Aspire Johnson County honored a local woman and a female-led business at the county chamber’s first Women Leaders Awards ceremony on Friday.

Dana Cummings, vice president for the division of institutional advancement at Franklin College, received the inaugural Aspire Johnson County Woman Leader of the Year and Ageless Aesthetics received the inaugural Champion of Women Award during the countywide chamber of commerce’s Woman Leaders Workshop at Franklin College on Friday. The workshop was presented by Johnson Memorial Hospital and the awards program was presented by Ageless Aesthetics and Hirons.

The new awards program was designed to not only recognize women leaders but also put the spotlight on organizations that have been placing women in leadership roles and supporting them. For years Aspire has held a woman leaders event in different forms, but this year, chamber officials decided to take it a step further, said Angela Vandersteen, Aspire vice president of investor development and relations.

“The idea came to us to not just recognize them for not only just doing great things themselves but for being an ally; pushing the cause forward for putting women in leadership roles,” Vandersteen said.

The organizational award in particular allows the chamber to spotlight organizations that are supporting women in leadership and making sure they do things that support women in the workplace, she said.

The Women Leader of the Year Award recognizes a woman who has made a significant contribution to her company or organization as an influencer, leader and ally. There were five finalists for the award: Cummings, Dr. Kristin Flora of Franklin College, Kimberly Jackson of Endress+Hauser, Susan Lowe of A Senior Retreat, and Nicole Otte of Endress+Hauser.

Shelly Clayton, the owner of Ageless Aesthetics, shared with the crowd of business leaders what Cummings’ coworkers think is special about her leadership style. Cummings is an excellent relationship builder who can be a leader in a variety of situations, Clayton shared.

Cummings is also a team player who celebrates every success of her team and has an ability to “tactfully address the tough questions.”

“She is a leader at her core, committed to developing others and bringing diverse perspectives to the table to solve challenges,” Clayton said.

Cummings said she was proud, honored and gratified to receive the award. Women work incredibly hard regardless of industry, and often do more work behind the scenes than people realize, she said.

“I felt gratified not just for myself, but you know for all the women who work really hard and get things done for the organizations and create success,” Cummings said.

The Champion of Women Award recognizes an organization that prioritizes women in leadership and provides women with opportunities for growth, both inside and outside their workforces. There were three finalists for the award: Ageless Aesthetics, Californian Custom Fruit and Flavors, and Endress+Hauser, according to Aspire.

Management with Ageless Aesthetics, a medical spa, works with employees’ schedules to allow them to meet the demands of their lives. Clayton, the company’s owner, works with staff individually to find their passion and help them grow their skill, said Deana Haworth, chief operating officer for Hirons.

The company also provides educational opportunities for staff yearly, honors the achievements of their team with incentives and encourages individuals to become the best in the industry. The company also started as a one-woman operation, Haworth said.

“They now employ 11 full-time women and are adding more as they grow,” she said.

Like Cummings, Clayton was honored both proud and honored to receive her award, she said.

Both Cummings and Clayton had no idea they were going to win the awards. For Clayton it was especially surprising as she had presented Cummings with her award only minutes earlier, she said.

“Honestly, I figured since I was presenting, I wouldn’t win,” Clayton said. “I was feeling confident that it wasn’t going to happen, so it was definitely surprising.”

Clayton heaped a lot of praise onto Cummings, saying that prior to handing out the award, she researched Cummings because she wanted to be like her, she said.

“A wonderful thing about women is we look at each other and we like to build each other up,” Clayton said.

“Absolutely,” Cummings interjected.

So far, the reaction to the new awards program has been amazing, Vandersteen said. Officials weren’t sure what to expect for the first year in terms of nominations, but they received a really strong pool of nominees for both categories, she said.

Chamber members have also shown support for the program. At other Aspire events, members have come up to Aspire staff saying that the program was great and that they were excited to see the chamber taking the opportunity to honor these organizations and women leaders, Vandersteen said.

Aspire officials hope that the award program will set Johnson County apart.

“We hope by doing this that organizations outside of Johnson County and people outside of Johnson County will see what great things we have happening here, they’ll take notice and maybe potentially want to come here and look at doing more business down here,” Vandersteen said.

Another hope is to support women and encourage them as they strive to advance their careers and the county.

Women who are trying to get into leadership roles shouldn’t back down or settle when they face obstacles, they should go for it, Clayton said.

“If you really truly give it your all, you’re always gonna go forward and be where you want to be,” she said. “Don’t beat yourself up and tell yourself you can’t do it because you can.”

Cummings said women should also not give up. In the course of her career, she’s seen women go for something like a promotion and not get it and it can deter them, she said.

“I find that sometimes it’s not always a bad thing,” Cummings said. “The next best thing is just around the corner, so never give up.”