ATLANTA WOMEN RISING
Natural Awakenings asked three of these women to share their own stories through a series of essay questions. Their stories, struggles and achievements, are below.
Softer approach works in hard hat industryMeredith Leapley is the founder and CEO of the multi-million-dollar company Leapley Construction. Her clients have big name recognition and her own recognitions are numerous, including ranking in The Top 5 Women-Owned Businesses in Atlanta 2016 by Investopedia, in the YWCA Women of Achievement 2016, and earning Kennesaw State University’s 2016 Phenomenal Woman Award. The 43-year-old started Leapley Construction 18 years ago, steadily achieving by employing characteristics not typically seen in her field. In her own words …
“I moved to Atlanta in 1998 and was thrust into opening my own business in 1999. My industry is an exceedingly male-dominated industry. Most of my competition had been in the industry prior to starting their own businesses and had connections to help them get started. For me, it was a new town and I was definitely the new kid on the block, not to mention a woman in construction. I knew I needed to make a name for myself pretty quickly and I had to do it in an authentic way. Connection, persistence, and empathy were the keys to my success. I knew I needed to connect with the industry and I did so by getting involved in certain industry associations and give-back initiatives that I was passionate about. I connected with my clients and knew that their trust in me and my team was vital, as it is in any relationship. Understanding and anticipating their needs helped the trust and connection build.
“No matter what industry we are in, we need to have strong relationships and connection to succeed. And that doesn’t mean just with our clients. It includes team members, vendors, and partners that you work with, as well as clients and anyone you come into contact with.
“How you operate on a daily basis as an individual will extend out and builds a brand for who you are and how you exist. It matters and will create a path for your future. Be clear about your intentions and how you operate and exist with others.
“Women succeeding together is shifting the traditional paradigms of success, but even more than that I believe it is all people, men and women, working together towards success. I have been so fortunate to have male and female mentors and sponsors throughout my career. I do believe it is important to connect and have empathy with all people and that will help us transcend obstacles when we encounter them.
“I do believe these shifts can change the world. The ability to see each other, have compassion and patience for another perspective that is not your own, and getting curious about it, makes it safe to exist with difference.”
Building strength on compassionAt age 53, Bridgette Massey Peterson is an award-winning bodybuilder who came from a small town, a father who held traditional ideas about female roles, and a mother who embodied strength.
Stepping on stage only two years ago, Peterson came in second in the 2015 Drug Free Athletes Coalition Georgia National Championship, then in June 2016, went on to win the DFAC GA National Championship, and earned her pro card from the American Natural Bodybuilding Federation. In October, she intends to compete in the DFAC World Finals.
But Peterson won’t be swigging raw eggs or eating lean animal protein to bulk up – she’s a vegan. She believes everyone, animals, people and fellow competitors, are all worthy of respect. In her own words …
“I was born when women were to follow certain predetermined paths but my mother was strong and independent and to this day supported and believed in me.
“She was really instrumental in making me strong. She’s always been ‘go do it, you look magnificent.’ She had to be a single mom with four kids for a long time. And it’s a little different now than it was back then. Society wasn’t as supportive. She made ends meet, she graduated from Rider [University] in New Jersey. She showed me there is a way, despite the way our society is towards women. She’s not that sweet natured June Cleaver mom – she’s really strong. She really makes you feel like you can do … whatever it is.
“My veganism began as a health journey that developed into both health and compassion. I hate to see torture of another being for any reason but especially greed or presumed superiority.
“Once someone finds out I am a vegan and my age, I get a lot of questions regarding what types of protein do I use and where do I find it and how do I feel about supplements.
“I really don’t think it is any harder, you may have to be a bit more creative with your meals but protein is only one component of getting and keeping muscle, you really have to be consistent and pay attention to how your body processes the foods you eat.
“People, when you say ‘I’m a body builder,’ they don’t feel like you can still be a woman and feminine. I always tell people I’m 200 percent woman: I’m feminine.
“Everything I do is a lifestyle, not temporary. Quality of life is important to me, it helps to show children there is an alternative to the standard.
“I think that if more people were [open minded] they’d also be more tolerant of differences. We have people who walk around with hijabs on, and we form an opinion, not even about their personality or the people that they are.
“We are all just people, and together we make great positive things happen.”
Creating a new danceSue Schroeder, co-founder and artistic director of Atlanta’s Core Dance company, has made empowering others her life’s work.
Winner of the Goethe Institut’s Haldeman Award for Merit and the Cultural Multiplicators from Foreign Countries, numerous local arts grants and fellowships and the 2006 Lexus Leader of the Arts, Schroeder began dance at a time when mentors withheld their knowledge, and when abuse of dancers was prevalent.
Most recently earning the 2017 Emory University Center for Creativity & Arts Community Impact Arts Administrator award, Schroeder lists communication, cooperation, collaboration and shared power as the core of her dance company. In her own words …
“This is who I am, how I live my life and raise my children. It was and is important to me that my work life culture shares my personal culture and beliefs. It was and is important to create a micro aspect in our Core community of what we envision on the macro level for our world community outside of Core.
“When I came up in the dance world the field itself was very abusive. It was predominantly run by white men, there was just a dynamic of abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse that was embedded in dancers as tools for the choreographer. When I came into a position where I was leading something, that’s where I could make a difference.
“I think the challenges to my line of work, the challenges really are connected to our American culture which is that art is not a valued profession, sometimes almost not considered a profession at all as it is in other places. So there’s been a lot of having to stand for that, speak up about that, a lot of proving.
“One of our values is to really sustain the field, I think on top of that I was often the only artist, the only woman at so many meetings ‘Let’s just include the arts, let’s just include the woman.’ At least I was included, but not listened to. It’s pretty constant to be diligent in speaking up about being an artist that has professional value.
“Instead of setting up a political agenda to come in with, and manipulating and maneuvering in these meetings, I would just really try to support my claims, back them up with information. It really just took time. Year two, year three, ‘Oh she’s really not going anywhere.’ ‘Oh, what she said was really interesting.’
“I have been the solo woman and artist in many decision-making meetings. We need each other as women to influence a different point of view, a different process. It is inherent in who we are in the feminine.
“Our current world situation is reflective of an intense grasp/reach for the opposite of the feminine which is creating so much strife and damage for and with each other, and so many aspects of our planet – environment, financial, democracy, truth.”