Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Growth in female leadership bodes well for Spokane area


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Spokane organizations involved in economic development largely are led by women now. That strong contingent of females in power positions is an asset to the private sector as a whole, an asset that should be celebrated and, when possible, promoted to companies and individuals looking to move to the Inland Northwest.

Recent hires, coupled with veteran leadership from a handful of women, give hope for a path to parity for the Inland Northwest business community, something that the Journal and many others have dedicated time and resources to exploring at length in recent years.

Late last month, Spokane Sports named Ashley Blake as its new CEO. Formerly the organization’s vice president, she succeeds Eric Sawyer, who is retiring after 25-plus years with the organization that recruits sporting events to the region and promotes such events.

Blake’s hiring comes six months after Emilie Cameron was named CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership. Cameron, a veteran downtown-organization executive from Sacramento, California, took over for Mark Richard, who moved to Florida.

Blake and Cameron join Juliet Sinisterra, CEO of the University District Development Association; Stephanie Curran, CEO of the Spokane Public Facilities District; and Alisha Benson, CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated; as leaders of economic development organizations. Sinisterra started with the U District early this year, and Benson has led the combined chamber of commerce-economic development council since 2019. Curran is the longest tenured of the cohort, having served since 2018.

For the time being, the new leaders also join Meg Winchester, who is CEO of Visit Spokane, although she plans to retire from the destination marketing organization in the coming weeks. 

Pan out a little wider to include other business organizations, and the list of women in leadership roles grows. Tiffany Claxton-Standley came to Spokane from the West Side to lead the Spokane Association of Realtors. Her counterpart at the Coeur d’Alene Regional Realtors, Katherine Morgan, took the helm of that organization this past summer. In the construction trade groups, Cheryl Stewart is the longtime executive director of the Associated General Contractors of America Inland Northwest chapter, and Sarah Cottam currently is the interim president and CEO of the Associated Builders & Contractors Inland Pacific chapter.

Of course, there are women in leadership positions on a number of fronts—Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and Eastern Washington University President Shari McMahan come to mind most immediately. At the same time, in many sectors, men continue to dominate the C-suite. Clearly, work still needs to be done to diversify the pool of decision makers and to ensure equal pay for equal work.

But the recent trend in economic development organizations is encouraging, if not inspiring. Spokane could be—and should be—an example to other communities in that regard.

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