Savvy women business leaders have been beating the odds for decades in the North Bay, rising past glass ceilings and making their mark in all segments of the business community.

For the past decade, some of these women have been recognized by the Business Journal's Women in Business event, now celebrating its own anniversary.

The event has touched the lives of 89 women, whose stories at the annual awards dinner have roused audiences to cheers – and not a few tears.

Return to the list of Women in Business 2010 video remarks and profiles.

"I love this event," said Deborah Meekins, executive vice president and chief production officer of Sterling Savings, parent company of Sonoma Bank and longtime Women in Business sponsor and supporter.

"You hear women who have overcome incredible challenges just to come to an office each day. Their day-to-day triumphs and steady progress forward, so often taken for granted in male business leaders, is truly inspiring to other women."

Ms. Meekins founded the event that preceded the Women in Business awards and in large part brought it about.

She was approached by the Small Business Administration in 1990 with an offer to host an educational seminar for women wanting to start their own businesses.

"At that time we had women taking retirement from Agilent, from State Farm and other large North Bay companies who wanted the kind of practical advice now offered by business incubators and mentoring programs," said Ms. Meekins.

The conferences, featuring panels of marketing, accounting, investment and other experts and showcasing women of note, became hugely popular, drawing 300 to 350 attendees.

But Ms. Meekins said she found the event had run its course.

"And after 10 years, we felt we'd covered a lot of ground. So when the Business Journal approached us with the idea of a recognition event, we were happy to sponsor it," said Ms. Meekins.

During the next decade, Women in Business celebrated leaders in the fields of construction, banking, health care, hospitality, insurance, real estate, technology, entrepreneurship, economic development, nonprofits and wine, choosing from a body of nominees submitted by readers, former winners and the Business Journal editorial staff.

JoAline Olson, vice president for innovation at Adventist Health in St. Helena, was the first health care winner in 2001.

"I was completely surprised, and it shed a light on the magnitude of business health care generates in a community as well as the important work and outcomes that are delivered on a daily basis," said Ms. Olson, who then nominated one of this year's winners, Elaine John.

"Being recognized validated the business skills and expertise needed to lead a complex health care organization," she said.

Another health care winner, Patricia Kendall, is medical group administrator at Kaiser Permanente in San Rafael.

"The 2003 award helped give a voice to my belief that one of the most intimate things we do in life is to seek health care. In that spirit, I am comfortable in knowing that I am in the 'intimacy business.'"

"I hope I've lived up to the expectations. ... The award warmed my heart," said Ms. Kendall, who in turn nominated this year's winner in economic development, Cynthia Murray.

Shirley Gordon, vice president of operations at State Farm and a past winner in the insurance category, said the award recognized that a profession that helps customers manage the risks of everyday life is a noble one.

"It was an honor to be named, and the annual event gives me an opportunity to network with other professional women in the North Bay, expanding my sphere of influence and leading to volunteer efforts to build a stronger community here."