Women in Business Leadership 2020
Much like women around the globe, women in our region are creating—and leading—companies and organizations that are helping build a community where we can all be proud to raise families, build businesses and live out our lives any way we wish.
There were more than 150 emails resulting in 90 qualifying nominations this year—with more than 50 completed forms returned—each representing the créme de la créme and worthy of recognition. Our team is honored to be celebrating this year’s Top 20 with our readers and with community.
The Awards Event: We look forward to celebrating our winners, and the community, at a breakfast awards event as soon as our community is back on its feet and we are all healthy and safe.
AZ Zaman, COO
Pearson Packaging Systems
Proudest moment or biggest success: Becoming a mom begins a journey filled with so many proud moments, challenging times, opportunities for self-reflection and recalibration. When our three young men become independent, positive contributing members of society, who are respectful, kind, giving, and happy, then I know we have provided a safe pathway for their success. Also, the day I married my wife Erika and our family was publicly recognized meant the world to our children and underscored our efforts in teaching them to accept and embrace the individuality of every person and what they have to offer to our community.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? Spokane is a rich source of opportunities for many markets and will continue to expand as the community grows. Whether it is in medical, educational, the arts, or traditional manufacturing, good talent can find opportunities. The real goal is to become a person of strong talent and a positive attitude.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? Embrace your unique strengths and use them to your advantage. Listening and caring does not make you a rollover. Emotional intelligence is a characteristic that tends to be more developed in women and has been recognized as a key quality to successful leadership. Owning and appreciating your leadership characteristics makes you an authentic leader, which builds trust and respect. Recognize leadership is not tied to a position. Leadership happens at every level—to rise to the top, you have to demonstrate confidence at every opportunity.
Angela Mercado, Corporate Director of Sales
Proudest moment or biggest success: Since joining Davenport Hotels through the purchase of the Hotel RL by Red Lion, I have played a key role in onboarding the Centennial to the Davenport family, which also included merging two established sales teams consisting of 32 employees. I am proud of this moment, for it taught me a valuable lesson: the merging of two companies isn’t a way for one team to bail out the other, but rather an opportunity for both teams to grow.
Where do you expect to be with your career in five years? As Davenport Hotels continue to grow, I truly look forward to any new endeavors the company decides to take on. Working for a local organization of our size has allowed me the opportunity to lead an ever-growing sales force, in which I have confidence that we can tackle new challenges and events together as a team. It is everybody’s dream to work for an organization that allows growth, and the Davenport has provided me with just that: a place to build and thrive in my career.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? Many of my counterparts in the Spokane hospitality industry are women in key leadership roles. I feel as if it is our responsibility to lead by example and empower those around us. By striving to be female leaders in the workplace, the community and even at home, we can continue to have success in all opportunities presented to us. I believe Spokane truly empowers women, in which we are given opportunities to strive in all platforms.
Claire Olson, Chief Financial Officer
Interim HealthCare of Spokane, Inc.
Proudest moment or biggest success: Building a team in Portland, Oregon, with a small office that more than tripled their business footprint in a year’s time by implementing two new lines of business and looking at every challenge as an opportunity. This team went on to win every award we offered that year and while most of them have now moved on, they all moved up, following their dreams. Also, I created a recruitment process with template emails for each stage of the process. I was asked to present at our national corporate recruitment summit in Las Vegas and now several offices use our templates, retention activities, and have even been awarded prizes through our corporate contests for using the tools I created.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? The business environment for women in Spokane has changed over the years and with the new mayor of Spokane, Nadine Woodward, being such a positive and outspoken role model for women, I envision women will be empowered to pursue their own dreams as she did. With many female-owned businesses in our community, the possibilities for women are endless. Through my volunteer work and mentorship with younger female professionals, I will continue to inspire ambition through my own actions while empowering others through support and encouragement.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? Don’t set your sights too small; don’t burn any bridges along the way and always be the one to straighten another woman’s crown without ever telling anyone else it was crooked to begin with.
Laura Stensgar, Chief Executive Officer
Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel
The Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel, operated by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, is among the largest employers in North Idaho and has contributed more than $33.3 million to education in the region.
Your role: I have dozens of responsibilities, including maintaining a safe and positive workplace as well as ensuring we are in compliance with regulatory agencies and we are profitable. My vision is to define who we are, nurture our employee relationship and continuing to contribute to our community.
