Strong Women of Southern Utah
Shirlayne grew up exploring Utah’s rugged mountains with her family. Summer vacations in the great outdoors are some of her earliest memories, and weekend trips were a normal part of life. Those experiences instilled a deep respect for our natural world and inspired her love of travel and exploration.
The first in her family to attend college, she had an unwavering determination to earn a degree. Her mother and grandmother both had careers and were strong role models for her. They also always found a way to put family first.
“My mom was my biggest supporter. She always talked to me about going to college. I knew I’d go and knew it was a starting point for a career, but once I got there I really didn’t know what I wanted to study.”
College turned into an exploratory journey. In her early 20s, she took a job at the University of Utah to qualify for tuition reduction. “I was putting myself through school and had a to find a practical way to make it happen!”
A few years later she married a great guy named Jeff. And she never gave up. “I knew earning a degree was something I had to do in order to be true to me.”
Part of earning that degree was making the decision to study what she loved instead of studying what would lead her down a specific career path. Her choice to “study for life” rather than “study for career” made all the difference. After receiving her degree in cultural anthropology (a choice she has never regretted!) she returned to school and earned her MBA.
In graduate school, she discovered a strong desire to work both locally and globally. She has a natural ability to see patterns in seemingly unrelated issues and bring new perspectives into consideration. This was especially helpful in building international partnerships, which she did very well.
“My first trip to India changed me. We were working with an Indian company to develop HIV prevention technologies that gave women control over their own health in a culturally acceptable way. I had learned about cultural implications for women before, but seeing first hand the challenges women face in different parts of the world sparked a passion in me. This work became grounded and real.”
It became even more real when she became a mother. During graduate school, Shirlayne and Jeff made the life-changing decision to adopt a child. After a three-year wait, they traveled to China to meet their eight-month-old daughter, Jaxin. “For me, becoming a parent was soul-shifting. Suddenly, there were these beautiful, curious black eyes staring into mine, full of new opportunities for love, joy, and growth. It changed the way I saw myself. It changed how I wanted to live my life.”
Her work in India led to invitations to attend the first U.S.-India joint commission in Washington D.C., mentor budding entrepreneurs from around the world, attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summits in Morocco and Kenya, and join Horasis, a European-based global visioning community where she advocates for gender equality.
These invitations came because she worked hard and with heart. She believes when you are doing good things for the right reasons, the right opportunities present themselves. From there, it’s up to you to take the reins, explore, and act.
In 2011, her inner explorer began knocking. Luckily, Jeff was up for a change as well. They sold their home and Jeff’s business in Salt Lake and moved to Hurricane with their four-year-old daughter.
“Moving here was a fabulous adventure. I was consciously stepping into what I have come to call SASI – living a soulful, authentic, strong, inspiring life. We were feeling the pull of the desert’s powerful serenity and dramatic landscape. My intuition was shouting ‘This is where I’m supposed to be!’ ”
Shirlayne immediately engaged. She worked with a start-up charter school, started a leadership coaching and consulting business, worked and taught at Dixie State University, and helped community and business leaders develop entrepreneurial initiatives to strengthen and diversify our local economy. While at DSU, she was chair of a state-wide women’s network and a founding member of the DSU Chapter. Leadership, innovation, and entrepreneurship are running themes in her life, and Shirlayne believes developing her own skills and supporting others in developing theirs is imperative.
This belief and a deep attachment to her adopted southern Utah community led Shirlayne to create the Women’s Influence Center with St. George Area Chamber of Commerce president Pam Palermo. They saw a gap and wanted to make a positive difference for southern Utah women and their families.
The Center’s mission is that every woman will be heard, elevated, and will succeed. Launched in March 2017, it has touched more than 200 women and counting. A non-profit focusing on the whole woman, the Center offers support and training across a variety of areas that impact women’s lives daily.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work and volunteer around the world, and one thing holds true wherever I go: women thrive with the support of other women. I see it in my girlfriends, in the young entrepreneurs I mentor globally, in the college students I’ve taught over the years, and among my professional colleagues both here and abroad. The Women’s Influence Center is an example of what happens when women come together in sincere support of one another.”
So what’s next for Shirlayne? Strengthening the Women’s Influence Center remains a priority, as does her work to foster our community’s entrepreneurial culture. Her focus is also turning to empowering girls.
“I’m a builder, and investing in the power of girls has been on my radar for a while. True to my nature, I’ve explored it a lot!” she laughs. “Lifting each other is essential to everyone’s success. I have personally experienced how powerful it can be. It’s one of the greatest gifts we can give and receive.”
Research shows that girls’ confidence wanes as they approach their teenage years, and having opportunities to learn and practice meaningful leadership skills builds confidence and self-esteem, two important components to life success.
Being a mom to a vibrant girl definitely fuels her interest. She and Jeff try to weave leadership learning into family conversations, activities, and experiences in fun and inspiring ways.
“Jaxin is always coming up with new ideas to bring people together to learn and grow. She wanted to start the SASI Book Club when she was nine, and now her friends read stories about real women making a difference in our world. Her dad and I foster her sense of self in whatever way we can.”
Supporting their daughter’s innovative spirit and empowering girls to explore their own potential is a key driver behind what is evolving into a new endeavor, aptly named, SASI. It is a company with heart and a mission to inspire, motivate, and equip girls and young women to thrive as compassionate, innovative leaders. With plans to launch the SASI Speaker Series in 2018, it’s obvious Shirlayne will continue having grand adventures in southern Utah.
“The people and the energy here make it home. I can’t imagine a more inspiring, connected place for our family to live and grow. Whether it’s boating at Lake Powell, camping, hiking, mountain biking, or travelling, we still love to explore.”
And true to her nature, she’ll continue doing just that.