Women in Business: Gail Shepherd

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Class of 2023 Gail Shepherd Partner Hight Jackson Associates; Rogers

Residence: Fayetteville

Education: B.Arch., University of Arkansas

Professional background: An award-winning architect and project manager on several nationally recognized projects, Shepherd has practiced at Hight Jackson for 22 years and was named the firm’s first female partner in 2013. She is the first female architect to serve (2018) on the Arkansas State Board of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers (ASBALAID) and also its first female president (2023). She helped design Arkansas’ first LEED-certified building and is president of the Rogers Historical Museum Foundation Board.

Who was a big mentor to you in the early part of your career? My mother and father, Virginia and Jerry Hiett, taught me to work hard, that family is my cornerstone, to support my community, do things right the first time or fix them when I realize my mistake.

Taking a chance on a young architecture student who didn’t know drywall, gypsum board and sheetrock were the same thing, Gary Jackson reiterated many of those lessons. He displayed what integrity and fairness look like in business. I worked with Sharon Hoover and Marlon Blackwell, who demonstrated relentless pursuit of their vision. I learned what it takes to master your craft.

Why do you think companies would benefit from having more women at the top? The more varied the viewpoints available, the better the solutions. We each have a unique background, set of values and way of processing information that makes us valuable. A company that listens to all the voices is stronger for it.

What do you think of the opportunities that exist for women in business compared with when you started? I don’t know if the opportunities are different now than when I started. I think there are finally more women realizing that they can be architects (thrilled that shift is happening), and they are bold and brilliant. I’ve had the privilege of knowing some strong, talented female architects who came before me and have had successful careers as architects.

What habits or traits do you feel are most important for leaders to have? Maybe the best leaders are those who don’t set out to be leaders but are people who see what needs to be done and realize no one else is going to do it. They find the determination to do it because they can’t let it go undone. Good leaders surround themselves with people they trust with diverse viewpoints and can merge those viewpoints into a strong solution.

What is the most fulfilling part of your work? It’s especially rewarding when we can design our clients’ buildings to provide more than they expected. With some creative arrangement, spaces can become more than their basic function. And there’s nothing better than seeing the excitement in clients and the community when they start using a building that inspires them, knowing the Hight Jackson team designed it.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry? Be part of the profession with no apologies. If something gets in your way, try another route. It may not always be simple, but there is always a way. If it’s what you want, don’t quit, don’t dwell on the difficulties, don’t place blame. Move forward and find a way. Find your way and your place. And know that no one feels like they know what they are doing. As someone who wrestles with impostor syndrome, I was freed from some unnecessary stress once I could put a name to it. Finally, join a group like NAWIC or AIA AR to feel more connected.

What is something distinctive that people would be surprised to know about you? I am not sure what would surprise people. I am pretty transparent. I taught dance and took 12 years of classical ballet. I love to jeep, specifically above the timberline in Colorado. My grandfather and father were antique auctioneers, with the entire family engaged, so I am, for better or worse, a collector.

What’s the most recent book you’ve read? I usually have numerous books going at the same time. I don’t have much time for reading, but I sneak it in as I can. A few right now: “As You Wish” by Cary Elwes, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, “You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn” by Wendy Lesser and “Play Your Way Sane: 120 Improv-inspired Exercises” by Clay Drinko.

What do you do to relax when not working? I love to learn and explore both NWA and traveling further away, looking at buildings and digging into the art and history of a place. I love hiking, camping, creating, dancing and enjoying adventures with my husband, Brad, and our three boys.