Proudest moment or biggest success: As a proud member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, I joined Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel in 1993, the year it opened. I held steadfast to my dream of one day becoming CEO, and in November 2019, that dream became a reality. I am the first female CEO in the property’s history, and one of only a handful of female leaders in the industry.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women and how do you see your role in that? Like much of the U.S., Spokane is seeing progress with a female mayor and more women in leadership, showing other women we can do anything. There is opportunity for growth, and I see my role as being more active and partnering with entities to find ways to open more doors for women in business, finding ways to communicate and collaborate.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? Don’t give up on your dreams, no matter how lofty they may seem. Our journeys may not all be the same, but I encourage women to continue to persevere.
Shirley Blackbear, Executive Director of Human Resources
Kalispel Tribe of Indians and Northern Quest Resort & Casino
Once one of the poorest Native American tribes in the U.S., the Kalispel Tribe is now one of the top private employers in the Spokane area. The tribe owns and operates a number of business enterprises (including Northern Quest), provides more than 2,300 jobs in two counties, and has donated more than $19 million to regional nonprofits.
Proudest moment or biggest success: Winning the Vincent Price Award for poetry and short stories. It was a poem I had written about my grandfather that was published by Hartcourt, Brace and Jovanovich for several years in English Literature school books. My grandfather was a huge role model in my life. I still have a beautiful photo of him in my office. During challenging times, I often look to him for inspiration on how he would handle certain situations and it reminds me of what’s important.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women and how do you see your role in that? For many years I served as an advocate for each team member, encouraging high levels of morale, motivation and efficiency. My role allowed me to ensure that every team member, whether tribal or not, was able to work in an environment that was free from discrimination. My greatest reward has been in mentoring young female tribal members to gain the experience they need to earn positions of leadership in the Tribe’s largest businesses. Many women have been promoted to director and management positions, paving the way for continued leadership success for future generations of women.
Janelle M. Carney, Managing Partner-Eastern Washington
GLP Attorneys, Personal Injury Law Firm
Proudest moment or biggest success: The growth of the Eastern Washington branch is my biggest success. When I joined GLP, the Eastern Washington office was just an idea. We created a five-year growth plan, which through hard work and dedication we surpassed in two years. We now have blown our 10-year growth plan out of the water. When I come to work, I am proud of the work we do for our clients in the Spokane community and how many people we have helped. I am also proud of the wonderful attorneys we have and the amazing staff.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? There is so much opportunity in the Spokane market, and the women here support each other. We are a team. Just like this publication—it’s amazing to see the support among businesswomen in Spokane. When I first began the office here 10 years ago, there were not many women attorneys in civil litigation. When I would go to court for motions on Fridays, I would commonly be the only woman in the entire courtroom. However, over the following years, I have hired and mentored a number of young women attorneys, and many are choosing to practice civil law. Things are changing and that is amazing to see.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? Find something you are passionate about, believe in it and pursue it. You can do anything you set your mind to, as long as you work hard and work smart.
Lisa LeBlanc, New Owner
North Town Insurance
Proudest moment or biggest success: Seeing the years of challenges, lessons and hard earned wisdom, blossom into rewards. Rewards of being able to purchase the company, work with incredible people, have a strong support system and face personal growth with anticipation instead of fear.
Where do you expect to be with your career in five years? A debt free small business that can generously share our resources with the community and team. Staying current in the industry and being an advocate for an intentional insurance experience. Developing a community group that promotes healthy leadership, mentorship opportunities and collaboration with other small business leaders.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women and how do you see your role in that? The current business environment for women has really expanded. It is learning to speak the language that women need to hear and offers platforms for collaboration, encouragement, camaraderie, support, leadership and balance. My hope is to enhance that through active participation—creating opportunities for mentorship, extending our resources to fill gaps and continually partnering with ladies to build up our women’s leadership in Spokane.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? You cannot be scared of saying yes to opportunities. Embrace the fears and failings as you live out your potential, because the pain or challenges will fade but the lessons will remain. The freedom and opportunities that come with pushing, stretching, getting uncomfortable, embracing successes and learning from failures will take you to places you never thought possible.
Marie Widmyer, Owner
Marie’s Boutique, Marmalade, Marmalade Underground, Fort Ground Grill and Bier Haus
Twenty-five years ago, Marie Widmyer bought her first store, Marie’s Boutique, with no college degree, pregnant with twins, and chasing two young boys. Her businesses are centered around family—shopping with your daughters, sharing a meal with your family—and the idea of manifesting dreams.
Proudest moment or biggest success: When the previous owner, Marie O’Brien (hence why I didn’t need to change the name), agreed to sell me her boutique. She had faith in my ability to run a business even before I did. My biggest success is raising my four children. Each with their own talents, I encouraged them to be themselves and find their own passions.
