Women to Watch
December 20, 2016
These are gutsy leaders, calculated risk-takers, and all-around inspiring women. From savvy entrepreneurs to trail-blazing philanthropists, these 10 Charlotte women are making their mark and shaping this city.
The Tribe Leaders
Together Carrie Barker and Sarah Baucom lead a group of women that grew so quickly, even they were shocked. “We always wanted to create a community where women connect and in three days we had over 1,000 women join,” Barker says of the Pink Social Girl Tribe. “It was crazy.”
Baucom used to run an online boutique called Social Dress Shop and now works in business development for a construction company. Carrie, a graphic artist, runs Pink Toast Ink, designing websites and logos. Together the pair, who were childhood friends, created the Pink Social Girl Tribe and describe it as their “side hustle”—for now.
The “tribe” really started as a graphic tee shirt company where all the tees had fun slogans about women empowerment. “It evolved pretty quickly because we were working with other women entrepreneurs and realized we lead such difficult lives and we need to all work together to make each other better,” says Barker.
The “tribe” now has more than 4,000 members and has helped launch a new business for the longtime friends and new moms. Barker and Baucom hosted a holiday pop up in 2015 with all women boutiques and designers. It was so packed the crowds could barely move through the South End brewery where they held it. “We realized we were onto something,” says Baucom. “There really is a swell of women togetherness in the community and people started asking us to do it again.”
So, they did—and it was even bigger. The next one was bigger still. Sarah says, “I’m a boutique shopper and I just thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if instead of working against each other the boutiques could be working together… and then they became friends?’”
The vendors became such good friends, and the shoppers such big fans that the Pink Social Girl Tribe girls are now gearing up to launch pop-up shops in other Southern cities, including Greenville, S.C. “The Charlotte entrepreneurial spirit is great and it’s not just here, it’s everywhere,” says Baucom. “It’s contagious, it’s infectious, and it’s happening everywhere.”
When Shannon Vandiver inherited the 90-year legacy of the Junior League of Charlotte she knew she had a lot of work ahead of her. “It’s been awesome, hectic, and a little bit crazy!” says Vandiver. “It’s a year of transformation for us.”
As an attorney with clients in the NASCAR industry, her day job keeps her pretty busy. But Vandiver says she couldn’t turn down the chance to run the organization she’s volunteered with for more than a decade. “It’s very rewarding,” she says. “It’s a lot because we do have so many members doing so many things—we have 50 committees. But I get to be around the most amazing, passionate talented, all-in women, and I wouldn’t have had that chance but for the league.”
The Charlotte native took over as organization’s president last summer and has seen a big boost in interest in the league over the last year. There are more than 1,900 members in Charlotte (bankers, lawyers, construction workers, and more), and this year’s recruiting class is almost double the one from the year before. “It’s really unlike any other organization,” says Vandiver. “Others give time or money but with the Junior League, we do both those things. It’s about time, talent, and treasures in the ways we invest in the community, while also helping develop women.”
Ten years ago, Stephanie Counts recognized a problem in Charlotte and wanted to figure out a way to fix it. “Women of color were highly educated and buying businesses at a very high rate, but they weren’t sitting at the corporate table and we wanted to find out why,” she says. Counts invited 100 women—Asians, Latinas, African-Americans, Native American, and mixed race women to take a survey and found what she calls “a disturbing level of distrust for their Caucasian counterparts.”
That initial leadership conference lead Counts, who also served as an assistant superintendent and worked as a consultant on education in the White House, to co-found the Women’s Inter-Cultural Exchange. The goal of the non-profit is to help women build trust across race and culture. The idea: start with the women and watch it spread to their families and ultimately the rest of the community. To date, more than 4,500 women have attended events put on by the WIE, and the group is still going strong, hosting about 10 events a year with everything from multi-cultural conferences to mentoring programs.
“We have learned over 10 years that it’s really important that people realize that we have so many common threads,” says Counts. “But we also have differences that we can learn from and that can help our society to grow.”
The Parent Aid
Going viral was never part of the plan, but that’s exactly what happened last summer when Cotswold mother-of-two Michelle Icard left a note for some mean girls she overheard trashing a classmate at a Charlotte Starbucks. “The note was meant to help the girls look at how we can treat each other with more kindness,” she says. “I was floored it got so much attention, stupefied!” The author of “Michelle in the Middle” helped spark conversations between moms and daughters everywhere about the importance of kindness.
Icard got her start more than a decade ago when she was tutoring middle school students and realized they had a lot to navigate. “I think middle school is one of the most exciting times in life because developmentally it’s when your body, your brain, and your identity go through the most changes,” she says. Icard works to help parents and students navigate—and even appreciate—the middle school years. Her first book was for parents, and she’s working on her second book right now—this one for the students. “I often joke that the No. 1 thing parents are worried about in middle school… is all of it!”
The Great Communicator
A few days away from the husband and kids at the Ballantyne Resort appeals to most women. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that when Lou Solomon founded the TWIST conference, women leaders from across the area jumped at the chance to participate.
“The purpose was to create an intimate environment where women can come together and have a dynamic conversation,” she says of the origin of the conference five years ago. “It’s a diverse group of women leaders. Diverse in terms of age and rank, and it’s very uplifting.”
