Editor’s note: The Reporter visited with three local women — Dr. Lauren West, Judy Jewell, president of a Redmond concrete manufacturing company and Redmond Police Commander Shari Shovlin — who have thrived in traditionally male-dominated careers. Here are their stories.
Lauren West did not have it easy at the beginning of her career in emergency medicine — but the obstacles she faced helped her thrive in a male-dominated workplace.
Her first job was at a hospital in Yakima that served the surrounding region and out of the roughly 250 physicians, only four were women.
“I was kind of lonely,” she admitted.
The 57-year-old said in the early 1980s when she was starting out, women in medicine were still so rare some patients didn’t think she was a doctor, but rather a nurse. West said one patient she treated even sent in a complaint because they claimed they never saw a doctor during their trip to the emergency room — not realizing it had been her.
West is now an emergency medicine physician at Evergreen Hospital Medical Center, where she has worked for about 14 years. There are about 30 doctors in the department — five of which are female — and they rotate between the Redmond and Kirkland campuses.
Diane Rosonke, who graduated from medical school in 2006, is one of the remaining four female physicians at Evergreen and said West has taken an interest in her and been particularly helpful in welcoming the younger doctor into the profession.
“(West) is a pleasure to work with,” Rosonke said. “She’s an inspiration.”
West (right) said when she was where Rosonke was, beginning her career, her age was another obstacle she faced. At 28, not only was she young, but she looked a lot younger. However, just as she has been mentoring Rosonke, West was mentored by a number of veteran doctors along the way.
“I got a lot of wonderful teaching,” the Woodinville resident said.
And while being a female doctor came with its challenges in her early days, West said she also met people who were “very enthused” to see a woman in medicine. Sometimes being female also worked to her advantage as some patients were more comfortable having a woman treat them.
“Even today, we have people who really do, for cultural reasons, prefer a female doctor,” West said.
She said in an emergency situation, people will usually agree to be cared for regardless of the gender of their doctor, but they do try to honor a patient’s request for a female doctor if one is available.
Another shift in demographics West has seen in medicine is more male nurses which she said is something else she and her colleagues must keep in mind if a patient makes a similar gender-specific request in regard to their nurse.
Something else that has changed for West is how she views her job and what she enjoys the most. When she was younger, West said she really liked the drama of working in an emergency department, but now she enjoys the smaller cases that allow her to interact with people since unlike a family doctor, she does not see the same patients on a regular basis.
West said she also enjoys the smaller cases because many times, the cause of the injury or ailment is not straightforward and she has more of a chance to problem solve.
“You have to figure it out,” she said. “You have to think.”
Judy Jewell’s initial career plan was to go into human resources. After spending her early years around her family’s Redmond-based precast concrete manufacturing company, it wasn’t too much of a stretch when she bought it from a bankruptcy court in 1987.
She and her husband Kevin Jewell renamed the company — which focused on architectural pieces and building components — to Olympian Precast, Inc. and it has remained in the family since then. Judy has been president since the beginning and runs the company with Kevin, who is the vice president of operations, and their son, who is in estimating and project management.
“We’re a small business,” Judy said. “So we all wear different hats. We all do a lot of things.”
She said although women in construction were rare when she started out, it wasn’t a problem for her. Judy said it was actually an advantage for her because as head of a construction company, she wasn’t what people expected and they remembered her for it.
As president of Olympian, Judy (left) said she spends most of her time focusing on the management side of things such as employee benefits and human resources rather than the actual construction side of the company. She said she enjoys it that way because she is able to provide jobs for people, which she thinks is important.
“I like to provide work,” she said. “That gives me my reason to get up in the morning.”
However, after being in the business for 23 years, Judy has picked up a few things about construction along the way. And it has been those two-plus decades of experience that has established Olympian in the industry.
“You gain respect over the years with experience and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a woman or man,” she said. “We’re still getting credit for all the knowledge we’ve gained.”
