Meet 12 successful women who are passionate, ambitious, and on a quest to make a difference. What do all of them have in common? Each one is not only a leader in her industry, but also an inspiration to her community.
These women share insights gained during their professional journeys, providing valuable guidance to future business leaders.
Photography by Denis Largeron
By Michelle Aexander
After one conversation with Carolina Alcalde, it’s evident that she is passionate, successful, and highly motivated. From the beginning of her career, she made it her mission to be an advocate for her Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters. Too many times, she saw disparities within corporate policies that were unintentionally discriminatory. She used her positions with leading insurance and mortgage companies to be a voice and advocate, by building a department focused on the needs of the Spanish consumer.
In the early 2000s, Alcalde left Indiana to make her home in a state that was LGBTQ family friendly and relocated to Maryland. She secured a position with Global Services that gave her the basics of D.C. government grant writing, an invaluable skill in the land of non-profits. But it was her position with CBIZ that has mattered most in her career.
Alcalde has always been a go-getter. She juggled a full-time job, her own part-time company, her LAMA DC motorcycle club, her role as a mentor for Latinas Leading Tomorrow, and participation in the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
However, in a single second, her busy life took a dramatic turn.
In July 2012, Alcalde was riding her motorcycle during a windstorm. She was struck by a falling tree and permanently paralyzed—a life-changing event on many levels. Her support system and job lifted her spirits the most. They gave her the strength and determination to focus all of her energy on her new journey. With the support of CBIZ and her own tenacity, Alcalde is slowly getting back to work.
By Erica Sansing
From an international medical practice to distinguished leadership positions in various LGBT organizations, Dr. Dana Beyer demonstrates that “the only way to create positive change is to stand up, be proud, and act with passion.” She has served on the boards of the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Human Rights Campaign, as well as on the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Legislative Council. In addition, she was Vice President of Equality Maryland, held executive roles at Progressive Neighbors, is the current Executive Director of Gender Rights Maryland, and writes a weekly column for the Huffington Post.
After two close runs for the Maryland House of Delegates, in 2006 and 2010, Dr. Beyer has chosen to run for the Maryland Senate at a transformational time in the state’s politics. A passionate progressive, she believes that legislators can build on recent successes in social issues to focus on economic justice. Her distinct set of skills, including her career as an eye surgeon, puts her in a unique position to make educated decisions about the various political bills she will encounter, especially those relating to the environment and health-care reform. Already dedicated to her community, she is now intent on creating an accepting, affirming, and economically just state.
By Erica Sansing
Aditi Dussault strives to promote diversity and inclusion in the business world. Her career began at the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, where she developed protocols and standards for their certification program for LGBT-owned business enterprises. This experience not only illuminated how “diversity at all levels enhances organizational performance,” but also groomed her to become a political appointee of the Obama administration for the Small Business Administration (SBA).
As special advisor to the associate administrator of the Office of Government Contracting and Business Development, Dussault provides insight into how the agency can improve programs and make them more accessible to small-business owners. Of particular interest to Dessault is the Woman-Owned Small-Business Federal Contract Program.
“I believe that the middle class is the foundation of this economy, and I am fortunate that I get to help small-business owners of all kinds achieve their dreams,” she reflects.
This passion drove her to institute the ChallengeHER initiative—a collaboration among the SBA, Women Impacting Public Policy, and American Express OPEN—that helps women-owned small businesses gain access to the federal supply chain. More than 1,500 businesses participated in the initiative last year, and numerous events are being planned for 2014. Given her motivation, Dussault will continue to have a positive influence on the lives of small-business owners across the country.
By Katy Ray
Victoria Fulkerson currently serves as the Senior Vice President of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). Since joining the Chamber in 2007, she has had a direct impact on the economic development and support of LGBT businesses.
“Like the great social justice movements that have come before us, economic justice is a key factor in achieving full equality for the LGBT community. Small businesses are the engine of the American economy, which includes LGBT entrepreneurs,” Fulkerson explains.
