Powerful women's life lessons
Special to The Seattle Times
KEVIN P. CASEY / SPECIAL TO THE SEATTLE TIMES
BETTY UDESEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
NATALIE FOBES, 2004
THE SEATTLE TIMES, 2002
KEVIN P. CASEY / SPECIAL TO THE SEATTLE TIMES
BETTY UDESEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES, 2004
In a state where the governor and both U.S. senators are women, it's no big deal to see women running the show — heading up businesses, organizing political campaigns, leading significant research projects.
But some 40 years after the women's movement helped open new opportunities, we're still debating women's decisions about families and jobs and trying to define the meaning of success.
We talked to some of Seattle's powerful women — both prominent and not-so-well-known — about some of the choices they've made and asked them to pass on their life lessons.
All have different backgrounds and leadership styles but share an optimism and an understanding that sharing power is, in fact, powerful.
Sheley Secrest, president, Seattle King County chapter of the NAACP
When the 31-year-old attorney was chosen to lead the local civil-rights organization in January, she'd already played many key roles within the group and had helped to revive its membership.
Secrest earned a bachelor's degree from The Evergreen State College and her law degree from Seattle University, and works for The Defender Association in Seattle.
She is the mother of three sons, ages 12, 9 and 4, and also "a wife-to-be, sister and friend," who just bought her first house.
My parents instilled in me the axiom "to whom much is given, much is required." I've always understood that I must be of service to others.
I had my children at a very young age: I became a mother at 19. I tell young girls they don't have to put their dreams on hold to raise a family. A healthy balance between personal life and career can help them carry out both. Before I applied to law school, I checked with my family — after all, they would be the ones to feel the sting of my absence. When they gave their OK, it wasn't "Mommy's in law school," it was "we're all in law school."
Same for being president of the NAACP. At my swearing in, I called my boys to the stage and asked their permission. They stood by my side with the understanding that our family is taking on this new role...
Women leaders have the ability to build rapport with others in ways that some men overlook. We can come to the table, talk and listen compassionately, although if talking won't get us anywhere, we're also able to get tough. That is just not our first tactic.
Life lesson: Celebrate your successes. So often we forget to reflect on the good we've accomplished. Women are too hard on themselves.
Celebrate the big and the small. Take yourself out for ice cream to celebrate meeting a deadline. Draw a bubble bath to celebrate the children completing their homework. Remind yourself of what you've already accomplished so that when you face the next challenging endeavor, you'll not doubt yourself.
Lee Keller, CEO of The Keller Group
A former press secretary to U.S. Sen. Dan Evans, Keller, 48, is often a low-profile force behind some of the region's biggest issues. She's worked for Weyerhaeuser and ran Paul Allen's campaign for the new football stadium, left Allen's Vulcan to direct the Seattle office of the giant public-relations firm APCO Worldwide, and now has her own business, with recent clients who've included the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences.
She lives on a Snoqualmie Valley farm that has been in her contractor husband's family for 30 years.
We all make choices. I was on one path until I slowed things down to have a family four years ago. If I hadn't done that, I might not have experienced being a mother — it's the best job I've ever had. Another choice was launching my own consulting practice. I'd raced back to APCO three months after my son was born, phones ringing, employees knocking at the door and me with the shades drawn trying to use a breast pump. Sometimes, Jacob was with me, and I'd be trying to breast-feed him while closing a client deal over the phone. It was just too crazy.
As hard as we try, the workplace is not a very pleasant place for new mothers and there is very little anyone can do about that right now.
Starting my own business was absolutely the scariest career move I'd ever made — realizing the only check you'll get is if clients pay, assuming you have clients. But now I can walk out of my home office and lie in the grass with my 3-year-old and watch a caterpillar crawl by. ...
Life lesson: Be open to the possibilities because they are limitless. Surround yourself with positive, loving people. Keep your priorities straight.
Kris Easterday, principal, Easterday Promotions
Successful women network, and Easterday networks not just locally but globally. She's made a name organizing highly complex events, primarily in the arts and in entertainment.
She's worked with Bumbershoot, Cirque du Soleil, promoted and toured with the Three Tenors, organized a rock concert in Vladivostok ("Vladirockstok"). She played a key part in organizing the flower vigil at Seattle Center after the 9-11 attacks.
Now 50, she's married with three stepsons. She's long been her own boss and secure in her self-image. Years back while a teaching assistant in Women Studies at the University of Washington she also was Miss Boat Show Mate. It was a good way to pay the bills.
Make your own luck. I started my business in 1987 with no money but a passion for getting where I wanted to be. I talked the lawyer for the Smith Tower into giving me free office space in exchange for managing events in the tower's Chinese Room.