TWIST is meant to be all about self-discovery and building a network and has been so well received that the Queens University of Charlotte McColl School of Business now runs it. Solomon still helps with it, but also runs Interact, the communication company she founded in 2000, where she works with top executives to help them, well, better communicate. “What we teach is storytelling and how to connect in a way that’s important for business people,” says Solomon. But she says her work with TWIST is some of her most rewarding.
“There is a quickening in the room when only women are involved in the conversation. I think it’s important that women have an opportunity to connect that way because they show up differently. It’s kind of amazing, really.”
The Arts Advocate
Jonell Logan grew up in New York City assuming everyone had the same access to the arts as she did. “I grew up going to Broadway shows and museums and thought everyone else did,” she says. When she realized that wasn’t the case, she decided to do something about it. “Charlotte’s economic mobility depends on education and access to art and culture and I wanted to create a space for that to happen,” says Logan. “Art is an integral part of who we are as a community.”
That’s why a year ago the mother of two left her role as the curator at the Harvey B. Gantt Center to create the 300 Arts Project, a Charlotte-based organization aimed at bringing untraditional contemporary art creators, collectors, and art lovers together. “I think it’s really important to be an advocate for contemporary art and expanding the dialogue around the arts,” she says. “Creating opportunities for artists who have traditionally been excluded is important because I am a firm believer that culture is only made stronger when it includes all of its contributing voices.”
Molly Barker doesn’t shy away from challenging discussions and she likes to hear views different from her own. “Listening is a discipline,” says Barker, the founder of the Red Boot Coalition, a non-profit, founded in 2014 that educates about the power of judgment-free listening as a way to build trust and understanding on issues as diverse as politics, race, and gender.
“Listening to others with different ideologies from my own has given me the opportunity to have authentic conversations on real challenges facing us all,” says Barker, who you’ve likely heard of for the first organization she founded, Girls on the Run. The program, which she developed in 1996, helps young girls embrace their individual strengths and successfully navigate life experiences. An avid runner and a four-time Hawaii Ironman tri-athlete, Barker was recognized by President Barack Obama and President George H.W. Bush at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., as a Daily Point of Light. In 2015 she was honored by Runner’s World as one of the “Top 50 Most Influential People in Running.” Though Barker retired from the organization in 2013, Girls on the Run continues to have impact through chapters in more than 220 cities, having reached more than 1 million girls.
Next month Barker is on to the next challenge. In February, Red Boot Coalition launches the Red Boot Challenge in Charlotte. This will be a series of meetings where community members are invited to participate in the Coalition’s 11-step process toward cultivating trust and understanding. “Running has always been a safe place for me to be with my thoughts,” says Barker. “I believe Red Boot Coalition is also a safe place where people can engage in honest sharing and compassionate listening.”
For Tracy Curtis 2016 was a milestone year: “I got married, blended together a new family of seven, moved into a new home, and released two new books,” says Curtis. “Oh, and I turned 50, though that’s not slowing me down.”
Charlotte’s favorite humorist, speaker, author, and all-around-funny-lady is best known for the sharp wit and biting humor she displayed as a weekly columnist for the Charlotte Observer from 2006 to 2016. Her public pursuit of perfection, life, love, and marriage earned Curtis a legion of devoted fans.
Last year she won the National Independent Publisher Book Award for the first in her Humor Me series, “Holidazed: Wrapping Your Brain Around Christmas,” a collection of her favorite holiday columns throughout the years. Two subsequent books have been flying off the shelves at local booksellers. “Trophy Mom: Hope Springs Maternal” and “Beach Bummed: Riding the Wave of Summer,” have kept her fans in stitches since she left the Observer.
Her followers have kept up with Curtis through her “Whit Happens” blog and her regular “Muse-letter” at www.tracyleecurtis.com. But as the new year begins, she’s hard at work on her first novel. “The story features a family humor columnist at a large metro-paper entertaining the masses while behind the scenes her family is falling apart,” says Curtis. “It’s fiction of course,” she says with a smile—and a wink.
When Haley Bohon launched SkillPop in the fall of 2015, she was sparked by a desire to buck the trend of isolated online learning by developing a community-driven forum where people could make friends and learn from one another. “I never learned best through online, internet-based training,” says Bohon a mechanical engineer by education and training. “I felt there was a better way through creating interpersonal connections in a relaxed, fun environment. SkillPop offers intimate classes on subjects from marketing to photography in inviting spaces where people learn, meet others, and explore the city.”
Instructors for the classes are local professionals passionate about sharing their knowledge and skills. And the classes themselves are held in some of Charlotte’s most engaging spaces including Hygge Coworking, the Charlotte Art League, The Daily Details, and Savvy + Co. Since launching, SkillPop has offered more than 250 classes to nearly 4,000 participants. The wide variety of offerings includes water coloring, gardening, hand lettering, social media, and graphic design. Interested learners simply sign up for the newsletter at www.skillpop.com and then register for the classes of their choice.
“I get chills when I think about the level of success we’ve had in such a short time,” says Bohon, who opened a Raleigh branch of SkillPop in August of 2016. “We have six people on staff and we have plans for continued growth in 2017. This is just something I stumbled upon. SkillPop has far surpassed every dream I thought I had for the business.”
Written by Michelle Boudin and Michael Solender.