Women have always been a driving force in Alaska, from the frontier days to the present, and Anne Marie Tavella and Elizabeth Hodes are no exception. Under their leadership, Women Advancing a Prosperous Alaska (WAPAK) seeks to raise the positive voices of women to build and shape Alaska's future.
Women Advancing a Prosperous Alaska (WAPAK) is a group focused on connecting women in business to learn from each other, foster innovation, and be a driving force for the prosperity of business in Alaska. In addition to networking and professional development, WAPAK seeks to ensure women throughout our state embrace their leadership positions to effectuate ongoing growth of business opportunities for the benefit of current and future generations in Alaska.
WAPAK plans to conduct quarterly roundtable discussions among professionals, business leaders, and other interested individuals to create a forum where experiences and ideas can be shared and supported. These meetings will seek not only to enrich the professional connections between female leaders and rising leaders in Alaska, but celebrate the remarkable women who are at the forefront of Alaska's social and economic development and speak to the business and professional development topics they find valuable.
Alaska's historically high ratio of men to women led to a well-known saying, "the odds are good, but the goods are odd," which cheekily reflects the unique perspective of those who choose to make Alaska their home. Today, the breakdown between men and women in urban areas of Alaska is fairly even, although Alaska still boasts the highest male-to-female ratio in the country, roughly 106 to 108 men to every 100 women. Even when women were greatly outnumbered (nearly 260 men for every 100 women around 1900), Alaskan women were viewed differently than women in the contiguous United States. As stated in an article in the Daily Alaskan on June 18, 1904, "Alaska women are not the pampered dolls of society who drive men to the devil and drink, but they are brave and noble helpers in the development of a frontier country." In fact, the first official act of the Alaska legislature in 1913, after Congress officially created the Territory of Alaska in 1912, was to unanimously approve the right of white Alaskan women to vote. That right did not apply to Alaska Native women, however. Alaska Natives were not considered citizens, and the road to unfettered voting rights for Alaska Natives was perilous and would take another 50 years.
Alaska's long-running appreciation of women continues to be reflected today in Alaska's business community. A high percentage of women lead Alaska's top industries, from Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) to healthcare organizations to the energy industry. In 2019, 42 percent of ANC presidents and CEOs were women, while in the United States, women represented just 21 percent of C-Suite positions, and women of color represented a mere 4 percent. The Rasmuson Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in Alaska, has been led by women for more than two decades. Similarly, Providence Health & Services, which is the largest employer in Alaska, has now had a woman at the helm for four years. The contributions of women to Alaska's economy also extend far beyond the boardroom, with women making up 42 percent of Alaska's total workforce and owning 43.1% of small businesses in the state.
WAPAK seeks to ensure women make the most of their voice in boardrooms and government arenas to help shape the next generation of Alaskan prosperity. Presently, Alaska's economic future is uncertain, but it is also ripe with opportunities. Alaska's varied landscape and strategic location in the world provides for a host of economic opportunities that have yet to be fully explored and realized. For example, while Alaska is known as a leader in petroleum development, the state also has significant renewable energy sources, including wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, solar, and marine hydrokinetic. Alaska also boasts having the fourth busiest cargo airport in the world, making it a critical link in the global supply chain. Alaska's vast size and lack of infrastructure have also led to innovations in telemedicine and healthcare delivery that are not widely used in the Lower 48. WAPAK supports women who are not just participating, but directing, the top industries in Alaska. It is an unfortunate reality that negative voices are often the loudest—WAPAK seeks to raise the positive voices of women to build and shape Alaska's future.
While WAPAK is about more than just networking, the driven and inspired women who participate in our events will also experience the personal and professional growth that comes from sharing experiences, advice, and connections with other professionals looking to further build upon our state's success. Whether you are the CEO of a multimillion-dollar company or the owner of a small business, WAPAK will provide you with a forum to confront challenges and create opportunities together with other powerhouse women who are leading Alaska's top businesses.