CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Over the years, there have been many women who have broken through glass ceilings to higher positions of power and into industries where women are uncommon.
Pam Farris is a woman who has broken through both and is helping men and women broaden their skills, knowledge and career possibilities.
Farris spends her time cultivating rising leaders as the executive director of Leadership West Virginia, a statewide program to develop, strengthen and connect emerging leaders in the state.
Farris studied business at West Virginia University and spent 22 years of her career at Employers Service, a family-owned business. There, she said, owner and her mentor, Herk Sims, gave her "the opportunity to shine," something she now does for others.
Farris remembers many times when Sims gave her opportunities, but one sticks out in her memory. Sims asked her to present the annual report for a client, a large coal company. "He came to me and said, 'You've been handling this account and you are the eyes and the ears of this client, and I want you to be a part of the presentation.'"
As she stepped into the boardroom, she realized that she was the only female in the room. She wasn't surprised, but was excited.
"I had made it. It was finally my chance to sit in a room with the men," she said. "I knew that everything he had shown and taught me, I was going to be able to do."
Sims' philosophy, according to Farris, was, "You can do the very best job for your client, but if you don't tell your client what you're doing for them and how good it is, in the right way, then they may never know. They need to understand and have that relationship with you, that you are doing what you need to do for them in a very positive way."
Farris was working at Employer Service in 1998 when she participated in Leadership West Virginia.
"Mr. Sims and the management team really felt that it was a great opportunity for their employees. I got to experience what I am doing [now] from the other side," she said.
Her earlier participation in the program helped when she applied for the position of executive director seven years later. There were more than 60 applicants for the position, she said.
"I really thought I would stay [at Employer Service] for the remainder of my career. I loved the people and the work, but to take that chance to see what else may be out there... It has opened up a door for me and for Leadership West Virginia."
Leadership West Virginia is an eight-month program for about 50 leaders from a variety of industries and communities who are selected through a competitive application process. Participants travel across the state each month for a two-day session to learn about the challenges and successes within the state.
For example, in May, Logan community members and businesses provided opportunities for participants to ride on the Hatfield-McCoy Trail, tour a mining training facility and a reclaimed mining site, experience a mining blast, see the aerial view of mining sites and to hear from mining professionals about the industry.