which allows her to focus on estimates and customer service.

“I love to spoil our customers,” she said. “We make goodie baskets for them every three months or so to show our appreciation. I love to let people know they are valued.”

She applies the same approach to her employees, developing a series of programs designed to allow them to advance, improve their skills and do better work. The program includes incentives — gift cards and movie tickets to employees who go above and beyond. She also started a traveling award where employees nominate their coworkers for pitching in.

“It’s fun to hear them sharing the stories of how their fellow employees have helped helped out,” she said.
The job is not glamorous, so it’s vital they earn recognition for their good work, she said.

As the business has grown, Hays is finding she has more time for community projects. She currently is an ambassador for the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce, active in the Wenatchee Downtown Kiwanis Club and volunteers for Haven of Hope.

“I love that we are to the point where we can give back to the community. It’s something that’s important to me,” she said. “A lot of my employees are involved in the community, too.

She tries to lead by example.

“My mom and dad always told me I could be successful at anything I wanted to do. I think my work ethic comes from my dad. He was an entrepreneur and I saw how he interacted with his customers, how he went above and beyond,” she said.

Heidi Myers
Age: 60
Title: Vice president, team leader, corporate banking for Washington Trust Bank
Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting, CPA
Family: Married to Don Myers, a pastor, for almost 40 years. They have three children (2 daughters and a son), all teachers in the Wenatchee area; and seven grandchildren.
Myers used career shift for new opportunities

EAST WENATCHEE — Heidi Myers escapes the confines of her Washington Trust Bank office often this time of year to tour Wenatchee Valley apple orchards and talk to growers about their business.

It’s her job as a commercial banker, not just to lend money, but to look for opportunities to help her clients, whether that might be adding equipment, expanding operations or just seeing how the crop is doing.

She has been in the commercial banking business for about 16 years now.

“I like the freedom to spend as much time as I need with a customer to understand their business and help them find solutions,” she said.

She has been with Washington Trust for five years, she said, as a vice president and team leader, responsible for five other lenders and support staff. Her tasks also include marketing and public relations for the bank and working with the retail branches, the two in Wenatchee and one in East Wenatchee.

Banking was not her first plan.

She was an economics major at Whitman College, a path she interrupted for marriage and the three children that came along, though she isn’t sure what she would have done with the degree.

“You don’t see ads that say, ‘Economist wanted,'” she said.

The family moved to Wenatchee when her husband, a teacher, accepted a position as a pastor for Young Life.

A few years later, when the kids were older, she returned to college to get an accounting degree.

“You could get a teaching certificate or an accounting degree through Central Washington University here in Wenatchee. Those were the only four-year options at the time,” she said. “Teaching didn’t look like me. Accounting really did kind of fit.”

After graduating, she took the CPA exam and worked for a couple of years in public accounting. She changed gears when NCW Community Bank, a local startup, offered her a job working on credit analysis and underwriting in commercial lending.

It was a good fit.

Her CPA background provided a solid analytical piece that has been helpful.

She still has her CPA license.

“It’s kind of my insurance policy if something happens on the banking side,” she said.
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She stuck with the industry despite a series of changes in the past few years and sees career opportunities for those who are interested.

It isn’t often she hears a high schooler or college student say, “I want to be a banker. Who says that? I know I never did.”

The opportunity is there, though.

“In certain areas of banking, women vastly outnumber men, and have for many years,” she said. “These are typically the branch/deposit/retail side of banking and all the support areas related to that function. The area that I work in (commercial and ag lending) is the one that is still largely filled by men.”

Washington Trust started a Relationship Manager Development program this month, which recruited recent college graduates into a two-year training in commercial and wealth management. The eight-member group includes three women, she said.

“Progress is being made,” she said.

Paula Helsel
Age: 62
Title: General manager of Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort in Leavenworth
Education: She attended college in Austin, Texas, majoring in psychology with a minor in art.
Family: Married, with a blended family of five children, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Helsel shatters ceiling, puts down roots

LEAVENWORTH — Paula Helsel took the job of general manager at Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort 17 years ago, expecting to stay five years at the most.

Instead, she put down roots, a somewhat unexpected development.

