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The Glass: Evolving the Business Woman

The Glass: Evolving the Business Woman
The Glass: Evolving the Business Woman
The Glass: Evolving the Business Woman
Working hard, having faith and confidence, taking risks, speaking up for yourself, not taking no for an answer, and finding a mentor are just a few things our audience heard at the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce event The Glass: Evolving the Business Woman on Tuesday, April 26th at the Founders Inn and Spa.

Working hard, having faith and confidence, taking risks, speaking up for yourself, not taking no for an answer, and finding a mentor are just a few things our audience heard at the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce event The Glass: Evolving the Business Woman on Tuesday, April 26th at the Founders Inn and Spa.  The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce has gathered insight on how four successful women in the community maintain the work-life balance and now are aiming higher to fix the glass ceiling flaw in our community.  With more than 100 people in attendance, this panel discussion was free flowing and full of questions for the panelists. 

Portsmouth Police Chief, Tonya Chapman; Laura Contreras-Rowe, COO, Siempre Tax; Thelma Drake, Regional Director, Community and Member Outreach, Virginia Hospital and Health Care Association; and Shepelle Watkins-White, attorney, ShepelleWatkinsWhite Consulting & Law, PLLC, were our four panelists at our event.  Each of these women has risen to the top in their profession, breaking that “Glass Ceiling” of male dominated leaders in Hampton Roads. 

Thelma Drake is an American Politician and former member of Congress of the Republican Party from the state of Virginia.  She was first elected to the United States House of Representatives in November 2004 to represent Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District.  She was the Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation from 2010-2013 and is now the Regional Director for Community and Member Outreach Virginia Hospital and Health Care Association.

Thelma Drake shared that work and luck were the two things that got her to where she is.  She was very engaged in the community, whether it was the neighborhood watch committee or the team mom of her son’s baseball team, Thelma was always engaged and involved.  She believes in always being available, working hard and going out there and doing what other people don’t want to do.

Shepelle Watkins-White is the current Chair for the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.  Shepelle used to work for the large law firm of Kaufman and Canoles but left several years ago to start her own practice.  “ShepelleWatkinsWhite Consulting & Law, PLLC is a boutique law firm where the hallmark of our professional services is the foundational concept that any meaningful business and legal transaction is based upon the development of a relationship and trust,”   states Shepelle as she describes her practice with this line on her website.

Shepelle Wakins-White’s big guiding principal that helped her get to where she is at today was her faith. She was able to build relationships through her faith and gain clients and continue to strengthen the relationships she has already had, which helped her to leave a company she was working at and start her own law firm.  She has confidence in herself and is confident that even if she is unaware of the answer, that she will find it.  She believes in having good mentors to help guide you and give you advice.  Shepelle shared that you must be persistent and not afraid of the word no.  Do not take “no” as an answer. 

Portsmouth Police Chief, Tonya Chapman was sworn in on February 22 at the First African-American woman who has been appointed to the position.  Chief Chapman most recently served as the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security for the Commonwealth of Virginia.  She has more than 25 years of police service behind her and is truly at the top of her field.

Chief Chapman set her goals early and high and continued to maintain a competitive advantage.  She went back to school to get a Masters degree and she is going back to get a Ph.D.  Chief Chapman during her journey was always looking to better herself and give her that competitive edge. She took the “non-sexy” jobs because she knew if she wanted to be police Chief that she would have to know the interworking of the police department, all the way from HR to IT to locking up bad guys. She went in knowing it was a male dominated field and she had to maintain that competitive advantage and be the best and not take “no” for an answer.   

Laura Contreras-Rowe is the acting CEO/COO for SiempreTax+.  The national Hispanic franchise promotion Hispanic entrepreneurship in the tax field, currently the sister company of Liberty Tax Service.  Laura is a motivational speaker and an award winning author of Aim High, which is about extraordinary stories of Hispanic and Latina women.  Laura is also the founder of the Got Sole Project: offering faith, hope and love through shoes.

“Taking risks and understanding your gifts” is the advice she gave the audience that helped her lead to her success.  Former part-time real estate agent, her first year she won Rookie of the Year for William E. Wood and Rookie of the Hampton Roads Realtors Association.  She has written books and travels all over the world to speak.  Go after your dreams, your gifts and talents, and take the risks. 

Each of their stories of how they risen to the top is remarkable.  They shared their insights, stories, and advice.  They answered questions from the audience on different topics. 

The first question was about how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers by not “leaning in” and aggressively pursuing their career goals with confidence.  Shepelle was the first to respond.  She said that to get through that, women could create their own opportunities and not always follow the rules.  Give other options for women to start their own businesses.  Thelma also responded that everyone has different goals and if you reach your goals, you’re just as successful as someone who has much higher goals.

One of the biggest sacrifices these women had to make for them to reach the top of their profession was time with their family. 

One question was: if you were able to tell your younger self something what would it be?  Chief Chapman said she would tell herself to start early. Study hard, do well in school, start shaping your future, and don’t let people tell you, you can’t.  Failure is not an option and don’t be afraid to fail, just get back up and go for it.

Women tend to take things a little more personal than men do. In Laura’s position, a piece of advice she was given was, “You don’t have to like everybody, but you have to get along with everybody.” “Don’t take things so personally,” she said,” just think to yourself, it’s not really about you; it’s about them.” 

The number one piece of advice they would give to a female professional who is just starting out or is middle management trying to make that higher leap, would be to find a mentor.  Those four women try as much as they can to be mentors to young women and children and help guide them in the right direction.  Having a mentor as they were climbing their ladder of success helped them get to where they are at today.  Their mentors were their biggest fans and gave them the support they needed. 

Speak up for yourself, step out of your comfort zone, and be open to “what is meant to be” for you are just a few other things our panelists stressed.  Work hard and find a good mentor and be a good mentor to people, because it really helps your future and someone else’s future.  Don’t take no for an answer and take risks. 

This is the first of two, The Glass: Evolving the Business Woman forums.  The second forum will be held on Tuesday, September 27th at the Kroc Center in Norfolk from 9am-3pm.  The keynote speaker will be Helen Dragas, President and CEO of the Dragas Companies.  There will also be breakout sessions throughout the event to enrich your career, your mind, and your life.  For more information about this event contact Anne Baumler at (757) 664-2518 or at  You can also learn more or register on our website,

Thank you to our sponsors:  Kroger Marketplace (Speaker Sponsor); Sinclair Communications (Media Sponsor); Raymond A. Mason School of Business at William & Mary (Gold Sponsor); Volvo Penta and Harbor Group Management (Silver Sponsors).

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