By Kristen Peterson
Photography by Brad Swonetz | May 4, 2015 | People
Some of the most powerful women in Las Vegas give credit where it’s due—to the women who mentored them. And they’re paying it forward to another generation of rising stars in the city.
Las Vegas is famous for the men who built it, daring to conquer the harsh environment with lavish resorts and extravagant attractions, fulfilling dreams that couldn’t have been realized anywhere else. But the women of Vegas—occupying influential positions in gaming, government, the law, academia, and philanthropy—have shaped and driven this community and its business interests in sometimes less conspicuous but no less powerful ways. In 2013, the Center for American Progress Action Fund ranked Nevada 17th in the nation for women’s economic security, health, and leadership. Half of our elected executive offices are held by women (placing Nevada fourth in the country), and the wage disparity between women and men is smaller here (85 cents to the dollar versus 77 cents for the rest of the US). But, of course, there is much still to be done, something the powerful women of Vegas admit. Unlike many American cities, Las Vegas’s culture, policies, and philanthropy have been shaped in only a couple of generations, and some of our trailblazers are still effecting change on their own and through the women of influence they mentor. Vegas talks with some of the women who are taking on big causes in a city known for its pioneering, can-do spirit.
ON MARILYN: Clothing and accessories, Marilyn’s own. ON HEATHER: Top, Diane von Furstenberg ($248). Saks Fifth Avenue, Fashion Show, 702-733-8300. Pants, Ralph Lauren Polo ($498). Saks Fifth Avenue, SEE ABOVE. Necklace, Pamela Love ($375). Kiki de Montparnasse, The Shops at Crystals, 702-736-7883. Wide wood bracelet, Nest ($105). Saks Fifth Avenue, SEE ABOVE. Earrings and heels, Heather’s own
Las Vegas can be unforgiving for those suffering from addiction or abuse. But Marilyn Moran (LEFT) remains a staunch advocate of “uplifting the human spirit,” a philosophy that her family built into the WestCare Foundation when they established it 42 years ago. Now a national organization, it supports people coping with substance abuse or mental disorders, the homeless, and veterans, among others. One of Moran’s indispensable allies in assisting women seeking help is Heather Frost, director of the Women and Children’s Campus of WestCare Nevada. Frost, who is in recovery herself, works directly with women who are dealing with issues such as drug addiction or human trafficking. “She has been where these women have been,” Moran says. “There’s nothing worse than someone telling you how to do something in your life and they’ve never walked in your shoes.” Moran, vice chair of WestCare Nevada’s Community Action Council, collaborates with Frost in seeing that these women get what they need. WestCare is now preparing to build transitional housing on its campus to help women who are heading back into the community. Both say that positive role models are essential, especially for the women at WestCare who haven’t had support or guidance before. “We are who we are because of the people who love us,” says Frost, who adds that Moran is her role model. “Marilyn commands the world in such an incredible way. She’s very purpose-driven and powerful. She can make things happen. Getting to know her has been more and more amazing every year.”
Belted jacket ($1,895) and Siccor skirt ($895), Donna Karan. Saks Fifth Avenue, Fashion Show, 702-733-8300. Nude tank, Hanro ($120). Saks Fifth Avenue, see above. Bracelet, Pamela Love ($325). Kiki de Montparnasse, The Shops at Crystals, 702-736-7883. Watch and ring, Jan’s own
As the city’s first female mayor, Jan Jones Blackhurst broke what she calls the “predetermined mold” of a leader in Las Vegas, dismissing criticism along the way and proving to her detractors that women can succeed in high office. As the executive vice president of communications, government relations, and corporate responsibility for Caesars Entertainment and executive vice chair of the US Chamber of Commerce’s executive committee, Blackhurst is a luminary in the local business community and a powerful advocate for adding more women to its ranks, asserting that the glass ceiling has yet to be broken. “It is an issue,” she says. “There are still not nearly enough women in upper executive-level management positions.” When attorney Kitty Conrad (OPPOSITE PAGE) moved to town with her husband, she met with Blackhurst—“a gatekeeper of Las Vegas,” according to Conrad—to get advice on job opportunities. Rather than send her off with a few helpful tips, Blackhurst created a position for her at Caesars Entertainment. “After 45 minutes, I said, ‘I have to work with this woman,’” Blackhurst recalls. “This woman will go to the top at anything she does.” Now the director of public affairs at Caesars, Conrad is inspired by Blackhurst: “A lot of people talk about what she’s done, but I’m excited about what she’s working on now. She’s not resting on her laurels; she’s continually pushing things.” And pushing others, too. “It’s critical for women to mentor other women,” says Blackhurst. “You face a lot of the same challenges and differences. I think that sometimes women in business think there’s only room for one, and instead of moving in teams, they get competitive. There should be room for many.”
