Seventeen suburban women business leaders were honored for their achievements Monday at the 15th Annual Influential Women in Business Awards, presented by the Daily Herald Business Ledger in partnership with the National Association of Women Business Owners -- Chicago Area Chapter and the Women's Innovation Network.
Around 200 people attended the recognition event at the Northern Illinois University Naperville campus. The annual awards are presented to outstanding women who excel in business, civic and personal fields. The honorees were selected by the Daily Herald Business Ledger editorial staff from nominations submitted to the publication. They were selected based on the quality of the supporting information submitted with the nominations.
The theme for the evening centered around the gains women have made in the workplace, and fields where they still need to make gains. Many of the honorees cited previous award winners as the people who opened the opportunities for them.
Womens Innovation Network President Valerie Beck, a 2011 Influential Women in Business honoree, told the audience now is a great time of opportunity for women to take control of their lives, both business and personal. She noted the recent debate over whether women can really "have it all" in life is answered only by how you define it.
"It's not whether you can have it all, but what is 'it all?'" she said. "It's more of what do you want to get out of life."
Beck said to define what you want, you have to answer three questions: What is my mission, can I embrace this stage of my life, and what does life ask of me at this moment. Those answers, she said, will help focus your "work/life integration" and "shift your thinking above some of the fray."
Many of the honorees noted they grew up in a culture where women were encouraged to follow their dreams and goals, an opportunity they said their mothers and previous generations did not have.
"I grew up in an era where I think nothing is unachievable," said honoree Maribeth Hearn, executive director of sales and marketing at Shay Health Care Services in Oak Forest. "And I have the women before me to thank for that."
Sally Fairbank, director of paralegal studies program at College of DuPage, said she was among the first group of women to attend her law school back in the early '70s.
"Many women had to blaze the trail ahead of us to make this happen, so that in future generations business will be gender-free," Fairbank said.
Leigh McMillen, project executive for architectural firm Leopardo Companies in Hoffman Estates, and Johnetta Ryan, education to careers counselor for the Construction Industry Service Corporation of Oak Brook, both said they are in fields that remain male dominated, but women can also find success if they choose to pursue careers in these fields.
"Women tend to not want to be plumbers," she said. 'But we need more women in construction."
Many of the honorees also noted they could not have achieved their success without the help and support of others.
"Life is a dream sport and I have my dream team holding me up," honoree Kimberly Coogan, founder and partner of Bellock and Coogan Ltd. in Oak Brook, said of her family and colleagues.
Details of the 17 honorees will be featured in a special section of the Dec. 10 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger.
Presenting sponsors for this year's awards are Associated Bank, Northern Illinois University College of Business, B. Gunther & Co., and LeaderBoard of Chicago West. Honorees will be profiled in a special issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger to be published Dec. 10.