“The hospitality industry is very transient,” she said. “You have to be open to the idea of moving where they send you. I lived in four different states in one year. That can be challenging.”

She got into the industry by happenstance, applying for an entry level hotel job in 1982. She needed something to make ends meet after rejecting her original plan to put her psychology degree to use. The change followed an internship at a children’s psychiatric hospital.

“I had too much heart for it,” she said. “I knew it was hard on me and it wasn’t good for them.”
The hotel job offered flexibility. And it turned out, she liked the work.

“I love helping other people and making them happy. If something goes wrong or if their stay isn’t quite right, one of the things that tickles me is turning that around to where they feel good when they walk out the door,” she said.

She started as a phone operator, then moved to front desk and reservations, eventually being promoted to manager and front office manager.

“The hospitality industry is unique. You don’t need a formal education to be able to move all the way through, if that’s your heart’s desire,” she said. “A lot of experiential training is more valuable than education.”

She sought out the education, though, taking classes offered through the American Hotel and Lodging Institute and public speaking courses.

She was recruited to join Hilton Hotels’ corporate office and was named a regional director, overseeing 54 hotels. At the time, she was just the second woman regional director ever hired for Hilton.

She recalls an early corporate meeting where a memo dictated a dress code of blue blazer, gray slacks and a striped tie.

“I was a rebel and wore a dress,” she said.

When she was offered the job at Sleeping Lady in 2000, she was ready for a change.

The resort was just five years old.

“I helped shape the business. I had the support of the owner who trusted what I wanted to do. That’s something that’s hard to achieve in a larger organization,” she said.

The 67-acre resort campus out Icicle Road includes two restaurants, a bar, two spas, guest rooms and meeting spaces, plus a 2-acre organic garden. The clientele is a mix of those attending conferences and retreats, weddings and individual travelers.

She now oversees a staff of 120 during the peak season, working with nine managers who report directly to her.
“I have a lot of great managers with lots of different talents. We have a good group here. All of them help make it successful. We have a lot of women in business here. Each one has their own story,” she said.

Women’s Business Resources

WBC provides one-on-one consulting, business training and support services, access to resources, and networks for business owners at every stage of business development, from idea feasibility through start-up, growth, and expansion. Located in Seattle, Spokane and Lacey.

Washington Business Center
1437 S. Jackson Street Seattle, WA 98144
(206) 324-4330, ext. 102
[email protected]

Women’s Business Center INW
East Central Community Center building
500 S. Stone Spokane, WA 99202
(509) 456-7106, ext. 123
[email protected]

Washington Center for Women in Business
665 Woodland Square Loop #201 Lacey, WA 98503
(360) 754-6320
[email protected]

WA Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises — OMWBE
Provides certification to increase participation of minority and women’s businesses to state public works contracting, purchasing of goods and services, and loans.

National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)
Inland Northwest Chapter
Spokane, [email protected]

Network of women business owners who share ideas, learn, and expand opportunities for all women business owners.

Government contracts can be a great source of business revenue for both new and established businesses. Find helpful links and information for women-owned businesses selling to the federal government.

— U.S. Small Business Administration

By the numbers

Women in business in Chelan and Douglas counties

50.1 — Percentage of population in Chelan County in 2014 that was female. Douglas County was 49.6 percent.

49.5 — Percentage of jobs held by women in Chelan County in 2014. Female-dominated industries included health care and social assistance (77.1 percent), finance and insurance (74.9 percent) and education (66.8 percent).

47.1 — Percentage of jobs held by women in Douglas County in 2014.

893 — The number of women who graduated with degrees from Wenatchee Valley College in 2015. The number of male graduates was 486.

1,805 — Number of women-owned businesses in Chelan and Douglas counties in 2012 out of 6,623 total.

$35,857 — Average salary, in dollars, for female workers in Chelan and Douglas counties in 2015. Men earned 1.5 times more with an average salary of $55,504.

7.5 — Percentage of females age 18 to 34 who live in poverty in Chelan and Douglas counties. The same percentage age 55 to 64 also live in poverty in the two-county area.

— Source: Data USA, state Employment Security Department, U.S. Census

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