Women in Business: Laura Kellams

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,109 views 

Class of 2021 Women in Business Laura Kellams Northwest Arkansas Director Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families (AACF), Springdale

Residence: Fayetteville

Education: B.A., journalism, University of Arkansas

Professional background: Kellams joined AACF as its first NWA director in 2008. In this role, she works to call attention to challenges facing children and to build support for policy solutions. Before that, she was a newspaper reporter for 15 years, mostly covering politics and government for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. She also spent time on the staff of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee as part of the American Political Science Association’s Congressional Fellowship Program.

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishments or wins in your current job? We advocate for public policy changes that can improve the health and opportunities for children in Arkansas. The best win I worked on personally was the extension of ARKids First health insurance for Arkansas children who were born in the Marshall Islands. I worked on it for seven years, with bipartisan champions in the Legislature and state government, before it became state policy.

What advice would you give young women who are currently at the beginning of their careers? Don’t be afraid to reach out to older colleagues to talk with them about their experiences. Especially when I made the transition from journalism to nonprofit work, I was wary of asking for help because I thought it might make me look unsure or inexperienced. I was wrong.

How do you spend your time away from work? What are your hobbies? My husband and I both work hard, so we like to turn off our brains after work. Whether it’s walking in the neighborhood with our dog, taking a trip or just watching TV together. I’m also a — pretty bad — vegetable gardener.

Can you recommend a book that has had an influence on your career? How did it influence you? “Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading,” by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky. It includes stories of people who risked a lot and faced conflict to make a big difference. It helped me face my natural inclination to avoid conflict.

What’s your biggest passion and why? Civics and media literacy. Too many people are duped by misinformation and disinformation, and they wouldn’t be as vulnerable to that influence if they understood better how their own government works. Social media is only making it worse.

What is a leader’s best asset? Her team.

What is something distinctive that people would be surprised to know about you? I worked on the line in a poultry plant in high school and college, and I wish every young person put in time on a job like that. We might understand one another a little better.

What’s the best way to encourage productive collaboration? Finding shared values to build authentic relationships. I often describe this through a political lens. My dad and his identical twin brother shared all the same values — and even the same genes — but were opposites politically. I keep this in mind when others want to vilify people who don’t vote the same way they do.

Can you share what you have learned about your business from the COVID-19 pandemic? We can’t forget who kept our nation and economy going, and those were the workers we called “essential.” They paid a much bigger price during the pandemic than most of the rest of us. If we literally can’t live without them, we need to treat them — and pay them — like that’s true.

What’s your favorite app at the moment? Venmo. I shudder to think of the days of writing checks for random shared expenses, forgetting to deposit them, forgetting to mail them in the first place.

What’s the next big personal or career challenge you plan to take on? Finding new ways to bring people together when they think they disagree on everything.

If you have a bucket list, what are the top three things on it? I really don’t. I probably should make one.

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