Where do you expect to be with your career in five years? I want to continue to ask questions and find new ways to improve myself and my businesses. I am planning to expand my mentorship opportunities, start a clothing line with my daughters, and model in New York Fashion Week.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? There is a tremendous support for women-owned businesses because there are a lot of female entrepreneurs who have lent a hand to encourage one another in all endeavors because we know how hard we work.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? To G.R.A.B hold of your dreams:
GO–Start today, regardless of your circumstances.
REACH–Aim high. Make yourself uncomfortable, that’s where you see growth.
ACHIEVE–Start by setting small goals each day.
BELIEVE–You CAN do it. Don’t ever give up.
Megan Ward, Owner/Artist
Luxe. Salon and Spa
Proudest moment or biggest success: The ability to never let my vision fade. Through numerous trials and triumphs, I have been able to establish an environment indicative of my personal vision, allowing growth to transpire beyond what I could imagine for my myself, my team, and our industry.
Where do you expect to be with your career in five years? I envision leaving a footprint in Spokane through giving back to our community, positively influencing other women to feel confident, and building up my team to flourish within our society. As our culture continually revolves around innovation and growth, I expect that my business and team members will have the ability to be industrious and continually surpass new levels of success.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? Spokane has a strong community culture that fosters and encourages women to seek business leadership positions. Many of these women have grown into influencer roles within the community and can be a source of positivity and confidence, while also guiding others in the business world.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? To find your true passion and pursue it. Focus on whatever it is that makes you hungry to achieve more every day. Define what drives you, establish your goals, and never lose sight of it no matter what the adversities or obstacles are. The only way to make your dreams become a reality is to never give up.
Suzanne Schaeffer Bamonte, Owner
Tornado Creek Publications
Proudest moment or biggest success: The one that stands out most was receiving the advance copies from the printer of the first of 10 history books I co-wrote and published with my husband Tony Bamonte. The book was The History of Pend Oreille County.
Where do you expect to be with your career in five years? With the recent death of my Tony, and feeling like my life has been blown into a million pieces, sometimes just getting through the day at hand is all I can reasonably manage. I’m finally able to look a little farther ahead, but it’s difficult to even envision where I might be five weeks down the road.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? I feel it has to offer whatever women choose to do. Spokane has a rich history of amazing, competent, strong, enterprising, and entrepreneurial women who, if the environment did not already offer it, created the environment in which they could do whatever they chose to do. I have full confidence Spokane women will continue to contribute in productive ways and pave the way for future generations.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? Find and pursue something you are passionate about; believe in yourself but don’t hesitate to reach out to others who know more than you do; don’t be afraid of hard work; take personal responsibility for both the good and the not-so-good in your endeavors; and give back to your community wherever you can.
Charlotte Nemec, President/CEO
Canopy Credit Union
Proudest moment or biggest success: Opening our Spokane Valley Branch—a long-held dream of ours. Our new Valley location is not just a branch, it is a reflection of our vision to create a space where every person who comes to visit us feels at home. The changing of our name and brand is also a proud moment. Our team worked so hard to make this dream a reality and the end result is one that, every time I see it, gives me goosebumps.
Where do you expect to be with your career in five years? I hope to be continuing this journey of building a strong credit union. I am committed to living our dream of impacting our employees, our members and our community. We believe whether you are financially stable or you’re struggling, your banking experience should be easy and accessible. We have a responsibility to empower people to understand their money and what it can do for them; when this happens they are happier and more confident. When they feel this way, it not only affects those close to them but our entire community.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? Spokane’s been kind to me as a professional woman. I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing women mentor me and I feel that’s where Spokane shines. We have so many successful women, and I’ve yet to meet one that wasn’t willing to put out her hand and lend support when I’ve needed it.
Chretienne Yalung, General Manager & Director of Fitness & Development
The Union Studios
Proudest moment or biggest success: Leading the vision, organization, and execution of our Summer Solstice 2019 event. In partnership with the City of Spokane, Downtown Spokane Partnership, and lululemon, we closed down Main Avenue on a Friday night to offer free yoga and inspiration for community healing. More than 200 yogis of all shapes, ages, and levels attended. This moment culminated the hard work of the entire Union team and our passion for wellness, growth and sweat
Where do you expect to be with your career in five years? I see myself being proud of creating a sustainable space for fitness and wellness gurus to build a lifelong career in addition to taking my personal stamp from local to global.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? The opportunity for change. As a Filipino American woman, I aim to empower women in our area to feel strong and confident in their authentic selves. As a woman of color running a business that has the capacity to change lives, I hope to break the construct of what leadership in business looks like. Our upcoming generation offers a creative, diverse and boundary breaking stand on what Spokane is all about. We have the chance to break the mold in our community and redefine the future of the workforce.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? Hold true to your authentic self; no one is as unique as you and the world deserves to experience all of your power.