Kevin said women are becoming more involved as owners or other leadership roles in all sorts of businesses. He said this is also reflected in the government, referring to the state’s female governor and two female U.S. senators. This shift can also be seen in construction, he said.
“I think construction, while still male dominated, is certainly becoming more woman oriented,” Kevin said. “We constantly meet with women architects/engineers or contractor project managers today and don’t think there is anything out of the ordinary.”
Kevin said he and his wife have different responsibilities in the company and while they do interact on some subjects, there is not much overlap in their respective jobs. However, working in a small business with offices in close proximity, husband and wife usually have a good idea what the other is doing during the day, he said.
“As a consequence, one of the first things we realized is that we didn’t have the normal dinnertime conversation with each other that we might have had before we started working together,” Kevin said.
Although her gender didn’t present many challenges, Judy said, like most people in the construction world, they were hit by the economic recession in the last few years when many construction jobs were delayed or canceled.
“It happened overnight for us,” she said.
During this slow time, Olympian became WSDOT certified, meaning they can now bid on state projects concerning roadways and other transportation-related jobs.
“(The recession has) been awful, but we haven’t been lazy during this time,” Judy said.
Shari Shovlin was 18 and a half years old when she joined the Police Reserve Academy at Fullerton College in Fullerton, Calif.
She attended the college after graduating from high school in 1982 and was taking criminal justice classes when she joined the academy and since then, the Redmond Police commander has “never looked back.”
“I got addicted,” said Shovlin, now in her 27th year in law enforcement.
Despite her love of the job, Shovlin (right) said it wasn’t always easy. At the beginning of her career, she said the law enforcement field was only about five percent female and there was a fair amount of discontent and distrust about having women in a “man’s world.”
“It was kind of new territory for women in law enforcement,” Shovlin said. “People had a lot of reservations.”
Redmond Police Chief Ron Gibson has been in law enforcement for 32 years and said he remembers in 1979 being asked how he would feel about working with a female partner.
“I don’t think you can even ask that question in an interview today,” he said.
Shovlin, who lives in unincorporated King County just outside of Redmond, spent her first 11 years working in California and 16 with the Redmond Police Department (RPD) — four of which have been as a commander, which is two positions below Gibson.
Throughout her career, Shovlin has worked in various positions ranging from a D.A.R.E. officer, to a patrol supervisor. She has also been a detective and worked in the vice and narcotics divisions.
Gibson said Shovlin’s varied experience is an asset to the RPD and in addition to her commitment to the department, she is very involved in community activities.
“My favorite part of working with Shari is her willingness to call it like she sees it,” he said. “I value leaders that are willing to speak up and be a part of the solution.”
Shovlin said one of the biggest challenges she faced throughout her career, particularly when she was first starting out, has been working with officers who did not accept women in law enforcement. Because of this, she and other female police officers worked extra hard to prove themselves and fit into a male-dominated field.
“You couldn’t slack off,” Shovlin said. “That’s what we thought we had to do.”
But all of the hard work has been worth it, she said.
Shovlin said she has always admired those in law enforcement and considered it a noble profession. Police officers work to try and keep people safe, something she said she has always found appealing about the field.
Shovlin said she has particularly enjoyed her time working for the RPD because it is a forward-thinking department with fantastic leadership. She said likes that the RPD works and collaborates with other city departments.
“I love the sense of community that the police department has,” she said.
After nearly three decades in her profession, Shovlin said law enforcement has definitely evolved since her early days.
Gibson agreed, saying women are now very well established in the field and serving in all roles.
“We have many examples of woman in leadership roles in our region such as our county sheriff (Sue Rahr) and many serving as police chiefs,” he said, referring to the cities of Bellevue, Woodinville and Spokane.
Shovlin added that there is more education all around on diversity and police departments are putting the right people in leadership positions — regardless of gender.
“The field is more diverse than it was years ago,” she said.