425 and South Sound Magazine Women to Watch 2020 Recap

To view the full
2020 Women to Watch event, click here.


Everything is a bit different for all of us this year. The ongoing effects of COVID-19 have forced us all to learn and adapt — many of us not only working from the safety of our homes but also connecting in other ways.

Despite the challenges, we’re all learning to make it work. And that’s exactly what we had to do to throw our fifth annual Women to Watch event on Sept. 17.

Six amazing women took to our virtual stage and shared stories of power, growth, and resilience. King 5’s Amity Addrisi emceed the event along with MOViN’ 92.5’s radio co-host Brooke Fox. Our presenting sponsor, Kitsap Bank, kicked off the evening with a short video highlighting the strength of its generational female leadership and how it has affected the bank’s evolution over time.

Hannah Langer became the first female bank president west of Mississippi in 1952. Since then, her daughter, Helen Langer Smith served as a chairwoman from 1986 to 2011. Now, Langer’s granddaughter, Cydly Langer Smith serves as chairwoman.

“Because our roots go back so deep and we’ve been around for so long, I think the tone that my grandmother set is that Kitsap Bank is a family. I think that translates well wherever we have expanded, and people sense that whether they’re coming to work for us or are doing business with us,” Cydly Langer Smith said in a prerecorded video.

Our other sponsors included Lake Chelan, The Bellevue Collection, Diageo, Symetra, Mutual Materials, BCRA, Knobbe Martens, The Doty Group, P.S., Pierce Transit, Stephens Plastic Surgery, Thurston EDC, Hubbard Radio, Always Greener, and Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi.

LaEisha Howard was the first woman to take the virtual stage. The author, speaker, human resource director, and entrepreneur shared the importance of having a vision and going after it.

Her book, Fill Your Tank: 100 Daily Affirmations of Inspiration and Reflection, inspires people to take ownership of their lives, particularly by practicing daily self-care and setting healthy work-life boundaries.

Taking inspiration from strong women like her daughter, Maya Angelou, and women she works with, Howard said she advises women to have a vision and not give up.

“Have a vision and don’t give up. Pull your chair up to the table, take a seat, make a pathway, and no matter how many nos you get, you will have a yes and that yes will be the right yes,” she said.

Next, it was Traci Schneider’s turn to share her message. Schneider, co-founder of Ben’s Fund, understands the challenges that come with being a parent to a child with special needs. When her first son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism, Schneider and her husband learned how to overcome a lot of obstacles firsthand. As Schneider met other families that had children with autism, she saw them struggle to get the support that they needed. As a result, Schneider and her husband started Ben’s Fund in 2012, which raises money to support Washington families navigating similar obstacles.

“When you have a kiddo with autism, the biggest support system has been from other parents because they get it and they know. That was one of the driving forces for me to start Ben’s Fund because I know what people are going through. I know how challenging it is and what that journey looks like and feels like,” Schneider said.

Many children have had to go without their normal therapy and services since the start of the pandemic. Ben’s Fund has continued to distribute grant funds to support families in need.

“Ben’s Fund hasn’t skipped a beat. We’ve continued to give grants and help try to fill that gap with equipment and technology and equipment for the home just to help these kids get through it,” Schneider said.

Woven in and out throughout the night were short clips highlighting The Bellevue Collection’s fall looks and trends. This year’s designer brands include Ted Baker London, Rod & Gunn, Tory Burch, Eileen Fisher, Kate Spade New York, Johnny Was, and more.

Paula Sardinas was the third woman to speak. Sardinas is the Washington State Commissioner on African American Affairs and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Puget Sound. As a lifelong advocate, she’s worked to push back, work harder, and lift up those around her — especially those in Black and Brown communities who have long been systemically oppressed.

“I think if you see something that’s wrong or you see injustice and don’t use your voice, then you’re not operating at your highest gift. It’s within all of us to make a change in the world that we live in. I think that we have to start from where we are and say, ‘this is my power, this is my voice, and how do I want to use it to make the world a better place not just for myself but for neighbors?’”

