March 2016: Commerce Corner

North country women ahead of the curve

Kylie Peck

Kylie Peck

Women have been a part of the working class for decades. Today they represent almost 47 percent of the labor force in the United States, according the U.S. Department of Labor. Historically, women have served as secretaries, administrative assistants and receptionists, as well as nurses and teachers, but there has been a radical change in how women in the workplace are perceived.

As everyone is aware, there is a high-profile presidential campaign taking place this year and one of the major party frontrunners is a woman. No matter the outcome of the election, this is a huge step for women. We as a country are at a pivotal time with women being recruited to serve in combat positions in the military and presently hold some of the top-ranking posts.

Among fortune 500 companies, women make up 15 percent of executive officers. Although the percentage seems low compared to men, the growth in this statistic is amazing. Nearly a half century ago, no one could have imagined women with such power and leadership abilities. Nationally there is some ground to make up for women in the workplace, but women should be proud of the movement taking place and continue to fight for equality.

With what seems to be a revolution going on around us, the north country has proven to be ahead of the curve. Locally, voters elected Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, to the U.S. Congress. At just 30 years old when she was elected in November 2014, she is the youngest woman ever to hold a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

We have women serving in leadership positions across the region, many of whom have been selected by public vote. The president of Jefferson Community College, Watertown’s city manager and countless numbers of leaders in our nonprofit community are all powerful and influential, each serving as mentors to those looking up to them just simply by being women who have worked tirelessly to earn the respect of the communities surrounding and supporting them.

In order to celebrate and honor these strong, influential women who play such a vital role in continuing to make the north country a better place to live and work, the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce in 1991 introduced the prestigious Athena International Award. Each Fall, the award is presented to an individual who has provided professional excellence, community service and actively assisted women in achieving success and developing leadership skills.

The chamber has been honored to present this award to 25 deserving individuals who have proven their support of women and our community and continue to serve as mentors to women throughout Northern New York.

Last month, I was humbled and honored to be appointed permanent president and CEO of the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce following eight months as the organization’s interim president. As I settle into a new leadership position, I look forward to working with the many influential leaders of our region, men and women. It takes the involvement of the entire community to make something the best it can be and while striving to achieve excellence in this effort, I will proudly do it as a woman.

Meanwhile, if you know a woman who exemplifies the character of an Athena recipient, consider nominating her for the annual award. The award is presented each fall, typically in early September. Visit the chamber’s website,, to learn more about this award and others that recognize worthy individuals in the north country.

Kylie Peck is the president and CEO of the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce. She lives in Clayton with her husband and two young boys. Her column appears every other month in NNY Business. Contact her at or 788-4400.