Astra award winners share stories, enthusiasm
This year’s Astra award winners exude energy and enthusiasm. Their stories are full of encouragement and hope, not just for women, but for anyone wanting to make their mark.Astra Society International, a nonprofit agency that’s been helping women in business since 1996, presented its seventh annual awards on Saturday at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton.The awards recognized the accomplishments of five successful women business owners: Wendy Lane of Lane Marketing Communications, Denise Harrington of Harrington & Associates, Sonal Shah of Northwest Software Inc., Janet Taylor of Taylor Metal Products and Assunta Ng of Northwest Asian Weekly and the Seattle Chinese Post.In addition, two “Achiever” awards were presented to individuals with a history of promoting and partnering with women in business. This year’s Achievers were Brenda Dizer of Nike Inc. and Jay Van Houten of Hewlett-Packard in Boise, Idaho.Striking after speaking with those honored is a common theme in their philosophies not to always equate men with women, but to celebrate their differences.“I think it’s important that every woman know the skills we innately have as women are skills that can make us successful. These are things we don’t have to learn,” said Denise Harrington. Her company, whose clients include some of the top professional athletes, trains people to speak effectively in public.Harrington said these skills include intuition, collaboration, communication and the ability to multi-task. “We solve problems in different ways,” said Sonal Shah, founder and president of Northwest Software. “Men and women have different ways of thinking and addressing problems, and it works. We may be thinking differently, but it’s possible to achieve similar results.”Shah, who grew up in Bombay, India, said she always knew she wanted to get an advanced degree and go to work, but the journey wasn’t easy.“Basically being a minority, being a woman and having an accent, you’re already distracting in several ways. You have to really work two or three times as hard to establish the relationship, the credibility and the rapport,” she said. “All along you have to work hard, work as an individual and accept that you are different. It becomes easier to fight the battle.”Shah was also recently recognized as Oregon’s Small Business Person of the Year.“It’s all about economic development. We don’t want handouts,” said Brenda Dizer, manager of the supplier diversity program at Nike. “It’s about putting the economy back into the community.”Dizer used Rosa Parks’ story and the Alabama Bus Boycott as an example. “Busses lost money, which made them forget about the racism, segregation thing. They said, ‘This is about our pocket books,’” she said.Simply put, Dizer’s job requires her to make sure Nike’s supplier base reflects its consumer base. A single mother of two, she started seven years ago at Nike as a clerk.“You figure out what it is you want to do and make the sacrifices to get there,” Dizer said. “I think of my ancestors. I’m from Mississippi. What I have, I have off the backs of my ancestors.”Dizer is currently working on her master’s degree in business administration from George Fox University.Jay Van Houten said he’s proud to be a man recognized by Astra.“It shows women that there are men out there who are simpatico and willing to work. It shows men that it’s the right thing to do that no one should be excluded from business because they’re a minority or a woman.”Van Houten, who works as the diversity program manager at Hewlett-Packard’s Imaging and Printing Group, said he agrees that actively seeking women-owned businesses is simply good economic practice.“There are a lot of women-owned businesses and they have a lot of spending power,” he said.For Wendy Lane, who founded Lane Marketing in 1990, the most challenging aspect of starting her own business was accepting the fact that she was starting her own business.“I had never seen myself in the role of a sole practitioner. I don’t think many women were educated or trained to see themselves as a business owner,” she said.Lane said the defining moment was seeing the “President” title next to her name on her newly minted business cards.“I almost threw up,” she said. “Seeing that it was just me was truly overwhelming.”Lane said she thinks things are changing for a younger generation of women.“There are more women mentors and more women in leadership positions than when I started in 1972. More importantly, there are more women with children in these positions,” she said.Janet Taylor knows about blazing trails. She and her husband Duane founded Taylor Metal Products in Salem 17 years ago. She’s been running the company solo since he retired in 1995.“It’s difficult to gain credibility in an industry that’s so male-dominated. There was a reluctance to hire a woman,” she said.Taylor’s recipe for success was to concentrate on the basics. “You have to be knowledgeable about your service and products and provide a high quality of customer service,” she said.Taylor was recently elected mayor of Salem and will be the second woman in the city’s history to hold that post.“Women are just as good. We have the skills,” she said. “We’re going to take over, is what I’m trying to say!”Award winner Assunta Ng, founder and president of Northwest Asian Weekly and the Seattle Chinese Post, could not be reached for comment.
Published 11/18/2002 Aimee Curl