When asked about what makes her succeed, Sardinas said it’s simply finding your passion and your purpose.

“I always come back to advocacy because I realize that if no one is paying me to use my voice, it’s what brings my soul the greatest amount of joy. When I mentor others, I tell them, ‘If you’re not following your passion and your purpose, the money and the title won’t matter. Do what makes you happy,” she said.

After a five-minute viewer break, Haley Shapley was the next woman to take the virtual stage. The author of Strong Like Her, Shapley wrote the book to provide a positive, holistic account of women in sports over time, a topic on which there is little written.

Not long after graduating college, Shapley said she was unsure of where she wanted to take her career. After applying for a writing mentorship program at her college, she was confronted with hostility and negativity from the older male committee members who told her she would never become a writer. Shapley went on to discuss how there were others who didn’t believe in her or were hoping for her to fail and said while it was damaging, it’s not as bad as the damage that comes when you don’t believe in yourself.

“I have a life motto: Why not me? When I was a teenager attending a blue-collar high school and applying to ivy league colleges, I said, “Someone has to get in, why not me?’ When I was a young professional and wanted to quit my publishing job to become a freelance writer during the middle of a recession and my family told me I risked losing everything, I said ‘Someone has to get paid to write those stories, why not me?’ And when I wanted to be a not-so-famous debut author with a book deal at a major publishing house, I said ‘Someone writes those books that gets stocked on store shelves and appear in best-of lists and change the world, why not me?’” Shapley said.

While she said you can’t control what others think of you or say about you, you can control your own mindset.

Suzanne McGill was the fifth woman to speak and share her passion for education. McGill is the co-founder and president of the Rwanda Girls Initiative, one of East Africa’s most rigorous schools for women.

McGill jokes that she is an accidental educational entrepreneur. She and her co-founder had no idea and no plan for the Rwanda Girls Initiative to become what it has.

“It’s been such a blessing. To be able to be a small part of the young women’s lives is such a gift. To be able to watch them on their journey as it unfolds is amazing,” she said.

McGill noted the interconnectivity of the world and how what happens in one place matters has an effect somewhere else.

“At the end of the day, everyone wants the same things: for their kids to be healthy, have a chance to be educated, and have a chance to have a better life and it’s no different no matter where you go,” she said. “(Providing education to women) is truly one of the most important things we can do to break the cycle of poverty and be a change in the world.”

The sixth and final Women to Watch to speak was Tori Dunlap, founder of Her First $100K. With the goal of saving $100K before she turned 26 years old, Dunlap now writes, speaks, and coaches about budgeting, paying off debt, saving, and starting businesses. She’s helped over 200,000 women feel more financially confident.

Dunlap highlighted the meaning of financial feminism — the idea that there’s no equality for women and marginalized groups until they have financial equality.

“We are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to financial education and that is the key to unlocking this equality piece. We hear about the pay gap, but we need to be talking about the investing gap and the opportunity gap. I think once we get more money into more women’s hands, everything can start changing,” she said.

According to a Fidelity study, women invest 40 percent less than men. Dunlap said that’s because women are taught that money isn’t for them and that money is taboo.

“What ends up happening is that those narratives are taught to us by the patriarchy, and so they can stay in power the longer we don’t have those conversations about money. That statistic of women investing 40 percent less than men, that is a lack of education. And the fact that the number one reason why women don’t invest is fear — the fear of doing it incorrectly, the fear of losing their money. Once we can get education into these women’s hands, everything starts to change,” Dunlap said.

The evening concluded with a brief Q & A session with all six women. They discussed navigating challenges, the people who have helped them along the way, and more.

A portion of the proceeds from 425 and South Sound magazine’s Women to Watch event benefitted Washington Women in Need (WWIN), an organization dedicated to supporting low-income women through education, health care, and life skills.

Know of a woman who you think should be a woman to watch? Nominations for next year’s Women to Watch are open. Click here.

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