I've been very careful about building, not burning, bridges because that bridge you burn might be the next one you have to cross. I stay in touch with clients, friends and acquaintances and have friends all over the world. ...
In 1990, while promoting an air show in Moscow following the Goodwill Games, I met a cosmonaut and later helped him immigrate to the U.S. His family is like my own. I've counseled others to make sure that, along the way, their jobs don't make them miss out on life because, in the end, that's what really counts — not the deals you've made, but the people in whose lives you've truly made a difference.
Life lesson: Always take the high road. As Spike Lee says, "Do the right thing," because you really do know what that is.
Jean Enersen, KING-TV anchor
Enersen was not only one of the first television anchorwomen in the country, she has also been one of the best, dominating the local airwaves for more than three decades.
A vast list of on-air accomplishments includes hosting live broadcasts from Asia and the former Soviet Union. Enersen, 61, is almost as well known for her off-air causes, lending her clout to the American Heart Association, Northwest AIDS Walk and many others.
She's a mother of two and stepmother of the two children of her husband, who heads a biotech firm.
I'm told I was the first woman in the U.S. to anchor a major local evening newscast, but that's a surprise to me. I never kept track of that kind of thing. ...
I got to host NBC's "Today" show for a while. It was my favorite job at the time — news, talk, New York. I loved it. But the best thing about that job was when it was over. I knew I couldn't raise a family as well in New York, because my support system — my mom, dad, brother, sister and friends — were all here. I knew I wanted to come home to raise a family here.
I feel lucky to work with the people at KING. I suggest people have to like the people they work with, and like the environment in which they work, because they will spend so much of their life at it.
My husband and I have, between us, four wonderful kids, and to me my children have always come first. I can't describe how proud I am of them. One is teaching first grade, with a class in which most of the students do not speak English. Another is in law school, and counseling young people who are in jail. Other parents will surely understand the work it takes to help get children launched and the pride one feels in their accomplishments.
Life lesson: I don't know about tomorrow. I like today. Today's a gift. That's why they call it the present.
Phyllis Campbell, president/CEO of The Seattle Foundation, a community philanthropy
From a management trainee, she rose to become chief executive of U.S. Bank of Washington — the first woman in the state to head a major commercial bank. Campbell, 55, has devoted countless hours to civic causes — among them chairing a record-setting United Way campaign — plus serving on corporate boards, as a WSU regent and a Seattle University trustee.
When I was at U.S. Bank, most of the reactions to my position were uniformly positive, but sometimes people would meet me and say, "You don't look like a bank president." Now what are you supposed to say to that, "Thank you"? Within a short time after my promotion, Debbie Bevier was named president of Key Bank and Sally Jewell president of West One. Sometimes we'd speak together as the Three Amigas.
My boss at the bank said one reason I was promoted was because he'd heard about my management style — that people told him, "They don't work for you, you work with them, that you roll up your sleeves and get the work done, but you also give others credit." That was such a compliment.
A turning point for me was when I was 32 and learned I had cervical cancer. Up until then everything had been set a goal, achieve that goal, set another. It was a long, protracted battle of surgeries and recovery, but as I look back on it, it was also a time of learning to let life happen, live in the moment, to take care of myself.
Another turning point was the decision to move to Seattle. My husband and I were happy in Spokane and he loved his (engineering) work there. But he helped me step out and try my skills in a larger arena. What a tremendous gesture on his part.
Life lesson: Dave Clack, my first boss, always said the more you give, the more you get back, in an unending cycle.
Jean Godden, Seattle city councilwoman
Godden had just celebrated her 72nd birthday when she decided to run for a seat on the Seattle City Council. It wasn't the first time she'd reinvented herself. In her late 30s, this stay-at-home mom returned to college and became a journalist, eventually writing a column, first at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and then at The Seattle Times.
But she longed to be involved in politics, and traveled to the Middle East in 2002 and 2003 to help train women there to run for office.
She's survived two significant deaths: her husband, whom she'd cared for during a long illness, and later her longtime partner.
Men reinvent themselves all the time, changing careers and jobs. No reason why women shouldn't as well. When I made the 11th-hour decision to run for City Council, I worried that I might have waited too long to pursue my dream. But, as always, I had a backup plan: If I lost I'd finally write a book.
I think women and men lead differently, although I'm not sure whether it's nature or nurture. In Morocco and Jordan, I noticed that women from vastly different political parties had much the same political platforms.
All of them strongly supported education, health care and jobs; not a single one mentioned infrastructure or a strong defense. ...
Life lesson: Go for it. Don't be afraid that you'll make a fool of yourself. You won't. And, if you do, you can learn from your mistakes.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company