Savvy program promotes women’s leadership

MOVING ON UP: Harrah's Cherokee Casinos' new Savvy program provides support to women seeking upper management positions. Seated, from left, some of the board members of Savvy including Shelly Brown, Emily Stephens and Angel Burrell. Standing, from left, Tabithia Freshour, Christina Esmay, Teresa Forga, and Keyonna Hornbuckle. Photo courtesy of Harrah's Cherokee Casinos

Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos launched a new initiative this year that strives to create “50/50 representation of gender equity” across the management ranks at its properties. According to Leeann Bridges, Harrah’s regional vice president of human resources, Savvy is a resource for professional women to learn skills that help them gain access to leadership positions through workshops, panel discussions and charitable events. All Savvy programming is open to the public in addition to Harrah’s employees.

“When I started back in 2001, we did have a lot of fellas in the senior positions. At that time it wasn’t unusual,” says Bridges. “But over time, I think that we’ve made some great strides with the makeup of our leadership team.”

Though the program has been up and running for less than a year, women hold about 39% of leadership positions within the company, reaching as high as 57% women at the vice presidential levels. Cherokee culture, says Bridges, has historically embraced women in high-level roles, and Harrah’s Savvy program aims to continue that tradition.

“Women always had a seat at the table. Women always had a say-so in times of war and decisions that would impact their family or their community, and I think that we have carried that through in Cherokee,” Bridges says. “We do want to ensure that women have an equal chance to realize their full potential, to be able to move up in leadership if that’s what they want, to be able to break through that proverbial glass ceiling, because we have a lot to offer.”

Women-owned businesses continue to grow in WNC

The number of women-owned businesses is rising throughout North Carolina and across the country, according to a 2019 State of Women-Owned Business report that analyzes industries, revenue and employment of women-owned businesses. In North Carolina, women-owned firms have grown nearly 15% since 2014, propelling the state into the ninth position for the highest growth in the country.

In Buncombe County, women-owned businesses grew fastest in the areas of wholesale trade (+123%), health care (+52%), and manufacturing (+45%), according to data from the Western Women’s Business Center, which serves 25 counties in Western North Carolina.

Sharon Oxedine, director of the WWBC, says that the organization is a resource for aspiring entrepreneurs that has provided support to more than 4,000 clients through group seminars, workshops and individual counseling since 2014 at no cost to participants.

“Getting started can feel so isolating at times, and one of the things that we always tell people is that you don’t have to do this alone. The ones that we see that are successful not only work with us, but we get them to work with the rich resources that we have available across this region,” Oxedine says. “There are so many other business service providers in the area that we partner with and collaborate with, so we’re leveraging all that we have all the time. The more that people get from business service providers, the more likely they are to find out they can really make it in the entrepreneurial world.”

Oscar-winning documentary producer to speak at Warren Wilson Oct. 27

Warren Wilson College alumna Melissa Berton will return to the Swannanoa campus to speak about her documentary, “Period. End of Sentence,” on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 3 p.m. The short film, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject this year, focuses on “menstrual justice” by following a group of rural women in India as they produce and distribute low-cost sanitary pads for other women. Berton will discuss producing the film, as well as the importance of girls and women attending school. The discussion will be followed by a screening of the documentary and a Q&A session. The event is free and open to the public. More information at

Asheville chamber to hold annual WomanUP award celebration

The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce is evaluating nominations for its annual WomanUP awards, which recognize local women who innovate, mentor and serve in the Asheville business community. 

Awards will include Woman Entrepreneur, Woman Executive of the Year, Outstanding Woman Nonprofit Leader and the  Rising Star Award. One woman will also receive the Suzanne DeFerie Lifetime Achievement Award named in honor of a trailblazer in the financial services industry, Suzanne DeFerie. Winners will be announced at the WomanUP Celebration on Thursday, Nov. 14. Futurist Rebecca Ryan will give the keynote address. More information is at

Despite gains in compensation, women still face ‘entrepreneurship gap’

While many people may be familiar with the gap between what women get paid versus men — an average of 76 cents per $1— lesser known is the “entrepreneurship gap,” or the difference between the number of women and men who start businesses, says Tara Brown, associate director of the WWBC. And while pay equity has been a focus of women’s rights advocates that has seen progress over the last few decades, the entrepreneurship gap has shown no signs of shrinking. 

“There’s a lot more financial challenges to get to the place where you can start your own business and also in advancing in the business world, regardless of whether you’re starting your own or you’re working for an employer,” Brown says.

Those challenges, according to Brown, might include limited access to child care. Women also face less favorable terms when trying to access capital, including higher interest rates on loans, leading to lower profits. She also notes that women often participate in entrepreneurial social networks of a type that are less likely to promote business growth. All these factors, Brown says, create the conditions that “[go] back to their ability to employ, grow and be successful.”

OnTrack to host Women and Money Story Nights in October

OnTrack Financial Education and Counseling Center will host its third annual Women and Money Story Nights in October. The events are aimed at bringing women together to share and listen to one another’s experiences around money. Speakers will include OnTrack clients, but audience members will also be welcome to share their experiences during an open mic session.

The events kick off on Wednesday, Oct. 16, and will continue on Thursday, Oct. 17, and Wednesday, Oct. 23, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Loretta’s Cafe at 114 N. Lexington Ave. Preregistration is required, and space is limited. For more information or to register, visit

League of Women Voters celebrates 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage  

The League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the organization (February 2020) and the passage of the 19th Amendment (August 2020) with an interactive celebration on Oct. 13. Guests will learn about the suffrage movement in Asheville, including stories about African American suffragists, through posters, videos, presentations and a reenactment of a historic speech given at the Battery Park Hotel in 1915. Sandra Suber will display hats from her Ianodell’s Hat Shop, and costumer Sandra McDaniel will outfit  suffragist models on-site for picture taking. The event will take place at the historic Patton-Parker House located at  95 Charlotte St.; free and open to the public. More information at

Ladies making moves

  • Kelby Carr will head the new Asheville office of Meadville, Pa.-based Bull Moose Marketing.
  • Lisa Adkins was named vice president of advancement at Blue Ridge Community College.
  • Elizabeth Mailander owns Sola Salon Studios, which provides space to 17 independent beauty business owners. Sola Salon Studios will hold an open house 5-8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8. On offer will be opportunities to meet each business owner and learn about their services, as well as information on becoming an independent boutique salon owner at Sola. Free and open to the public at at 1636 Hendersonville Road.
  • Monica Nixon joined the Hendersonville-based nutrition counseling practice Nutritious Thoughts community outreach coordinator.

Local community colleges to offer industrial sewing program

The Carolina Textile District is launching an industrial sewing program at Blue Ridge Community College in the fall and at A-B Tech in the spring. The course will help lead students toward a career in the sewn trades, an industry that has traditionally attracted many women and is experiencing a resurgence.

According to a press release, Lauren Rash, COO of Diamond Brand Manufacturing, brought manufacturers together with other partners to begin discussing the class. “We do have a great need for sewers currently. Several of us got together and started talking about the possibilities,” Rash said. “We’ve lost, as a region, a lot of sewing skills that we feel is important to bring back and rekindle.”

The course will be offered in both English and Spanish at no cost to participants. Course materials, equipment and supplies will also be provided. Contact Leigh Anne Hilbert at for more information or to register. 


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