A Proven Leader Who Focuses on Women’s Needs & Issues Our Exclusive Interview with Founder & CEO of Illuminating Women, Jill Nicholas-Hicks
Jill is a proven leader focused on women's needs and issues for total wellness mind, body, and spirit. She formulated an extensive women's following in the greater Puget Sound region for connecting women together in engagement and women's empowerment through education and support. As the founder and creator of Illuminating Women, LLC, she focuses on bridging women together from different backgrounds so that deeper connections, knowledge, experiences, and relationships are discovered for greater personal and professional success.
Q: Tell us about your career, was it always a smooth road?
JNH: Not at all!!! I was raised with the belief you get a job, stay in it for 40+ years so that you could retire with a pension. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to get a Bachelor of Arts degree from one of our state colleges. However, I never entered the career I had in mind, which was to be a Lutheran Pastor. I have had several jobs since graduation, each one providing me valuable lessons that have helped me be where I am today and that the “belief system” I was raised to believe in, was no longer true. Career experiences stemmed from learning how to do the “dirty work”, what I want and do not want, how to manage people, and be managed by the good, bad, and the ugly, to deepening my skills. Even during the hardest punches, they played a part in shaping who I am and how I respond to events that affect my dreams and goals.
I could have had a choice to be reduced by these difficult career times, which, believe me when I say, I had plenty of “wound licking” moments that helped me to see these experiences as an opportunity to move forward. By having a variety of jobs, mostly in the public service area, I was able to pivot faster to the changes in the economy by constantly learning and growing, which was impressive to me considering that I never sought a career in the current sciences or technology. I do believe the absolute most difficult and frustrating block in my career was the choice to take time out to raise my children.
Once again, we were given a myth that being a “stay-at-home mom” would look good on a resume as “new” management and organization skills, involvement in PTA, etc. I have met many women like me who have also experienced this myth but have ended up disappointed, sad, and angry. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my choice, I regret the lie given to us. Due to me taking a large period out of the “work force,” any future employer wanted me to start back at ground zero, which I have refused to do. This lead me out on the path of being an entrepreneur.
Q: For those in our audience not familiar with Illuminating Women, can you tell us about it and the reason why you created it?
JNH: Once I stepped up to being an entrepreneur in 2014, I needed to meet people - lots of people. I was networking 6 to 8 times a week and regularly feeling disappointed by the lack of getting to know people very well. I was in a lot of women business groups at the time and I loved the energy being around women going after big dreams. I also noticed we were all networking with each other, whereas we needed to be in front of other women, from those who were schoolteachers, dental hygienists, in corporate/public jobs, technology, to the stay at home mom.
I was struck with an idea to have an evening event by “building a bridge” to bring together a diversity of women; hosting women to share their stories and help educate us on their professional experiences with mortgages, insurance, skin care, life/business coaches, and so on. I wanted to create an environment that allowed us to celebrate what women are doing; to help us learn more, form supportive communities, inspire, and lift each other up: a sisterhood. We continue to call these gatherings GNO, short for Girl’s Night Out. (My passion for women’s needs, concerns, and issues was/is a fire deep inside that originally had me on my track of “ministry”, just not in the church.) I had a girlfriend who had a showroom we could meet in and we offered some appetizers with, of course, wine.
We decided to call our group Illuminating Women and, initially, we didn’t charge anyone to come. As the group began to grow, we started asking everyone to bring a food dish to share. We started a private Facebook group for women to deepen their connections and learn about our gatherings. At each meeting we would take pictures and share them on our own social media including our private Facebook group. The pictures didn’t lie; ladies could see there was something magical and special going on. There was never a topic we would not discuss, from health, wealth, current issues, and fun activities.
Perhaps one of our most powerful get-togethers included having a transgender woman come and share her story. We cried, we laughed, we hugged, and we all learned positive life-changing golden nuggets, and despite some being uncomfortable from what they learned, they came out of these meetings illuminated and enlightened. Soon we outgrew my friend’s showroom, so another woman offered her place of business for us to meet. We had meetings where women could have rich conversations, shoulder to shoulder, experiencing camaraderie, building deep relationships, and of course finding new people with whom to share their goods and services, however that was something we down played because we were clear we are NOT a woman’s business networking group, but a woman’s empowerment group.