Kim Kelly, Executive Director/CEO
Christ Kitchen is a 20-year-old mission that started as a standalone ministry in March of 2017. For over two decades Christ Kitchen has been providing work, job-training, life skills training, Bible study, and discipleship for disenfranchised, impoverished women living in poverty in Spokane and outlining areas.
Proudest moment or biggest success: I have written and have been awarded multiple grants that have allowed for the hire of a new Development Manager and expand our Job Training Matrix with opening a Barista training module. We have been able to increase both training position openings as well as expanding our training hours. Additionally, we have been able to increase our dry food product line.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? At Christ Kitchen, our call is to help women trapped in poverty to develop, renew, heal, and maintain spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health through the care, instruction, accountability and growth of the women we serve. These women often have critical employment and life challenges such as felonies, lack of job experience, reentry into social society after incarceration, prostitution, human trafficking, physical and mental abuse, addiction, untreated mental health issues and much more. Our program enables the individual to change their stripes and the stripes of their future generations.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? Be resourceful and let your wisdom speak for itself. Do the research, the dreaming and the hard work. It’s about how much you know, how hard you work for the things you are truly passionate about and seek a positive impact on.
Shauna Edwards, School Founder and Executive Director
Lumen High School
Lumen is a public charter high school for teen parents and their children that will open its doors in the fall of 2020. The school is centered on the vision of high school aged parents learning together alongside their children and our staff and will incorporate social emotional learning, academics, and wrap around services on site.
Proudest moment or biggest success: Aside from a job success like getting Lumen high school approved and having so many teen parents help in the process, my overall proudest moments are when my own children are generous and kind to others and when they are leading in kindness in their classrooms and in the sports they participate in and when they behave in the fullness of who they are without inhibition.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? There are lots of networking groups and business groups in our community that are specific to women in business. Many of them are philanthropy driven or are working to advance women in their roles in our community. I gravitate toward groups that are philanthropy based.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? Your voice matters. Don’t say sorry. Don’t shrink back. There is no limit to what you can envision or do and if you have passion for a project, get a team of people to join you who in the core of their being believe in you and your vision and together make it happen.
Mary McDirmid, ChSNC
Managing Director/SpecialCare Planner
Registered representative of and offers securities and investment advisory services through the MML Investors Services, LLC. Member SIPC. SIPC.org. Branch address: 9 S Washington St., Ste 415, Spokane. (509) 363-0288.
Your role in the company: I introduce people to a career as a financial professional where they can take the skills, drive and desire they possess and use that to help individuals and businesses solve their most important financial challenges. As a Special Care Planner, with the ChSNC designation, I assist families with developing valuable financial strategies with my knowledge of and dedication to the diverse concerns of special needs families.
Proudest moment or biggest success: Growing a rare disease day event in Spokane every year. We are in our third year and tracking to have 200 people at the event. Also, balancing caregiving, parenting, and a high level career is a daily success I am privileged to manage.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women and how do you see your role in that? My role is to be a connector, to be the person who people want to go to for help and to be more creative with how we look at our teams. My first step into this was our pilot parent to work internship—the more out of the box ideas we can come up with around employment the more we lift all boats.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? Believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not awesome.
Brooke Matson, Executive Director
Spark Central is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that ignites the creativity, innovation, and imagination necessary for people to forge the path to their best future. They break down barriers to creativity like cost, confidence, and access by offering transformative programs, access to innovative technology, and a welcoming creative community for people of all economic backgrounds. Everyone deserves the opportunity to forge the future they imagine.
Your role: I am the founding executive director of Spark Central, responsible for general and fiscal leadership, as well as management of the organization, including programs, partnerships, fundraising, budgets, and internal/external relations.
Proudest moment or biggest success: Recently celebrating four and a half years of Spark Central at our fundraiser with our board and Jess Walter, our co-founder, was moving to watch the community step up to support our work and to see how much we’ve done through programming in such a short amount of time. I’m proud of how we have served West Central and the broader Spokane community.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? My biggest mentors have been women who have coached me in some way and helped me have the confidence to not settle for less than I am capable of achieving. Women in leadership roles are not always given the respect or the pay our male counterparts take for granted. Strong female mentors in my life have taught me to stand firm, even when there is no one to stand with you.
