Women of the Year
Conquering the world of business can be tough for any executive, whether they be male or female. But for women, conquering the business world usually means a little extra hard work and a whole lot of guts and gusto. Join us in honoring these six powerful women who have forged a path for themselves (and for others) in male-dominated industries like healthcare, education, government, nonprofits, and tech. These women worked incredibly hard along the way, and they’re still working hard to ensure that others in their industries have the same opportunities.
Ruth Watkins | President | University of Utah
This is the university for Utah, not just the University of Utah, says Ruth Watkins for the second time during my interview with her. It’s not just her repetition of the phrase that makes me believe that she means business; it’s the way she says it with such conviction. She is clearly the perfect person to lead one of Utah’s largest higher education institutions.
As the 16th president of the University of Utah and the institution’s first female president, Ruth Watkins started her career in higher education as an undeclared student at the University of Northern Iowa. After taking a year off from her college education, like many of her current students at the U do, to work with kids in special education, she returned to school with a new sense of purpose and focus.
While earning her doctorate in child language at the University of Kansas, one of her professors told her she had all of the makings for a successful career in academia. She took the advice from her professor to heart, eventually finding her home at the University of Utah in 2013. She started at the school as the senior vice president for academic affairs, after spending 20 years as a faculty member at other universities and institutions. She was elected president of the university, five years later, in January of 2018.
As she sat with me, adorned in cardinal red, discussing the career twists and turns that lead her to the top of one of the most prestigious universities in the state, Pres. Watkins chuckled and mentioned that she struggled with patience during her climb. As she looks back now, she wishes she thought of her journey as more of a “marathon than a sprint.” She added that it’s natural to feel impatient regarding the trajectory of your career, but it’s important to remember that there are important lessons to be learned at each stop along the way―no matter the industry that you find yourself working in.
Though she’s only been leading the University of Utah for less than a year, Pres. Watkins is ecstatic about the changes she has helped to usher in; benefiting students, the university, and the entire state. These exciting changes include things like: significantly higher student retention and success rates, a rising talent pool within the students and faculty, as well as a plethora of new research opportunities she has helped to implement at the university.
Cydni Tetro | Founder & CEO | Forge DX & Women’s Tech Council
If you look up the words “busy,” “educated,” or “talented” in the dictionary, you’re likely to find pictures of Cydni Tetro next to all three. As the cofounder and president of the Women Tech Council, the CEO of ForgeDX, the creator of 3Dplusme, an operating partner at Mercato Partners, and a member on several boards, it’s a wonder Ms. Tetro even has a moment to catch a breath much less take a moment to sit down and tie her shoelaces.
For as long as Ms. Tetro can remember, she has had a passion for building products and watching people put them to use. She wasn’t always sure of the exact career that would allow her the flexibility to exercise her passion, but even throughout high school, she knew her career calling would have something to do with computer sciences and technology. Flash forward twenty years, and Ms. Tetro is one of the founders and driving forces behind one of the nation’s largest tech councils for women, the Women Tech Council, and she has been for the last 11 years.
“We’ve been able to complete really impactful programs that are changing the trajectories for women and allowing them to have opportunities that they may not have had,” she says, “which in turn impacts their communities, their families, and their entire ecosystem around them.”
Currently, in the state of Utah, only 23 percent of jobs in the technology sector are filled by women, as opposed to the 27 percent of tech jobs that are filled by women throughout the country. It’s been the mission of the council to showcase the economic impact women have in the tech sector across the country and the state of Utah. The organization encourages more women to enter the technology sector through STEM programs and other events for young students like SheTech. With these kinds of events, the Women Tech Council has been able to change the pipeline of career trajectory for all those involved in their programs.
“2,000 high school girls came through the SheTech program this year,” she says. “We’ve had over 12,000 total students participate in that program at some level, and when you sit down and see 2,000 girls who are all of a sudden excited about STEM, who see mentors and believe that those could be themselves over time, you really do change the world.”
But changing the world wasn’t always easy for Ms. Tetro, who mentioned that things like raising capital and finding appropriate funding for her ventures, were difficult sometimes. As she was raising capital, for her 3D printing company, 3DplusMe (which was later acquired by WhiteClouds), Ms. Tetro quickly learned that when you want to do something, the key is setting your sometimes-harsh internal dialogue aside and just “going for the ask.”
“Your internal dialogue becomes your greatest obstacle, you [have to]… believe you can do it, that you can go for it, and that you’re always willing to ask,” she spills. “It’s okay to go for the ask. When you want to do something, ask those partners to be part of it, think big enough, and be willing to just go for it.”
Peggy Larsen | Senior Vice President | WCF Insurance
As the first woman senior executive at Workers Compensation Fund, Peggy Larsen is different. Not just because she is one of the only women in an extremely male-dominated profession, but because she is one of the only Women of The Year recipients who does not have a formal college education. Though she will be the first to tell you that it was difficult at times, she got where she is today by nothing more than good old-fashioned hard work, and she wants women everywhere to realize they are capable of accomplishing the very same feat.
Breaking out into the industry when she was just 18 years old, Ms. Larsen began her career in insurance as a file clerk in California. As a single mother, with a new baby, Ms. Larsen dedicated herself to her new career, vowing to do what she could to provide a successful life for herself and her young daughter. Since then, she has worked for Workers Compensation Fund (WCF) for the past 22 years and has risen through the ranks as one of the company’s most powerful female executives.
Throughout her 22 years with Workers Compensation Fund, Ms. Larsen has proved to be an instrumental asset for the company: with roles in advertising and PR (she even helped create the well-recognized “Be Careful Out There” advertising campaign), she has helped transform the WCF into a well-respected and loved insurance agency. But it doesn’t end there; she even started a Managing General Agreement (or an MGA) called Univantage while volunteering for local organizations like the Hale Theater and the Salt Lake Chamber, providing further proof that she is indeed a super-human.
