Kim Shappee founded a women’s leadership conference in Montana because she knows the struggles of being a mom while advancing a career.

As a financial adviser and one of the founders of Bank of Montana, Shappee started finance classes for women in Missoula that eventually spread across the state.

With that success, she started attending larger women’s conferences on the East Coast and discovered the struggle of caring for a child while attending vital, career-advancing meetings.

“It was just so hard. As I looked for women’s leadership events in the Northwest, like Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota, there wasn’t anything,” Shappee said.

So she began Athena Pack, a two-day women’s leadership conference in Bozeman that teaches women business, financial and communication skills while providing insight from keynote speakers on lifestyle goals, teamwork, and government and electoral processes.

Athena Pack is named after a poem by Rudyard Kipling called “Law of the Jungle” that advises keeping strong supportive company (as with a wolf pack, for example) as a vital strategy for success.

“The event is kind of based on shine theory, which came about with some of the Obama staffers a few years ago,” she said. “Shine theory is the idea that when you shine, I shine. So it’s promoting other women in positions of power and strength and being inspired by them and wanting to surround yourself with people doing great things.”

Speakers include 2018 Sundance award winner Alexandria Bombach; Tara-Nicholle Nelson, CEO of Soultour, a public benefit corporation; and Esther Speck, vice president of global sustainability for Canadian clothing company Lululemon Athletica.

Started in 2016, Athena Pack was just named one of the top five conferences for women leaders by Brit + Co., one of the nation’s largest digital media companies.

Shappee wants women in Montana to feel empowered in their own towns and cities – without having to travel long distances to events.

For Shappee, the speakers she’s listened to and the networking she’s been a part of at other conferences helped her with career goals and lifestyle changes.

Women, especially in rural Montana, need opportunities like Athena Pack, she said.

“I want Montana to be one of the best states to live in,” she said. “I want Montana to be super competitive and a great place for people to build families. So if I want Montana to be a great state, we should be doing that here, rather than send women away.”

With Montana growing as a hub for major business and technology development, conferences like this can help foster small- to medium-sized businesses – a key element of Montana’s economy.

One woman who attended Athena Pack told Shappee that because of what she learned, her company is now a $1 million enterprise.

“Small- to medium-sized business are what power the American economy, especially Montana’s economy,” Shappee said. “In terms of looking at Montana and our ecosystem, I think that in such a big state, I think it’s really important to have opportunities where people can connect face-to-face.”

This year’s summit will take place May 1-2, at the Rialto Theater in downtown Bozeman. Participants can register at the Athena Pack websiteand find out more about keynote speakers, events, testimonials, and other activities.

“I think if we all look at how we can lead social change and we look at our own backyards in our communities, for me, every fantastic women’s leadership conference or training that I’ve been to has been a catalyst for me for incredible change,” Shappee said. “It’s been a launch pad to make that next step.”

Mari Hall is a reporter for the Missoula Current and can be contacted via email at