Liz Loomis knows her way around government well, having served in the past as a Washington state representative as well as a council member and later the mayor of the city of Snohomish. That expertise has allowed her to thrive in the public-affairs arena as the owner and president of Snohomish-based Liz Loomis Public Affairs.
The company, which she launched in 1997, provides strategic communication services to taxpayer-supported entities, with a focus on helping them raise revenue to provide needed public services. Her firm offers a range of expertise, including communications for bond and levy projects, crisis communications, marketing and public relations, and grassroots advocacy. Among the clients of Liz Loomis Public Affairs, according to the company’s website, are various county fire districts, the Peninsula Light Co., the Cancer Care Alliance, Valley General Hospital and Everett Clinic.
Loomis graduated in 1991 from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., with a bachelor’s degree international relations. Prior to moving to Washington state, she worked in the early 1990s on Capitol Hill as a special assistant to former New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated? Inclusion, vision and drive are the most important to me. Try to bring along as many people as possible in the projects you do. But don’t let the naysayers prevent progress from being made. What’s overrated is the idea that you can please everyone. I feel like women are conditioned to try and make everything OK and take everyone’s feelings into account. This is impossible and it slows us down.
As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader? Gender bias and misogyny are real, but it can be overcome. I have an influential friend who was asked to resign from a board of directors because she was told “there were too many women.” In politics, I was told that I was “aggressive.” If you find a barrier in one industry, then move to another that welcomes your leadership style. For me, that meant leaving people politics and running ballot measures to help local governments secure revenue they need to fund vital public services. That is so rewarding to me! I also chair my neighborhood organization and enjoy helping my community thrive.
How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations? Volunteering is an important way to gain experience for advanced roles. It’s also important to manage up and network with people who are the decision-makers. Most importantly: Stand up for yourself and take credit! This is difficult for most women. If you’re working crazy hours, make sure the people in charge know that. In your employee reviews, demand that five-star rating and salary increase. No one is going to voluntarily give you something that you don’t ask for. Be humble when you receive an award, but make sure people know the work you have done in order to get it.
What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you? I have two heroes: my mother, Maureen Loomis, and former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. My mom is fierce, loving, and a passionate defender of her daughters. She had a successful career in banking and real estate while raising us as a single mother. She taught me there is nothing I can’t do, and no obstacle that cannot be overcome by finding a way around, over, under or ― yes ― by barreling right through it. (Funny story, she always told me that I was an exceptionally gifted child. I did skip a few grades and was under the impression that I was Mensa-qualified. However, going through boxes in her basement, my report cards in later years showed me as a solid “C” student.)
What I learned from Gov. Richards is to be true to yourself. If you’re bold, be bold and find the right audience for that. If you’re more introverted, then you can find a position that responds to that leadership style as well. I had the pleasure of having lunch with her once. She wore a purple cape, had a silver-handled cane and was spectacular!
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders? Be bold. Stand up for yourself and others. Verbalize your accomplishments. Do not let inappropriate comments go unacknowledged so as not to make waves. Make those waves, and let others figure out how they will survive the tsunami.
How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts? Networking has been critical to my business. I’m a regular speaker at conferences and association meetings on raising taxes through ballot measures for cities, school, fire and public hospital districts. But I just like to meet new people. Being open to these interactions opens doors to new opportunities, business and friendships. Making personal connections with clients who are as passionate about public service as me is more important. That’s when I know we have a winning project.
What would you do differently in your career? Nothing. I feel like everything that I have done has led me to my current business of helping local governments pass tax increases for needed services. I love what I do. And, I see the difference every day in a new ambulance, more firefighters, a new school, or better roads for commuters. I pop awake every morning looking forward to the next challenge or project, and I realize just how lucky I am to do what I do.
Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon? I work a lot. The weekends are usually reserved for chores. I am notorious for leaving laundry to the last minute, which can mean eight or more loads in one weekend. (Sorry, not a fun answer, but it’s the truth.)
What would be the title of your autobiography? “Be Yourself and Love What You Do.”
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Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.