She plays a key role in developing such programs as the LGBT Supplier Diversity Initiative, which provides access to contracting opportunities for LGBT entrepreneurs with America’s leading corporations, as well as business resources and contracts with the federal government sector.
Fulkerson could not be more proud of the growth that the LGBT business community has achieved over the past six years. “The LGBT business community is vibrant, innovative, diverse, and growing,” Fulkerson asserts. “We see it in our certified LGBT Business Enterprises, who are leading their industries and creating inclusive workplaces; in our affiliate chambers in cities across the country that fiercely advocate for LGBT entrepreneurs; and in the leading corporations that are committing to buying back from the LGBT community.”
As a key leader within our women’s business community, Fulkerson hopes to see LGBT businesses continue to expand and looks forward to the NGLCC National Business and Leadership Conference, to be held this April, in Las Vegas, NV.
By Katy Ray
Since May 2005, Katie Handy and Gwen Osborne have served the Rehoboth community through their entrepreneurial enterprise, Sign-A-Rama. These women are partners on both professional and personal levels and have 25 years of experience in the signage industry.
“We each have different roles: Katie does a lot of outside sales and installation, and I am more on the inside, working on sales and production,” states Osborne. Mutual respect and symbiosis are the keys to this partnership, in the office and at home.
Handy and Osbourne also play a pivotal role in supporting the community by donating their expertise to and volunteering for Women’s Fest, CAMP Rehoboth, and other annual events.
“By giving our talent and services, we are able to offset some of the costs for organizations [so that they can use their funds] in other ways that would benefit them,” Osborne explains. The couple plans to expand their business in the future. “We hope to continue to support the Sussex County area and, possibly, open a satellite store to expand our sales office in Ocean City, MD, where we currently do business, as well,” Handy adds. With a demonstrated commitment to their business and their community, all signs point to continued success.
By Marianne Poon
Sam McClure took an unexpected path to her current position as Director of Affiliate Relations and External Affairs for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). Her conservatory education led to starting and performing in several musical ensembles. Next, she pursued various sales and entrepreneurial endeavors. In 2005, she became Executive Director of Quorum, the local LGBT Chamber. And, four years later, Quorum received the NGLCC’s Chamber of the Year Award.
McClure moved to the D.C. area nearly three years ago, to work for the NGLCC, the largest LGBT business advocacy organization in the world. Through its extensive network and resources, the Chamber creates and leverages opportunities for major business growth. In her current role, McClure develops critical organizational development support for the 35 local LGBT chambers across the United States. Her primary goal is to empower and elevate LGBT-owned businesses as strong economic forces.
And, because she loves being able help companies thrive and succeed, McClure offers the following advice to aspiring business leaders: (1) Be open and positive with every single person you encounter every day. (2) Acquire and practice the skills necessary to consistently get to “Yes!” (3) Be who you are by following your own curiosity and passion. Authenticity is very attractive, especially in business.
By Karen L. Houston
Where can you find politics and pop culture served up with a twist? Check out D.C.’s Politini radio show, on blis.fm. It’s geared to today’s Polinista: “an unapologetically brilliant and bold, fashionably political woman,” according to Aisha Moodie-Mills, who shares the Politini platform with her wife, Danielle. Moodie-Mills refers to herself as a “political and media strategist and policy wonk.” Together, they demystify stereotypes, to drive policy change.
“Can you imagine a world where people lived authentically, as their true selves?” asks Moodie-Mills. She believes that it would change everything. “That’s what this [show] is all about,” she adds. “Move through the world as authentically as you can. Labor in your passions and love openly. That’s how we can drive social change.”
Her vision is to see politicians who reflect the broad spectrum of their constituencies: “I see myself and my work as pushing the needle on social, political, and policy change to create opportunity and access to everyone, particularly marginalized people.” For her part, Moodie-Mills asserts that she’s living, loving, and laboring out loud in an intentional way. “As a black lesbian, I could just silence myself off into the fog, but we’re all so much more. We can be complete, and we can be complex.”
