Women in Business: Emily Ironside

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 96 views 

Photo by Iron Lotus Creative / Stephen Ironside

Class of 2024 Women in Business Emily Ironside Chief Development Officer The Jones Center; Springdale

Residence: Fayetteville

Education: B.A., mass communications, Lindenwood (Mo); M.A., communication, University of Arkansas

Professional background: Ironside joined The Jones Center in the spring of 2023. That followed a decade of working in arts philanthropy leadership roles at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Momentary in Bentonville. Before working at the museum, she was the annual giving manager at Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. Ironside has also held leadership roles at the University of Arkansas, Walmart International and YMCA of the Rockies.

Who was a big mentor to you in the early part of your career? I’ve been lucky to work for smart women leaders for most of my career — Judy Smetana, Missy Kincaid, Sandy Edwards and Jill Wagar stand out as rockstar mentors. By watching them lead at work while balancing family priorities, it never crossed my mind I couldn’t do the same.

What do you think of the opportunities that exist for women in business compared with when you started? The workplace has come a long way in understanding the value of diversity. Still women face unique barriers. I remember being asked if I’d return to work after having my daughter — a question my husband was never asked. The higher up in an organization, the more politics play a role in women advancing. I’ve heard the line, “Men are judged by their potential, while women tend to be evaluated based on past performance.” This can drive a perfectionism culture among women professionals that is unhealthy to uphold. Women also tend to shy away from applying for promotions unless they meet 100% of the qualifications, while men often apply even if they only meet some. There is work to do to empower women to go for the big job if they want it, and to ensure they are evaluated fairly.

How should women support other women in their organizations? Mentorship is a big thing for me. I benefited from mentors, and I prioritize being a mentor to pay it forward. Encouraging women to actively manage their careers — ask for the raise, apply for the promotion, leave the unhealthy job — is a big deal. Women often self-select out of the process because they internalize criticism and assume they aren’t good enough for whatever career step they want to take. They are good enough, and they need to be told that — especially by other women.

What is the best leadership advice you have ever received? Just be you. Walk into a room as yourself and you will always be proud of what you accomplish. Also, it’s not about work-life balance, it’s about work-life blend. Life is never perfectly balanced. Setting boundaries and being vigilant about self-care are key. Finally, listen more. Talk less. As a work extrovert, I’m still working on that one.

What is the most fulfilling part of your work? Working for organizations that put serving our community at the center of their purpose drives me. I’ve been lucky to work for community-focused organizations — YMCA of the Rockies, Walton Arts Center, Crystal Bridges and the Momentary, and now the Jones Center. My favorite part about being at the Jones Center is that my daughter can be a part of what we do — she is a Jones Center summer camper!

What are some of the leadership skills that helped you move up in your organization? I love strategy, problem-solving, and relationship-building — important skills in any role. If you can first build trust and then determine where you need to go, your team can move mountains.

Why do you think companies would benefit from having more women at the top? Women often bring a people-focused approach to business strategy. In today’s competitive work environment, employees are looking for organizations that “see” them and value their contributions. Leaders who prioritize communication, trust, and transparency will attract more top talent than those who focus only on results.

What is something distinctive that people would be surprised to know about you? If you know me, you know I’m driven. You may not know I turned my master’s thesis into a published book chapter, or that I turned my summer hikes in Colorado into summiting a 14er. I’m not good at doing things halfway.

What’s the most recent book you’ve read? “Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity” by Kim Scott — a staple on my nightstand.

What do you do to relax when not working? Work in my garden or go on adventures with my daughter and husband.