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Makers: Seattle Leaders of Tomorrow, Part 2

In the PBS series Makers: Women Who Make America, numerous women from various backgrounds and professions have shared their stories about their career journeys, work ethics, and contributions to transforming the way society looks at female leaders. With season two underway, Makers has shown that women who provoke change, creativity and new outlooks come from all walks of life. Here in Seattle—which is known for being a city filled with revolutionary thinkers and creators—KCTS 9 sat down with seven women who are reimagining, rethinking and redefining their professions. From fashion and law to community service, these women are creating change for generations to come. 

In this post, we talk with the founders of Dignity for Divas, Momentum, and Indieflix.

Nikki Gane | Founder, Dignity for Divas
Handing Out Confidence, One Bag At A Time

When Nikki Gane found herself homeless and living an unexpected life without basic necessities such as a toothbrush and toiletries, she found her self-esteem diminished and the reality of a life of homelessness setting in. Fast forward to the present day, and Nikki is the founder of one of Seattle’s growing community organizations— Dignity for Divas.The non-profit, volunteer-based organization makes monthly drop-offs and provides daily services to homeless women (and men), providing them with basic hygiene necessities – an act that brings as much happiness to Gane as to the women and men she serves. 

Dignity for Divas started from your personal experience of being homeless. What was it about that experience specifically that garnered this idea for Dignity for Divas?
There is something about honestly being in a situation where you have no resources that triggers you in so many ways. For me, it was being without personal things. The little diva in me is like, ‘my hair, my makeup’ – you know, keeping me together. Not being able to keep me together – I will never forget that feeling. It is the most detrimental thing that could happen to you, because you lose yourself. You lose who you are. Things you take for granted are no longer available and these are everyday things you don’t really think twice about. When you don’t have those things, the reality sets in of how vulnerable you are.

What are some of the misconceptions society has of why someone is homeless that you found when homeless, or still see today?
There are so many. I get so upset because unfortunately, in society, we have a sense of entitlement. A lot of time, people will view others in bad situations as a ‘them’ and ‘us’ thing—but it’s not. It’s us. It’s all of us. Most of us are a paycheck away. People think it’s not real. I’m like, ‘lose your job for the day – how much money do you really have saved? Do you really have that family support that you think you do? How many friends would really let you stay at their house?’ It’s real. A lot of the people we service and come across have a lot of issues: health, disabilities – it’s unbelievable. People have come back from the military and have a hard time getting their life back together. Even elderly – it breaks my heart. There are so many different situations. There is a lot of substance abuse, but not as much as you would think. Some people will assume homeless individuals are drinking or are on drugs. No. That’s not always the case. Life happened to them. That’s what happened. Just like life happened to me.

What you have experienced and seen – what challenges, besides the obvious, do homeless women face compared to homeless men? How would you say the experiences differ?
On a surface level, it affects a man and a woman the same way in regards to the basics. But for a woman, there are so many more hurdles. Number one, you have female issues you have to deal with – every month, every day. You are a woman. It doesn’t change based on your demographics. Resources for hygiene are important. When you are not able to have those resources, it can really snowball the issues.

Safety: there are a lot of woman who get abused, who get raped – it’s unbelievable. They don’t have that protection. It’s literally you against the world. If you don’t have a strong family base or people you can depend upon, it’s really you fending for yourself. That’s where the dignity comes into place. I always say to people, ‘Our life is a puzzle. Anyone can lose a piece here and there, but you still get a vision of what your puzzle is – where you are, who you are. But if you lose too many pieces, you can’t put your puzzle back together. You can’t see you. You lose who you are. You lose yourself. Try to build that back up, build yourself, build your self-image, build your dignity, your self-respect, to go back out there in the world and present yourself…it’s definitely hard.

One of the great things that Dignity for Divas does is team up with the Seattle Police Department; how did that partnership form and in what ways does that make what you guys do stronger?
Let me tell you this, God is amazing. From the very beginning, the moment I decided to do this, everything happened. That’s all you have to do. Decide. Once you do, everything will flow. Just stand firm and decide. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew I wanted to do it. I was going to the Dollar Store and getting stuff for bags and everything just happened. How the partnership started was I met a great lady who started to volunteer for us and her husband happened to be on the force. She was like, ‘Honey, you have got to see this great group,’ and then the SPD called and said, ‘Hey, we will take your group out for your night drops.’ From there, it has been all-the-way support. Every month they take our group out.