We continue to have many women in transition with life and their careers looking for a safe place to just be with - no judgement - to have fun, connect, and learn. We are by no means perfect. We are not a fit for all women, but all women are welcome. Women often comment after leaving one of our events that they feel so alive and elevated, inspired, with new friends who truly saw and listened to them. We expanded our events to having luncheons, and a monthly gathering at a woman-owned brick and mortar business combining her with a woman who had a home-based business. Again, the purpose was to learn and meet women who were doing brave and amazing things. These women would share what it took to open a business, from the painful mistakes to the life-changing decisions; what it required and who they needed. The stories we heard moved everyone, women inspiring us to do the impossible and reach out for our goals, even in our messy times of life. We call these gatherings Brick & Mortar: Celebrating What Women Build; to encourage these moments of inspiration.
Shortly after establishing the Brick and Mortar, we added a yearly women’s conference, a themed garden party, and a year-end holiday celebration where our community comes together to choose women who exemplify our core mission to Empower, Encourage, and Educate women so that they can illuminate their personal and professional growth. Our group grew so much I had no choice but to make some changes. I knew that the best choice would have been to make Illuminating Women a non-profit, however after looking through the details, I found I didn’t have the bandwidth to make that happen. Hence, I chose to make Illuminating Women an LLC. On September 1, 2017, Illuminating Women officially became a membership group charging membership fee. We have 1,560 in our private Facebook Community and over 100 paying members. This organization may have been my brainchild and baby, but it has grown due to the many women who saw my vision, believed in that mission, and love how we illuminate each other building a very desirable and supportive sisterhood.
Q: Where do you see Illuminating Women five years from now?
JNH: Well, before COVID-19, I would have said many chapters around the world with new leadership at the helm and exceptionally large conferences. Right now, I have needed to take everything we are doing to virtual meetings to enable us to still connect and learn, but we just miss those beautiful private conversations and the hugs. Everything I am learning is that we are needing community more than ever, having a place to meet, talk, share, while we are all navigating through new uncertain waters. This pandemic has taught us an especially important lesson about how important it is to have strong and stable leadership who have a clear strategic plan. I continue to listen to women addressing their needs and issues. I firmly believe that when women are personally empowered, our families, communities, and the world is a much better place.
Q: What was your first job? And how did it shape or impact you?
JNH: I was born and raised in Walla Walla, Washington, where my very first job was working the land by topping onions and picking zucchini. It taught me responsibility, the value of hard work, and why I needed to go to college. Getting our hands dirty, building up a sweat, doing manual labor provides necessary schooling that keeps us grounded, real, earthy, and empathetic to others. This kind of labor teaches us well for setting us up to find the path which best supports what we want, who we want to be, and how we are willing to make the changes needed. I have a deeper respect for those who do this work, reminding me about options and what it will require to meet the goal.
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
JNH: Michelle Obama. She doesn’t quit when things get tough, she pushes herself forward. She continues to have compassion, grit, heart, passion, a willingness to be vulnerable, and leads by staying above the fray. She measures her ethics in a worldly manner that is in service to all people. She is sophisticated, smart, ambitious, and funny, keeping her head high even when horrible comments are publicly made about her, her family, and her work. She is the real deal, perfectly imperfect and determined to make a positive difference in our nation and world.
Q: How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?
JNH: They must acquire strong leadership skills and surround themselves with others who can comprehend and support their goals and are willing to make the mission a reality. They must listen carefully, be a student of those they serve, and be authentic and in alignment with their core values. Be willing to admit to errors, share the limelight, and, above all, make those they serve feel heard, seen, and valued. Lastly, they also need to value themselves granting grace, mercy, and good self-care, which includes a strong morning practice of meditation, reading, yoga, journaling, and prayer.
Q: If you could make one change to help women at work, what would it be?
JNH: To speak their truth in love and authority. This may also mean coming to terms if the work they are doing is not fulfilling them. It is okay to make mistakes, learn from them, and don’t be afraid to ask, or try something different, making the income you want. Above all, be true to themselves and if things are not aligning right to your inner joy, then it’s time to find how to ignite that because you are meant to shine and shine brightly.
Five Things About Jill Nichols-Hicks
1. If you could talk to one famous person past or present, who would it be and why?
Oprah Winfrey so that I could glean from her an energy and belief that would assist me in being unstoppable.
2. What’s your favorite city and why?
Florence, Italy. It’s close to the breath-taking region of Tuscany and the magnificent Dolomites. Italy is a country that offers a perfect meeting for my love of culture, really good food, and some of the best hiking I’ve ever done.
3. What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
To not take anything personally, be responsible, and don’t allow silence to stifle you.
4. What app can’t you live without?
Maps. Trust me, I would be late to more get-togethers without it.
5. Favorite Entertainer?
Robin Williams, I sure do miss him. He always manages to put a smile on my face when I badly need one. Laughter is truly the best medicine to help get the mind back on sync.