Being a woman business leader isn’t as unusual as it once was.
In January, Fortune said that for the first time in history women CEOs operate more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies.
But many women leaders can recall a time when they were the only woman at a leadership table, especially in male-dominated industries.
“It was difficult, not because I think people sat down and decided they were going to make it difficult for women,” said former State Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock. “But it was difficult because so much assumption was baked into the system.”
Marcy Doderer, president and CEO at Arkansas Children’s in Little Rock, said there were times early in her career that she was the lone woman on an executive team. But she said she felt supported in her leadership roles. “I never heard a message that said you’re not the right person,” Doderer said.
Lenore Trammell, chief administrative officer, chief compliance officer and general counsel at Big River Steel of Osceola, said she was fortunate to have many great role models, both men and women, to help her in an industry dominated by men. She said she learned how to carry herself “and not feel like I had to be like everybody else. It was OK to not be a man and not act like a man.”
Eight women in leadership positions across Arkansas from banking to utilities shared their leadership advice and biggest management regrets with Arkansas Business. They also talked about dealing with their own imposter syndrome and the best leadership advice they received.
Others discussed leadership challenges during COVID-19.
Barbara Sugg became president and CEO of Southwest Power Pool Inc. of Little Rock on April 1, 2020, just as the pandemic was starting to upend lives. She said her goals “got turned inside out” because of the virus. Her challenge? “How do we instill confidence without really knowing how long this is going to go on or what it might look like when it’s all said and done?”
Sugg focused on putting employees’ health and well-being first. “I just feel like if you don’t do that, first and foremost, your business will suffer,” she said.
The leaders also said what they did to learn about their new job. “I spent a lot of time learning what I didn’t know,” said Melissa Taverner, president of Lyon College of Batesville.
She said she spent time talking with the various campus departments.
“It is very, very important that you spend time speaking with people and giving them the space to explain to you as a newbie how does this work? How does this fit into the overall constellation of the things that Lyon College does?” Taverner said.
See the profiles below to read what the leaders told Arkansas Business about their management experience.
President and CEO
Arkansas Children’s, Little Rock
Arkansas Market President
Bank of America, Little Rock
Chief Legal Officer
Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority, Little Rock
Chief Administrative Officer, Chief Compliance Officer & General Counsel
Big River Steel, Osceola
President and CEO
Southwest Power Pool Inc., Little Rock
Former State Senator
Arkansas Senate, Little Rock
Arkansas Market Vice President
Cox Communications of Atlanta, Springdale
Lyon College, Batesville