Since becoming an official holiday in 1987, Women’s History Month has recognized the accomplishments and sacrifices of trailblazers making their mark.
In fact, many economic advancements and worker’s rights that now benefit our labor force actually emerged from the suffrage movement of the 1920s.
This year, TREND and our Chattanooga Chamber share several inspiring insights from highly respected business and community leaders.
On Embracing Uncertainty:
Sharon Law, Business Development Manager, Thompson Engineering
Since childhood, Law sought guidance from mentors who supported her growth and encouraged her to be fearless.
Throughout her career, she has approached promotions and job opportunities as a challenge to go beyond the limits of what she felt was possible.
“I knew that to get my foot in the door, I needed to go beyond my comfort zone,” Law says.
Law finds inspiration in her mother, who transitioned from being a stay-at-home mom to the breadwinner for her family and caregiver for her partially incapacitated father.
“I think about my mother’s determination, her devotion and the responsibility she took for her husband and children,” Law says. Through her mother’s example, Law learned the value of perseverance in the face of uncertainty.
As a team leader at Thompson Engineering, an employee-owned engineering firm, Law works alongside scientists, engineers and planners and to build better communities across the Southeast.
“When the company succeeds, everyone in the company succeeds. That’s the benefit of being employee-owned,” she says.
Law encourages others to embrace fearlessness and uncertainty in order to advance their careers.
“Take the chance. Apply for that promotion or job. You never know what you’re capable of until you try,” she says.
Along with her role at Thompson Engineering, Law serves as Chair for the Chattanooga Chamber’s Public Policy Board. She also hosts the Chamber Chatts, the Chamber’s public policy series that gives community members the chance to hear from elected officials and those in public service.
On Courage and Confidence
Rebecca Ashford, Ed.D., President, Chattanooga State Community College
As a community college graduate herself, Ashford takes pride in seeing traditional and nontraditional students overcoming barriers to reach their educational goals.
She launched her career working as a student advisor at Brevard Community College and moved up the ranks of academia before beginning her present role at Chattanooga State in 2006, a feat she describes as “beyond her wildest expectations.”
Inspired by stories her students tell, Ashford recognizes education’s transformative impact on people’s lives.
“I saw a mother walk across our graduation stage holding her 4-year-old’s hand,” Ashford says. “She would later tell me she was on food stamps but would no longer need them anymore.”
She is determined to continue making education more accessible for everyone willing to take that courageous first step.
As a mother of two teenage daughters, Ashford is continually inspired by the strength, bravery and confidence she sees in them.
“My daughters are defining themselves as individuals, separate from how other people see them,” she says. “They are confident in themselves. I’m proud to see that confidence in the next generation of girls.”
Ashford’s advice to women in the workforce is to embrace timeless qualities like humility, respect and goodness toward others. “Work hard, stay humble and keep improving,” she says.
On Building Strong Communities:
Valoria Armstrong, Chief Global Inclusion and Diversity Officer, Unum
Armstrong recently began a new role at Unum.
“Unum is an amazing company that I have always watched from afar. I’ve lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, and they’ve been one of the major employers in the area that have made a meaningful impact, including championing inclusion,” Armstrong says.
At the start of her career, Armstrong found motivation and guidance by looking for role models, then sought to emulate their actions.
She gained valuable advice from leaders through informal and formal mentorships, as well as intentional networking. These strong leaders invested in her by sharing time and industry knowledge.
Soon, Armstrong grew a network of advocates who championed for her in board rooms and office meetings even when she wasn’t present – creating lasting impacts on her career.
During Women’s History Month, she reflects on the suffragists of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. — an organization founded by college-educated Black women in 1913 that provides community services and support to the Black community.
The suffrage movement of the 1920s excluded Black women from obtaining the right to vote. However, members of Delta Sigma Theta saw the long-term impact of building stronger communities and stood alongside their white suffragist counterparts to aid in their fight.
Armstrong explains why she is humbled by the responsibility to leverage her gifts and privileges to light the way for the next generation of women leaders.
“I stand on the shoulders of all the women who have sacrificed and given so much in order for me to be at this place, therefore I have a responsibility to pay it forward to the next generation,” she says.
On Leaving a Legacy
Alexis Bogo, President, Hamico
As a philanthropist and civic leader for the region, Bogo is looking to make a better future for Chattanooga and Hamilton County.
“We’re all about impacting lives so they’re a little better tomorrow than they were today. Whether it’s a children’s advocacy center or programs like A Step Ahead, the organizations we partner with are impacting many lives not only in quantity but in quality also,” Bogo says.
As a family-held foundation, Hamico supports some of Chattanooga’s leading educational and healthcare institutes including Siskin Children’s Institute, Clinica Medicos and CHI Memorial’s Guerry Heart and Vascular Center.
Bogo launched her career as a marketing assistant – navigating the male-dominated industry of professional sports management. She then served as marketing director for the Chattanooga-based healthcare company, Chattem – representing brands like Gold Bond and Selsun Blue before beginning her role at Hamico in 2007.
As a fifth-generation member of the Patten-Guerry family, Bogo reflects on the legacy of their family matriarch on our region and encourages others to make career decisions based on the impact they’ll leave behind.
“As women, we make choices every day. We make choices as a partner, as a parent, and as professionals. And we’re not thinking, ‘Could this be my historic moment?’ We’re simply taking a look down two paths and trying to make the right choice. Some paths may look harder and some may look easier. But consider which one will lead to the most progress and which one will be most beneficial – not only for you but for those you carry,” she says.
“It’s important to recognize the women who made history, especially in our community. But also, I think it’s important for us as women to recognize that we have an opportunity to make history every day.”
On Seeking New Opportunities:
Gena Weldon, President and CEO, Goodwill Industries of the Greater Chattanooga Area
As a regional head of one of the nation’s leading charitable organizations, Weldon challenges herself to face obstacles by seeking new ways to advance her skills.
She recently completed her MBA, devoting one weekend a month to pursue this lifelong goal.
“I recognized early in my career that there are opportunities everywhere. I am constantly trying to improve my capabilities and those of my team,” Weldon says.
Now in its 100th year of service, Goodwill of Chattanooga is reaping the benefits of organizational change fueled by Weldon’s influence.
“Historically, women who worked for Goodwill mostly cleaned, mended and pressed clothes that sold in our stores. Today, the CEO is a woman. And, we have several women in important leadership roles across the organization. I love that Goodwill embraces and supports women’s growth and development,” Weldon says.
Approximately two days a week, Weldon visits Goodwill stores around Chattanooga — connecting with employees across the organization, from those taking in and sorting donations to those who care for customers. Doing so helps Weldon understand employees’ needs, concerns and future hopes.
Each Women’s History Month, Weldon is honored for the opportunity to celebrate the strong women who changed, shaped and transformed the world. Like them, she rallies others and pushes for the change she wishes to see in Chattanooga’s professional landscape.
“The only boundaries are those you set for yourself. Work for leaders who will support and challenge you to do more. Women are more empowered to create their own path, lead others and create their own businesses,” Weldon says.