“I have loved working for WCF over the past 22 years,” she says. “I have helped transform the company from a bureaucratic, hated company to a well-loved, well-respected company.”
While Ms. Larsen has certainly worked hard to make a name for herself professionally, she says that one of her greatest accomplishments is creating the Amber Haven Foundation, a nonprofit organization started in memory of her late daughter, Amber. The foundation prides itself in providing education, housing, personal development, and employment opportunities to young, single mothers who are struggling, just like Ms. Larsen once was.
Sarah Pearce | Division Director | Salt Lake County Arts
Once, when Sarah Pearce was young, she performed with the Virginia Tanner’s Children’s Dance Theater, the experience was one of her favorites during her time as a dancer, and she keeps a picture of it in her office at the Capitol Theater, where she now works as the division director for Salt Lake County Arts.
Ms. Pearce always knew that she wanted a career in a field she believed in. When she started her career as an event planner for the Sundance Film Festival, she realized that she loved being part of a team that was responsible for putting on “large-scale events that served a larger mission.”
Ms. Pearce’s path wasn’t without growing pains. Like many other executives, Ms. Pearce found herself questioning her leadership style due to a lack of clear direction early on in her career. These stumbles, she says, have been instrumental in developing a range of skills that have positively impacted her career in the arts.
“I stumbled around a bit when I was younger, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and I worried about not having a clear direction,” she says. “I taught skiing, designed perennial gardens, and even ran the cell saver machine in the operating room for heart surgery. That hodge-podge of experience helped me develop the flexibility and range of skills that I might not otherwise have.”
Since being named division director, Ms. Pearce has made it her mission to bridge the gap between local art and local economy by investing in art projects used to stimulate local communities. For her, the arts are a crucial aspect in a well-rounded community. According to Ms. Pearce, there is no better way to revitalize a gloomy alleyway or an abandoned building than with a visual arts exhibit.
“My passion over the last several years has been to make the connection between the arts and the economy,” she says “investing in the arts makes huge impacts, both directly and indirectly, to the economic vitality of a community.”
Pat Richards | CEO | SelectHealth
Pat Richards, like most in the healthcare industry, was drawn to a career in the field because she has always had a strong desire to help others. Starting her career as a registered nurse specializing in general surgery and trauma, she loved to make a positive impact on the lives of her patients―one person at a time.
Now, 34 years later, Ms. Richards is the president and CEO of SelectHealth. Where instead of helping patients one at a time, she now has an even wider impact on the lives of patients throughout the state of Utah. “My current role, working within a not-for-profit integrated health system allows me to have an even greater impact by helping make healthcare and health insurance available to move people in the communities we serve.”
The healthcare industry is changing, and Ms. Richards is proud to play an important role in helping SelectHealth maintain their service values and a fierce commitment to their mission. Ms. Richards says that apart from raising her children to be healthy, capable, caring individuals, helping the company maintain some balance in a time of uncertainty is one of her most proud accomplishments.
Ms. Richards believes that women have an advantage to succeed in healthcare due to differences in communication and teamwork styles, as well as a heightened sense of empathy. According to Ms. Richards, it’s possible for any woman to succeed in their field with a little bit of hard work and dedication, and a lot of earned credibility.
“Whatever field you are in, it is critical to build and maintain your credibility,” she says, “It is important to develop expertise in your field, be deliberate and thoughtful in how you spend your time, listen carefully, be curious, and communicate clearly and confidently.”
With a lifetime of expertise in the healthcare field, Ms. Richards knows that working in the industry can be draining at times. She mentions that she wished she took care of herself with the same dedication she shows her patients and encourages others in the industry to do the same.
“It’s okay to make it a priority to take good care of yourself,” she mentions, “If you’re not healthy and strong―both physically and emotionally―it is really hard to help and take care of others.”
Catherine Wong | Chief Product Office | Domo
Catherine Wong initially considered a career in fashion design. It wasn’t until she wrote a simple computer game as a student at Brigham Young University, and had so much fun with the development project that she realized she could pursue a career in tech. So she went for it, immediately looking for her own way to impact the field of technology.
“That project flipped a switch where I knew that the world of software was where I wanted to be,” she says. “I wasn’t exactly sure whether I wanted to be a developer, product manager, quality engineer, manager, or architect but I knew it was something with building products.”
Starting her career in tech fifteen years ago at Omniture (a company later purchased by Adobe) Ms. Wong worked her way up from a software engineer to the vice president of engineering. For a time, she was even one of the youngest vice presidents in the industry. But Ms. Wong didn’t stop there. A few years later she was hired by Domo, a Silicon Slopes-based computer technology company, as the senior vice president of engineering. Two years later, Ms. Wong was promoted to chief product officer and the head of engineering.
Early on in her career, Ms. Wong learned that the only thing stopping her success in the technology sector was herself. So she began “raising her hand” for every opportunity that came her way―even if that meant she was moving “backward” through her career for a period while she was learning something new. By taking on those kinds of opportunities, she says she was able to develop an incredible amount of experience in a small period of time, and that gave her the confidence and skill needed to lead others in her industry successfully.
And lead, she has. Ms. Wong considers the power of mentorship to be extremely valuable (and often underrated) when it comes to preparing the next generation of business leaders, so she started the “Women at Domo” program to open up mentorship opportunities for women throughout Domo.
“I am a strong believer in the power of mentorship in setting up the next generation of leaders up for success,” she says. “I hope that women in my industry can encourage more female STEM participation by being visible leaders young women can look up to.”