Heather Beebe-Stevens, Executive Director
of the Community Colleges of Spokane Foundation
Proudest moment or biggest success: I was working late on a Friday evening when I received an email from a colleague working with a student who had a young baby while working—and going to school—full-time. It was a cold January night, and she’d just been told she had two weeks to find a new place to live. She could pay for rent each month, but there was no way she could pull together first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit at that time, so she was looking at being homeless. Thanks to the belief that our CCS Foundation donors have in our work, I was able to access emergency funds to help her get into an apartment. My colleague called me a few minutes after I’d emailed back that I could help—and he told me how when she’d stopped crying, she wanted to send her thanks. That was a huge moment of clarification—that the work I am privileged to do each day has a real and long-lasting impact on people throughout our region.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women? Spokanites love to invest in each other and to cheer each other on to greater success. There is always room for improvement, of course, but when we have organizations like WOMEN LEAD and Women Helping Women, I think it shows that Spokane is investing in women in leadership, women in business and women in general.
Jayne Singleton, Founder & Director, Spokane Valley Historian
Spokane Valley Heritage Museum
The Spokane Valley Museum has been serving the community for over 16 years. The Museum collects, preserves and makes accessible the heritage of the Spokane Valley.
Your role: Inspiring 25 volunteers, and supervising six interns from local universities. I also give public history presentations and write grants. I give at-grade level presentations on the history of our community to students in the hope they will become stakeholders in the community once they know the history.
Proudest moment or biggest success: Watching my vision for a repository and museum for the Spokane Valley and region become a successful reality, connecting people with their heritage. I am proud of the team that continues to grow the museum with their donated time, talent and resources.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women and how do you see your role in that? The business environment in the region offers ample opportunities for women to lead and succeed. Networking organizations offer opportunities to grow in one’s profession and connect with others who enrich our relationship with the business community. I see my role as one who shares a vision for a connected community, connected with the past success stories to engage and anchor a stronger future vision.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? I would share that life is short, pursue what you are passionate about. Never settle for just getting by. You can always get more money, but you cannot get more time … so spend your time wisely.
Renee Smock, Chief of Mission Delivery
Girl Scouts Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho
Girl Scouts of E. WA and N. Idaho is a small but mighty council out of 111 national councils. They build girls of courage, confidence, and character through innovative and relevant leadership programs, including entrepreneurship through the largest girl led business in the world.
Your role: I have the privilege of planning, overseeing and executing the Girl Scout Cookie sale, which supplies 80 percent of the organization’s revenue, raising 4 million dollars. Many prominent businesswomen and leaders credit their early learning to Girl Scout Cookie selling. I also oversee our marketing department, philanthropy department, special events, volunteer trainings, and our highest awards, including the Gold Award.
What is your role in women’s leadership? I see my continued role and opportunity to influence and encourage the next generation of women leaders through Girl Scouts. Whether by encouraging them to use their voice in civic engagement, find courage to ask customers to buy cookies, or to climb a rock wall, I am grateful for the opportunity every day to be able to build girls up and to help them discover their potential for greatness in whatever they pursue.
What advice would you give young women as they consider their professional future? To not be afraid of who you are, and don’t be afraid of failing. If you pursue what you are passionate about with honesty and integrity, you will find success. I would further advise young women to not be afraid to try more than one thing. Do not be afraid to make changes and never stop growing.
Laureen Driscoll MBA, MSN, RN, NE-BC, President, MultiCare Deaconess Hospital
MultiCare Health System
Proudest moment or biggest success: One of the most transforming experiences for me as a healthcare leader and a nurse happened early in my career when I was a nurse manager of pediatrics. We had a young 6 year old patient who was being treated for cancer; her mother was pregnant and stayed with her during her care. When mom delivered—I facilitated for her and her newborn to be cared for in the same room as her child so the family could all stay together. It made me realize how impactful advocating for patients can be. It shaped me as a leader.
Where do you expect to be with your career in five years? I want to continue to serve our community as a healthcare executive to improve the health of our citizens. I want to be known as a woman of high integrity, who cares deeply, gives generously and knows how to get things done. I want to contribute to MultiCare’s mission by developing partnerships in our community and improving the health of our community. Our strategic partnerships created across business, nonprofit and government sectors will be key in improving health and healing.
What do you feel Spokane’s business environment has to offer women and how do you see your role in that? Spokane has a wealth of women leadership role models who are forging the way and inspiring others. I see myself as a leader who is joining forces with others in Spokane to create a positive difference for our community.
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Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living
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The Hidden Ballroom
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