Northern Nevada businesswomen are making their mark — despite great gaps in pay, respect

RENO, Nev. — Confidence. Believe in it, abide by it.

So preaches BJ North, longtime Reno banker and trailblazing businesswoman in the eyes of her Northern Nevada contemporaries. North learned early that confidence was her key to advancing over four decades from the teller window to her own windowed office.

Now, as chief banking officer at Plumas Bank in Reno, North believes her success — and the success of other women in business — begins with shedding self-doubts about abilities and exuding confidence in the workplace.

“My mantra has always been, if someone asks you to do something, your first answer should be ‘yes,’” North said. “Take the leap. Have confidence. Don’t say ‘no.’”

It helped lay the foundation for North’s future after she graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in the early 1970s, taking her to Boston, Florida and Arizona before returning to Reno in 1989, and it’s the wisdom she passes along now to aspiring young women.

“Men do such a better job with confidence that comes from team playing,” North said. “Women are learning that. We have a long way to go. But somebody will be a banking officer at a much younger age than me eventually.”

‘We can become gender blind’

From cannabis to software to real estate to manufacturing, women are making their marks with confidence.

They are launching their own enterprises, running government agencies, and holding top-tier titles, be it president, CEO or other, including Kristen Averyt at the Desert Research Institute, Ann Silver at the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce, Becky Harris at the Nevada Gaming Control Board, and many others.

Indeed, they are key influencers at tables long crowded with men.

“Women are much more visible. They feel, ‘I can do what I want to do.’ There is nothing now that says you can’t climb the ladder,’” said Collie Hutter, chairman of Click Bond Inc., a Carson City manufacturer.

More than ever before, others say, this is a vibrant time for businesswomen in Northern Nevada.

“I am most impressed in my time in Reno with the number of high-level women CEOs and COOs, the C-suites,” said Stephanie Kruse, president of KPS3, a Reno-based advertising/marketing/digital media firm. “I find it very refreshing. It’s a beautiful thing to see.”

While their business influence swells, women say they still lag in key areas, including in number of CEOs — which some attribute to Northern Nevada’s dearth of corporate headquarters — and board memberships.

“I don’t believe there are enough women on boards. I’m not for quotas, but we can become more gender blind,” said Silver, the first-ever CEO of the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce whose 18-member board includes seven women.

The Carson City-based Northern Nevada Development Authority has no women board members at present, but Lynn O’Mara, director of economic development, said board representatives are chosen by company members, not the NNDA, and four of the agency’s six employees are women.

The ongoing issue of equal pay

Another ongoing struggle is in salaries compared with men. Women’s shortfalls show in a U.S. Census Bureau study of average full-time salaries over a five-year period from 2012 to 2016.

In Nevada, women’s salaries, while a bit higher than the national average versus men, were still 82.4 percent of the men’s average. Among key job sectors, Nevada women’s full-time salaries were:

86.9 percent of men’s in computer engineering and science.

72.7 percent of men’s in management occupations.

45.8 percent of men’s in legal occupations.

83.1 percent of men’s in healthcare practitioner and technical.

91.8 percent of men’s in law enforcement.

83.4 percent of men’s in sales and office occupations.

85.5 percent of men’s in firefighting occupations.

Additionally, there remains a sense that women must still work harder to gain legitimacy among their male peers.

“There were times I didn’t get a place at the table because I was a startup, female-owned business,” Kruse recalled of the early 1990s when she launched what is now KPS3. “And there are still times when I feel I get taken not as seriously as someone who is male.”

Valerie Clark, president of insurance brokerage firm Clark & Associates of Nevada, Inc., said a level playing field might never be attained.

“But I’m OK with that,” she acknowledged. “I do believe I have to work harder when I compete against men. It’s not a negative attitude. It is what it is.”

Valerie Glenn, principal of The Glenn Group ad agency, added, “When I first started, it was a bit challenging for women. There were realities. I wasn’t a part of the boys’ network early on.

“But, I’ve earned their respect.”

Speak up, or shut up

And so have others.

Eren Ozmen, owner and president of defense and aerospace contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation, recalled as an accountant at SNC in 1988, she discovered data showing the company was on the verge of failing. She tried to inform a colleague, but was told it was not her concern.

It was a defining moment, she said, in whether to speak up or shut up. She chose to speak and it paid off.

“As it turned out, I delivered the truth to the owners and got a promotion,” Ozmen said in an email to the NNBW.

Women are indeed more empowered these days, due in no small part, some believe, to the influence of Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, elected in 2014 and herself a successful small-business operator.

“This community is, in many ways, being run by women. Start with the mayor and work your way down,” said Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.

Schieve, channeling BJ North, believes women seeking to flex their business muscle must exude confidence and be willing to stand out.

“We live in a culture where mistakes are not OK. But we have to learn from our mistakes,” Schieve said. “It helps you up your game. You have to have confidence. The challenge ahead is, I still think women are afraid to use their voice.

“We’re getting better at it, but we need to use it productively.”

Abbi Whitaker, head of The Abbi Agency PR firm in Reno, is a close confidante of the mayor. She sees Schieve’s influence spreading among aspiring businesswomen.

“With a female mayor like Hillary, there’s no other place for the rest of us to go but up,” Whitaker said. “She believes in women.”

Bill O’Driscoll is a Reno journalist and former editor of the NNBW. If you have feedback about this story, email us at


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