ON YOLANDA: Blazer, LaFayette ($1,148). Saks Fifth Avenue, Fashion Show, 702-733-8300. Top, Theory ($200). Saks Fifth Avenue, SEE ABOVE. Trousers, Escada ($795). Neiman Marcus, Fashion Show, 702-731-3636. Kaya wedge, Vince ($395). Neiman Marcus, SEE ABOVE. ON VIRGINIA: Dress, Edun ($1,195). Neiman Marcus, SEE ABOVE. Necklace, Stephanie Anne ($495). Saks Fifth Avenue, SEE ABOVE. Pila ring, Vita Fede ($325). Neiman Marcus, SEE ABOVE. Oragami bow pumps, Nicholas Kirkwood ($895). Wynn Las Vegas, 702-770-3543
When she was Clark County manager, Virginia Valentine (RIGHT) oversaw a budget of nearly $6 billion, ensuring that 2 million residents had fire protection, quality parks, and services for children. With a degree in civil engineering, she has been solving problems in Las Vegas for more than three decades, serving as Las Vegas city manager before moving to the county. Now president of the Nevada Resort Association, Valentine deals with state gaming policies and advocates for an industry that contributes nearly 50 percent of the money in Nevada’s general fund. Her career path—which included a stint as a design engineer working on grading and draining projects—has made her one of the few women in her field. One of Valentine’s closest personal and professional comrades is Yolanda King, Clark County’s chief financial officer, whom she met when she was county manager and King was budget director. “We were peers there, and one year we got the job of going to the Legislature and presenting the county budget together,” says Valentine. “It was one of those moments when we were just talking about family, kids, and work and thought, I really like this person. I’ve been gone from the county for four years, but we’ve continued to be friends and colleagues. It’s a supportive relationship. Obviously she has tremendous expertise in the finance area.” Neither is focused on being the rare woman in her field. Instead they’re pushing forward and supporting one another. “We bounce ideas off each other, talk about a situation and kind of get a different perspective,” says King, who stresses the importance of mentoring. “If I see someone up-and-coming, I try to mentor them, give them advice. First and foremost, I tell them, ‘It’s hard work that gets you where you get to.’”
ON MANOUCHEKA: Dress, St. John ($1,295). The Forum Shops at Caesars, 702-893-0044. Earrings and ring, Manoucheka’s own. ON CLAYTEE: Dress, Sportmax ($875). Saks Fifth Avenue, Fashion Show, 702-733-8300. Bracelet, Rebecca Minkoff ($98). Nordstrom, Fashion Show, 702-862-2525. Ring, Alexis Bittar ($125). The Forum Shops at Caesars, 702-893-4800. Earrings, Claytee’s own
History books are often criticized for what they leave out or misrepresent. As director of UNLV’s Oral History Research Center, educator and writer Claytee White (RIGHT) is charged with filling the gaps. For more than two decades, she has been creating a rich archive by interviewing those who have built Las Vegas in acts large and small, focusing primarily on women and African Americans. Revered by her peers, White is deeply connected to her community, serving as a board member of Nevada Humanities, a commissioner of the Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission, and a cofounder of the Las Vegas Black Historical Society. Manoucheka Celeste sought out White shortly after arriving in Vegas. An assistant professor of comparative ethnic studies in UNLV’s African American Studies Program, she examines representations of blackness, immigration, gender, and class, particularly in her home country of Haiti. Together, White and Celeste are educating younger generations inside and outside the classroom, and they credit each other for showing students how to use what they learn. They also assert that while women may be making inroads at UNLV, a gender imbalance remains. “The visual for me is still a little jarring,” says Celeste. “I want female deans and provosts to be normal.” Mentorships, they add, are key to making that happen. “Mentoring is paramount,” says White. “You have to have people in your corner who understand your place and understand what you’re going to be up against.”
Vest, Tibi ($495). Neiman Marcus, Fashion Show, 702-731-3636. Top, Eileen Fisher ($258). Saks Fifth Avenue, Fashion Show, 702-733-8300. Trousers, Max Mara ($550). Saks Fifth Avenue, see above. Necklace, Stephanie Anne ($295). Saks Fifth Avenue, see above. Earrings, watch, bracelet, and ring, Nancy’s own
Elected to the Nevada Supreme Court in 2006, Justice Nancy Saitta cochairs the Commission on Statewide Juvenile Justice Reform. Long revered as a champion of the rights of abused and neglected children, she also heads Nevada’s Court Improvement Program, whose mission is to enhance child protection in the state’s child welfare system. Saitta received the 2012 Women of Achievement Award from the Nevada Women’s Fund, which strengthens communities by empowering women. “Advancement in either the legal or political arena can be treacherous at worst and trying at best,” she says. “Mentoring is the best way to share experiences and to learn from and avoid pitfalls that can affect advancement. I was fortunate to have several mentors along my career path. Jan Jones provided my first appointment to the bench. I am forever grateful for that opportunity and watched Jan closely.” Saitta is doing much the same in mentoring Rikki Perkins, a recent graduate of the Boyd School of Law (she also officiated at Perkins’s wedding). “It’s comforting to know someone who’s gone through what I’m going through,” says Perkins, whose lifelong goal is to become a judge. “I can call her anytime. She always calms me down. She helped me get an internship.” Adds Saitta, “Given her commitment, without reservation I signed on to the ‘Get Rikki into and through law school’ team. A strong, positive mentor can candidly share where she may have had bumps in her career path and guide the treasured mentee in such a way to avoid those roadblocks or detours.”
Dress, Helmut Lang ($275). Neiman Marcus, Fashion Show, 702-697-7340. Choker ($375) and pavé Edie ring ($150), Eddie Borgo. Neiman Marcus, Fashion Show, 702-731-3636. Cuff, Miansai ($455). Barneys New York, Grand Canal Shoppes at Venetian and Palazzo, 702-629-4200. Band, Rikki’s own
Styling by Olwen Zarlengo. Hair by Arielle Mosses. Makeup by Rochelle Morales. Location courtesy of Vdara. Hotel & Spa at Aria Las Vegas