Written by: Emily Parkhurst, Editor in Chief, of the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Original article and video can be found here.

 

I wrote my first book in fifth grade. It was about a mouse named Jack and his adventures around the world. That first book became a series. I made covers and bindings for each book out of cardboard and wallpaper.

I never felt prouder than I did when I saw my name on the cover of those little books.

That desire to tell stories never faded and helped get me where I am today.

The experiences we have as children often have a far greater impact on our professional lives than we imagine.

For this year’s Women of Influence lifetime achievement honoree, Estela Ortega, it was her experience as a teenager moving to the big city to fight for the rights of farm workers that led her to a lifetime of social justice work for the Latino/Chicano community. Hers is an incredible story of setting hugely audacious goals and never giving up.

Last year, the nonprofit community organization Ortega heads up — the El Centro de la Raza, or The Center for People of All Races — built an apartment complex with 112 affordable housing units for low-income people in the community. The organization also helps provide early learning opportunities for children of recent immigrants and training classes for adults on labor standards and entrepreneurship.

For Women of Influence honoree Gladys Gillis, it was a childhood spent around her family, which owned and ran a jewelry store, that influenced her future as the CEO of Starline Luxury Coaches.

The collective message Gillis received from her parents and six siblings: “There’s nothing you can’t do.” She clearly took that to heart.

For Mimi Siegel, the executive director of the Kindering Center, it was a two-month-long trip across Europe as a teenager that inspired her.

“My interest in history, the arts and in education was formed during those travels,” she said.

Their experiences are a reminder to us all just how vital it is to instill in young girls the knowledge that they can be anything they want to be.

That doesn’t mean success will be easy. There’s still significant work to be done to eliminate sexism in the workplace. Washington is among the worst states in the country when it comes to the wage gap between men and women. Many of the region’s top companies have only one or two women on their boards — if they have any at all.

Unconscious bias — from both men and women — Women of Influence honoree Beverly Wyse said, is the biggest challenge women face in the workplace right now.

Many are pushing to change that, including the women you’ll read about in these pages.

Wyse, a top executive at Boeing, says it’s more important than ever to highlight and share successful women’s stories.

What this year’s Women of Influence honorees can teach us is that no matter how enormous the task, there are strong, determined people willing to put in long hours to make it happen.

The little girls in our lives — daughters, nieces and friends’ children — are the ones who will pick up where we left off. It’s up to us to encourage them to do what they love and aspire to greatness.

Women of Influence honoree Barbara Bennett offered some good advice when we asked what she would tell the young women in her life. “Raise your hand,” she said, “don’t wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder.”

I couldn’t agree more.