The impact it has had, most importantly, is safety. We go out at night and service people in areas we aren’t familiar with or even know exist. There are areas in Seattle that are underground cities that most people don’t even know about. And people are so thankful for help. When they see the officers come, they are so thankful. It building that relationship and building that trust. I think it’s good for the community to see that. I think it’s good for SPD, too, because sometimes they need to see that people appreciate what they’re doing . . . know what they do. They do more than be there when there’s trouble – they also help out in the community, too. It makes every bit of a difference.

Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, said; “Only female business leaders get asked if they have nannies. Men aren’t asked: How do you do that? How do you do this? How do you balance both a career and family?” How accurate is this statement?
It’s very true, but in a sense it’s also a hidden compliment. It’s not that a man cannot do the same, it’s just that woman and men are different. We structure our mindset differently. When people ask those questions, it’s from amazement. We are always going to get questions on our strength. The way that’s it’s always been projected has been negative, but it’s a positive. There is a lot to learn from an individual, regardless of gender. I have learned so much when working with men and I’ve learned so much, learning from women. So you have to take what you need and throw away the rest. Take what you need, don’t make it personal.

What’s next for Dignity for Divas?
What I dream about every day is Dignity for Divas will be everywhere—in every city. My goal is to help people everywhere. The only thing is time and space. As long as I keep pushing towards it, it will happen. It’s needed, not just in Seattle. In Los Angeles, the homeless population is unbelievably high; there is no reason why people cannot have personal hygiene. Everyone wants to be clean. The only person who doesn’t care about their teeth being clean is a person who doesn’t have any. Everyone wants a clean mouth. Who doesn’t want to be fresh? I think every person deserves that.

Kelly Singer & Paige Green Dunn | Founders, MOMentum
Giving moms the opportunity to be moms without forgetting about themselves

When Kelly Singer and Paige Green Dunn noticed that local moms had a lack of resources and opportunities when it came to spending time with their kids and getting time for themselves, the Seattle natives took it upon themselves to make some changes. Their goal was to bridge what moms wanted with what kids needed. With the idea of bringing fitness equipment to parks in the Greater Seattle area, Singer and Dunn created MOMentum.  With three locations already in Redmond, Auburn and Seattle, the duo is seeing their vision continue to grow with the launch of four additional parks in partnership with Trust for Public Land, Seattle Parks Department and Seattle Parks Foundation. 

How is MOMentum different from other playground/work out combinations?
Kelly: We spent almost a year being very thoughtful of the design, and researching equipment. We wanted to lay it out in a way that moms can be social, get a work out and still allow the kids to play. So the equipment is lined around the perimeter play area so regardless of what machine the mom is on, the child is always in sight.

What does it add to the dynamic of creating MOMentum by working as a duo compared to doing this alone?
Kelly: I think we each bring different strengths. Paige is the motherhood expert. She has an amazing blog that provides a ton of resources, some that she got from experts but most of it from her own personal experiences. She’s very open about sharing and I think that is very helpful – to hear a real perspective of what it is to be a mom. She understands at a deep level what moms need and want. I come from a fitness background and had a fitness studio – which is how Paige and I met. I was her trainer – and I worked a lot with women, so I feel like I bring an understanding of the struggles women encounter to be healthy and find the time to exercise. It was a perfect combination of talents and specialties. I have done a business on my own and it’s really challenging. Having a partner gives us an added benefit to balancing things out and bringing our individual strengths.

What is the best advice you have ever received?
Kelly: I think for me it’s, ‘Always be the dumbest person in the room. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. There is always something to learn.

Paige: I remember when I was a little girl I was having a problem with a friend at school. My dad had me climb on his lap and shared with me, “This is what the golden rule is: ‘Always do un to others as you would want others to do unto you.’” It’s so basic. It’s been around – nothing new. But it’s so brilliant. My dad learned that from his dad and I taught that to my little boy. He then went on to share it with his friends and teachers. It’s a neat legacy. It does help out for every situation.  

People often wonder about the differences between how men and women lead. What are your thoughts on that? Is there a difference or something that people make up?
Kelly: Not exactly answering this question, but it relates. It’s kind of interesting when we put out the exercise equipment into parks – usually it’s the dads who are on the equipment first. We see them when we go back to visit the parks – they are always on them. It’s interesting to see how the dads see the benefit but how it was moms who did the initiative to do it. Overall, I like to think it’s something people make up. I think it’s based on the individual. I think women have much more on their plate and balance more; with more expected from them, with more of a bias towards them. 

Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, said; “Only female business leaders get asked if they have nannies. Men aren’t asked: How do you do that? How do you do this? How do you balance both a career and family?” How accurate is this statement? 
Paige: I think you have a good point. Yes, I do get asked these questions, often. I think there are different expectations, certainly, but I also think it’s changing. I think there are a lot of stay-at-home dads now too, but I would say men probably don’t get asked how they manage it.

Kelly: A flip side of that though, to be completely honest – I couldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for my husband. He is the one that supports us and helps me achieve my goals. And vice versa. Sometimes men don’t, I feel, get the credit they deserve.  

Any advice for others on how they can better themselves and their relationships in a team work environment?
Paige: I think you hit on a very important word— that is team. I think if people are working as a team and that’s the mentality they have, you dodge a lot of competiveness. 

Kelly: I think a lot of issues that come up in work environments stem from communication – the lapses there. Just really understanding and taking the time to listen before you jump to conclusions, and asking a lot of questions. Making sure you like to get to the root cause of things. 

Scilla Andreen | CEO & Co-Founder, Indieflix
Bringing the Hollywood Treatment to Independent Films

Not only is Scilla Andreen the CEO and CO-Founder of Indieflix, but she is also the innovator of the Royalty Pool Minutes system, which pays filmmakers for every minute someone watches their film on the site. Showcasing films that normally only get seen at film festivals of all spectrums, Scilla is bringing a new audience to independent films and new films to film lovers. As Indieflix changes and grows with its success and demanding market, Scilla has learned a few things along the way about being a fulltime mother and a fulltime leader. 

Indieflix is known as the Netflix for independent films – that is a huge compliment. Is that what you set out to create, or has this expanded into something bigger?
We set out to create a marketplace where 99% of the filmmakers (less than 1% of filmmakers find Hollywood distribution) could sell their films, and thanks to technology, we ended up with an entire ecosystem that is helping to evolve the film industry. It’s huge and super fun!

The film industry, just like the music industry, has had its ups and downs, due largely to illegal downloading and such. What has dealing with this matter and others like it taught you as a leader, team member and business owner? You can spend your time and resources trying to fix something that has been broken for a long time or you can put your energy into creating a new model where that threat or broken piece doesn’t have nearly the negative impact anymore. I look at those aspects of the film and music industry as indications of how people like to consume. Those actions are the highest form of communication. It’s like looking into a crystal ball.  

Who in your life has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?
I have a lot of people but I’d like to mention a few. I’m half Chinese and I was very close to my grandmother, the matriarch, Ann Wong. She told me that everything I need, I already have. Those words have served me well, every day. I also have to mention Seth Godin who writes book after book and the world’s most-read blog. He’s one of the most inspirational people on the planet for me. He inspires me to lead on a daily basis, as do my two children, Ian and Natalie, who refer to IndieFlix as the third, “special needs” child in our family.

What was the most defining moment in your career to date?
Standing on a stage at the Cannes Film Festival as the first woman and the first American to participate in one of the largest European panels in film.  And most recently, to see IndieFlix featured downtown in a Nordstrom window display on 5th & Pine in Seattle for a film I produced called The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things. I drove down there at night with my daughter and it was more exciting than being on a marquee.

What has been your biggest career challenge?
Being a filmmaker and a woman in the male dominated world of distribution.  It took a long time before anyone would take me seriously.  

People often wonder about the differences between how men and women lead. Is there a difference? 
People, regardless of gender, have their own style of leadership. However, I do think society, the press, stakeholders, and employees, including myself, tend to analyze leaders from many angles, and gender sometimes pops up in that regard.

Have you experienced any preconceived notions from people in the workforce due to you being a woman? If so, how did you overcome such matters and learn from it?
Yes, it was quite funny. I presented my business model in L.A. to a very well-known corporation and the men at the boardroom table leaned in and asked me who had helped me with my business model? I told them it was pretty much just me. They pressed harder to know who created the concept. When I repeated again, and one more time after, that it was just plain, little old me; their response was, “well kudos to you! That’s pretty amazing.” They then asked who watches my kids when I travel. I chuckled. I am sure they don’t get asked that question much.

Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, said; “Only female business leaders get asked if they have nannies. Men aren’t asked: How do you that? How do you do this? How do you balance both a career and family?” How accurate is this statement?
It’s spot on, and I guess we should take it as a compliment. We as women are doing it all and thriving. There are certain stereotypes we must all get over, and only time and more women in leadership roles will accelerate that.

Read more on local women leaders in the first installment of Makers: Seattle Leaders of Tomorrow.

Explore additional stories on local women through last year’s Makers Workshop.


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