By Marianne Poon
Donna Payne is the Associate Director of Field Outreach and Diversity at the Human Rights Campaign. In this capacity, she influences and implements national and local policies and programs relating to diversity and inclusion for LGBT Americans in the field.
One of her focus areas is forming African-American partnerships during legislative campaigns because “cultural dynamics are not always up to par.” Payne explains that while 56 percent to 58 percent of the total population is ready to give LGBT legislative rights, only 35 percent to 40 percent of African Americans are ready. “There is a lot of work to be done,” she adds.
African-American LGBTs face multiple challenges in terms of discrimination, and Payne’s passion is to provide support for this community. As a start, she founded the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) Program, which reaches 22 student clubs on campuses across the country. The program helps students grow, accept who they are, and become successful. Payne is also the Co-Founder and a board member of the National Black Justice Coalition, America’s leading black LGBT civil rights organization.
Payne strives to change hearts and minds around LGBT rights, one conversation at a time, and offers this advice: “Don’t be afraid of all of the different parts that you represent because all of those parts are needed and are precious in the world.”
By Marianne Poon
Megan Wallace is an estate planning and probate lawyer. She started her own practice six years ago, and it’s flourishing. Even though people advised against launching a new venture during a difficult economy, Wallace did so anyway because of an inner drive that she just couldn’t ignore. “I love being a lawyer. Having my own practice gives me the ability to provide direct, personal service to my clients,” explains Wallace.
She thrives on helping clients through difficult processes and making things as painless as possible. “There is such a sense of fulfillment when a client signs their documents, and you know that they have just done so much to take care of their family,” she notes.
Wallace recently received the highest A-V rating from the Martindale–Hubbell Legal Directory. This achievement indicates that Wallace’s peers rank her at the highest level of professional excellence.
Being a successful lawyer is only part of Wallace’s active life. Wallace and her partner (now wife) of 15 years are raising 8-year-old twin daughters. “It’s a constant juggle between work and family, but my girls are my world,” she raves. Wallace is also involved in the community and was appointed to the mayor’s GLBT Advisory Committee.
By Karen L. Houston
In the age of Internet-based start-ups, app design entrepreneurs, and expectations of instantaneous answers when searching Google about anything, SEO is everything. Search Engine Optimization, that is. Nancy Wigal is the Owner and Operator of Search Engine Academy (SEA) in D.C. Pure interest and curiosity propelled Wigal into her profession as a Master-Level Instructor. She can either teach you how make your webpage more visible online, or you can hire her to do it for you. (Not all of us are techies.)
Wigal likes to see her clients experience that “aha” moment. “That’s when their eyes light up…when they understand why it’s important, what to do, and how to execute it,” she notes. “You always have to add new and interesting content to your website to keep it fresh in search results,” explains Wigal.
What’s most impressive about her? Wigal built a career out of what she loves to do. And, after she discovered that SEA didn’t have a D.C. branch, she created one.
By Michelle Alexander
In a profession primarily associated with men, power tools, and government construction projects, Paquita Wiggins has made her mark. Wiggins’ interest in numbers, math, and geometry inspired her passion and love for architecture. As she headed off to college at age 17, there was no question what career path she would follow. She knew that her Bachelor of Architecture from Tuskegee University and her Master of Science from The Catholic University of America would prepare her for success.
After graduating from college, Wiggins worked for NAVFAC, the Navy’s engineering command, where she learned the fundamentals of her profession. Next, Wiggins explored other opportunities, including positions at a few construction companies. However, it didn’t take long for her to realize that she flourished better on her own.
In 2011, Wiggins founded PTW Design and Construction Services, LLC. And, she boldly chose government, commercial, education, health-care, civil, and transportation projects as her target market segments. PTW takes the stress out of construction projects by providing the support of a full-time staff, without the long-term commitment of full-time employees.
Wiggins admits that running her own company is both rewarding and extremely demanding. Wiggins’ biggest challenge has been finding and keeping a healthy work/life balance. And, she appreciates the people in her life who support this balance. Her motto, “Success comes not by luck, but by hard work,” aptly sums up the personal pride in her accomplishments.