Women leaders have helped build Northeast Arkansas

by Cari White (cwhite@jonesborochamber.com) 140 views 

Sept. 10 was a highlight of the year as 10 women were recognized by Talk Business & Politics as Northeast Arkansas Women in Business.

Some would say, “I know we have intelligent women leaders here” and some would say, “It’s about time people recognized there are intelligent women leaders on this side of the state.”

I say both are true. Surrounded by brains and beauty that evening, I was encouraged to continue telling the story of women building this region of Arkansas.

It is necessary that we continue to highlight the women who have been and still are so instrumental in building a successful Northeast Arkansas. In 1900, it was the Sisters of Holy Angels Convent who brought healthcare to Northeast Arkansas.

Hattie Wyatt Caraway, of Jonesboro, was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate and served from 1932-1945. Also instrumental in the growth of the Delta is Blanche Lambert Lincoln, U.S. Representative and Senator from Phillips County. Jimmie Lou Fisher, from Greene County, was a pioneering female politician who served as state auditor or treasurer for 24 years.

It was the crusader Flo Jones who dreamed of The Church Health Center, public transportation and a state-of-the art facility for hospice care. Dr. Ruth Hawkins insisted that the state recognize the historical importance of the Delta by resurrecting the stories and structures that now bring thousands of visitors here. There are so many more stories like these that need to be told.

Women have always been important to the region’s development both socially and economically, we just haven’t always been the center of attention. My friend of 30 years, Kay Brockwell, who herself has devoted her career to economic development in the Delta, says that it’s not so much overt discrimination as it is not being taken seriously. It’s as if our careers are a temporary entertainment until we decide to settle down into being wives and mothers.

And that is the reason that we must mentor young women who are the future business leaders.

I am honored to be one founder, along with 30 other women, in the Women’s Business Leadership Center at A-State. The center is the idea of a great woman, Dr. Kathy Lloyd, who is an accomplished business executive and academic superstar. The purpose is to mentor young college women by advising, encouraging and sharing our experiences in order to better equip them for the workplace.  Dr. Lloyd has coined a phrase, “Step Up and Reach Back,” and that is what this talented group of women is doing for the mentees while teaching them that their responsibility is to do the same.

Pay discrimination exists and should not to be tolerated; however, it has not deterred the women of our region from shaping the future of Northeast Arkansas. Events like the Women in Business awards last month are critical for shining a light on the impact that women in business have in the Delta.

I have many nominees for consideration for next year’s awards and I hope you will too. Between now and then, I encourage you to do what you can to lift up, encourage, support, step up, reach back and promote more women in the business arena. The dividends will be great and our region’s future will be even brighter with the contributions that women are making.

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Editor’s note: Cari Griffith White is the COO of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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