Washington women leaders discuss ascendant career paths, strengthening behaviors

By: Maggie Wilson Posted: 10/31/2018

Recap: "WIBLI How I Did It"

The Seattle Metro Chamber's fall Women in Business & Leadership Initiative symposium focused on how women in executive positions have navigated the workplace to become high-level leaders.

Attendees joined us at the Seattle Marriott Waterfront hotel to connect and hear from amazing speakers about their stories on navigating perceptions, changing the narrative and learning how to drive positive change in their own careers.

Shaunta Hyde, Managing Director of Community Relations at Alaska Airlines began the symposium, thanking our President and CEO Marilyn Strickland for her leadership.

“Women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America,” Hyde said. “As the cliché goes, we have to do it backwards and in high heels.”


Highlights from the symposium:

  • Marilyn Strickland, President and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and moderator of the first panel

Strickland welcomed our first panel and spoke about the fluidity and sometimes non-linear nature of career paths. Strickland discussed the self-doubt women often have, feeling unqualified when opportunities arise.

When we think about power and leadership, there is often a very western, male notion about what it should be, Strickland noted.

Quiet and lowkey individuals can still be powerful, gritty and resilient, Strickland said. The appearance of power may be different than it is while preconceived.

Strickland also joined panelists in in recognizing the significance of having mentors who lift and champion you.

A couple of lessons from Strickland during the first panel:

  1. Even if you’re intimidated by others in the room, you’re not an impostor.
  2. Always know your history,” because others have done much work before you arrived


  • Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, President of Seattle Central College

Lange recalled a time she felt unqualified for a position offered to her and shared that she nearly didn’t accept the opportunity. She realized inner strength and accepted the role after self-reflection and after a friend reminded her, “You’ve been preparing for this your whole life.”

“When people open doors for you … you have to step through and perform,” Lange said. Doing so also opens doors for those behind you, she added. 

What helped Lange navigate into a powerful position, she said, was networking, people who took an interest in her career, a class on public speaking--as well as daily work that helped her cultivate a reputation of strong performance.

Lange discussed her non-linear path, acknowledging that she, at one time, wanted to be a doctor and was pursuing medicine. She later found her passion in helping others navigate schooling.


  • Graciela Gomez Cowger, CEO of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt

“I’m actually an accidental everything,” Cowger said while introducing herself, inspiring laughter. She began as an engineer, realized it wasn’t what she wanted, and went back to school to get her law degree.

When she was initially offered a powerful position, she was reluctant and had to process through self-doubt to accept the position. She shared some of her experience with immigrating to the United States and experiencing language barriers.

“Take risks – and reach,” Cowger said. “Being your whole, genuine self, is a powerful place to start from.”

Another lesson she imparted was to keep friends close, especially those who speak truth to you.

Grit and resilience are muscles that you can build up, Cowger said.

She advised attendees to not expend valuable energy toward the impulse to diminish oneself; instead, that energy is better expelled at focused growth.


  • Julie Pham, Vice President of Community Engagement and Marketing at Washington Technology Industry Association
Pham said there are three tools and resources she has learned to utilize that she revisits over time to continue growing and improving herself:
  1. Learning opportunities (constantly looking for new ways to learn, including Chamber seminars and volunteering with organizations)
  2. Networking (building up personal connections and taking a strategic approach to cultivating a network)
  3. Her own personal ‘board of directors’ or mentors

“Resiliency is big,” Pham said, also emphasizing the impact networking has had on her life and job opportunities.

Networking and the relationships you develop grow with the power of compound interest, Pham said. Nurturing your relationships is important work.

Why is Oprah so impactful, Pham pondered. Because she’s a connector, she answered. She’s connecting people.

On female leaders moving other women into leadership, Pham said, “There has to be proactive coaching in observing and noticing, ‘What does this person need to advance?’”


  • Ashlea Elliott, owner Ashlea A Elliott Consulting
Elliott shared her experience growing up in an inclusive, respectful Pennsylvania Quaker community and the jarring experience of moving to a less-accepting community in the South as a gay woman.

She said as she grew and traveled, she noticed new types of exclusion and said much of her work is helping to remove barriers and develop programs that systematically eliminate exclusion.

Some practices she encourages and implements involve ensuring people are given due credit for their ideas, and not just talking about amplification but enacting practices that amplify voices. For example, when someone gave her an idea for an event, she invited that person back to co-present the event when it came into existence four years later.  

She talked about strategic partnerships in her personal life and learning from volunteer opportunities.

Systemic, inter-generational, intrinsic barriers tend to redirect the pressure onto individuals to move themselves forward, she noted – instead, companies and leaders in companies should play a role in moving those individuals forward.

Elliott also shared this list of ways to help women succeed:
  1. Use influence to get high-level buy-in for inclusion
  2. Pay interns
  3. Non-profits: Change your business models so you can offer living wages
  4. Demand pay transparency in your team or organization
  5. Demand 1:1 hiring of men and women for entry level roles and that all entry levels have equal pay
  6. Make a list of women in your network who are 2, 5 and 10 years behind you in your career – and build relationships with them so whenever you get a call about a job or business opportunity that you are not interested in, you can say no and say to call one of these people they may be interested in who are not getting as many calls and opportunities
  7. Don’t ask anyone to work for free
  8. Write recommendations for every female, LGBTQIA speaker or trainer you have
  9. Demand policies that allow women to wear their hair however they wish
  10. Make running women leadership inclusion employee resource groups (iERGs) a paid position; make this part of their job so they can get paid for leadership expertise
  11. Eliminate anchor wage questions from interviews



  • Kim Bohr, CEO and Executive Consultant of The Innovare Group

Bohr led tables in a learning activity on strategic networking. She introduced the question: What is an intentionally diversified network and how can it be leveraged?

Bohr showed attendees an advancement roadmap and discussed the importance of diversifying your network to expand internal and external growth and bring yourself clarity.

A common networking challenge Bohr mentioned included women not networking because of time constraints.

Borh spoke on the significance of LinkedIn networking accounts and encouraged LinkedIn users to utilize a tool that allows you to export LinkedIn contacts in order to create a spreadsheet that you can review and assess.

She encouraged attendees to ask themselves, ‘How well connected am I? Is this the mix I need to get me to my next career goal? Who can open me up to new conversations? Who is missing? Who should I reach out to in order to learn more?’

A new study from 2018 on Women in the Workplace was mentioned multiple times throughout our WIBLI event. Read that study on progress in companies’ gender diversity here.



The Chamber’s Women in Business and Leadership Initiative (WIBLI) events and programs inspire, educate, and connect Seattle-area women at all levels of their careers. Through our events, we aim to empower Seattle-area professionals to create significant change for themselves, their workplaces and their communities around gender equity issues, including closing our region’s gender wage gap. Learn more about this event series and see upcoming programs