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Dec. 2, 2023

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Clark County women blazing path in business

Women who own companies face challenges, find camaraderie with colleagues

By , Columbian staff writer
2 Photos
Sue Malo, from left, Amy Loudenback and Roni Sasaki of Women Entrepreneurs Organization take a break before meeting at Officers Row.
Sue Malo, from left, Amy Loudenback and Roni Sasaki of Women Entrepreneurs Organization take a break before meeting at Officers Row. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Roni Sasaki owns EnviroMet, a supplier of products needed for oil, chemical and body fluid spills.

“I’m definitely in a man-driven world,” Sasaki said. “Sometimes that has been a respect issue for me, but now there are so many more women buyers, it’s really a lot easier than it was when I started out.”

Still, she is asked if she works for her husband.

“When I go out there, people just assume that if I have my own business, it’s because I work for my husband,” said Sasaki, who was the president of Vancouver’s Women Entrepreneurs Organization during the pandemic.

Amy Loudenback gets that too. She and her husband own their Visiting Angels business together, but she manages the day-to-day operation of the business and all of the employees. Loudenback is the current president of the women’s networking group.

The Women Entrepreneurs Organization has been around for women in Vancouver for more than 20 years. The well-established group is run by a volunteer board placing its core values on education, inspiration and support for women in business. The group hosts a monthly dinner meeting with a speaker.

Paving the way

Struggles for women in business don’t look like they used to. There are more than 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the country, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners. Loudenback doesn’t hear of women having a lot of issues with gender. But they do exist — struggles with juggling life and struggles with finding women role models.

Loudenback can see the challenges women face among the families of clients, often the daughters or daughters-in-law who are working from home and trying to keep track of their elderly parents.

Sasaki says women and men are different as business owners.

“I’m generalizing here, of course, but I think women better understand the whole idea of juggling 10 things at once,” said Sasaki. “And therefore, I understand when I have female employees, that they’re juggling 10 things at once, as well.”

As a boss, she’s made an effort to promote lifestyle. “We want people to have good lives.”

One of the reasons Sasaki joined the networking organization was because she’d become wrapped up in her job and taking care of her family and didn’t have the time to nurture relationships as friends.

“We call it a sisterhood,” said Susan Malo, a digital marketing consultant at RevLocal and vice president of the Women Entrepreneurs Organization.

Some time ago, Loudenback was sitting with a group of women from the organization when one of them expressed her worry about how to fire someone. Then the whole group shared stories of having to let someone go.

“We brought value to that,” said Loudenback.

The community found in the organization can help women find role models, she added.

Sasaki and Malo both had female role models growing up; their mothers both owned businesses. Sasaki’s mother ran a concrete company.

“She really paved the way, not just for me, but for so many of us women who find ourselves in a predominantly male-oriented industry,” she said.

In the tech minority

One industry currently dominated by men is technology. Women working in technology are finding their own ways to identify role models and celebrate their successes in business.

“With women being in the minority in the tech industry and in sales in general, it’s definitely a challenge to combat that imposter syndrome of not always being the loudest voice in the room,” said Olivia Nicholas, account manager at Vancouver’s ZoomInfo.

Nicholas said ZoomInfo has worked to put women in leadership positions and to hire diverse groups, but it’s still tough to overcome that imposter feeling. About 67 percent of ZoomInfo’s employees are male, compared with about 33 percent who are female and less than 1 percent who are nonbinary.

“I definitely didn’t see myself in a sales position,” said Morgan Anderson, manager of strategic sales development at ZoomInfo, “or in the tech industry, to be honest with you. That was never really on my mind.”

Anderson added that has been difficult, but it’s also been exciting to become a leader so other women can see that representation in sales in the industry.

“It’s something that comes with an excitement — to be sort of a trailblazer in certain regards,” said Anderson.

A lot of women didn’t always grow up thinking they were going to go into sales or didn’t see that path for themselves, said Nicholas.

“I didn’t really know about a lot of successful women in sales when I was growing up,” said Nicholas. “So, I think that a lot of us found our way to this career path in unique ways.

“It’s just been interesting to overcome those challenges and really kind of pave our own path.”

ZoomInfo has created a network of women and those who support women in business at the company — the Women’s Initiative Network.

“Getting everybody together, having that community to share ideas, to have fun and to learn from each other is one thing that really helps me,” said Anderson.

Anderson said starting conversations around career paths earlier has helped women at the company see more role models and have more community earlier.

Nicholas and Anderson have been leading ZoomInfo’s Women’s Initiative Network since October and have hosted a number of events since then, highlighting the work of women in different departments. The network also hosts events like happy hours and book clubs — moments used to build community.

“We can all come together and just feel like we have this community of women who are alongside us in this career,” Nicholas said.

Celebrating the wins women have been able to achieve at the company has been a focus for the network.

“It’s super important that some of our top salespeople are women — the people who close some of the biggest deals we’ve ever had are women,” said Nicholas.

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So there are two sides of the situation.

“Yes, it’s absolutely a struggle and there’s still so much work to be done, but there’s also women doing such amazing work,” said Nicholas.

Difficulties and joys

Earlier this year, Tanya Johnson and her daughter Megan Northrup opened a photography studio and event space, Elizabeth Marie Collective, at 1908 Northwest First Way in Battle Ground. For both mother and daughter, the project is a side gig. Northrup is a photographer and owns her own photography business; Johnson is a full-time intensive care unit nurse who just wanted to do something joyful and with her daughter.

Ultimately, the project has had its difficulties but also its joys.

When they decided to start the business, the building was going to require improvements. Johnson, a self-proclaimed avid DIY-er, was ready and willing to do the work. She had to get permits, get parts from the hardware store, find plumbers and electricians and do much of the work herself. The whole time, she’d get looks. People thought she didn’t know what she was talking about.

“I’m not taken seriously until I can prove myself,” said Johnson. For her, that was a big challenge.

The women are both busy in their personal lives, with other jobs, their families and their responsibilities at home.

“You run your own business at home, plus whatever you do in your professional life,” said Johnson. “You’re expected to do both sides perfectly.”

The balance is a delicate one, requiring a supportive partner, she said.

Northrup has her two businesses plus a 2-year-old daughter at home. Juggling work and family and life is a challenge. She puts aside a day each week to catch up on things at home and have a mental reset.

“It’s a lot on your plate, but I would not trade it for the world,” Northrup said.

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