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At Women’s Symposium, Leaders Share Tips for Navigating Boardrooms

4 min read

Simply getting a seat at the corporate table remains a barrier for women in the workforce, a panel of women business leaders said Thursday during the first Soirée Women’s Leadership Symposium at the DoubleTree Hotel in Little Rock.

The panel, “Navigating the Boardroom and Beyond,” featured Kristi Dannelley, president of Magna IV of Little Rock; Marcy Doderer, president and CEO of Arkansas Children’s; and Karen Minkel, home region program director at the Walton Family Foundation. Moderated by former KATV anchor Christina Muñoz, it was among several sessions during the half-day event that examined women in the realms of business, politics, entrepreneurship and finance.

The event also included a luncheon conversation with the co-founders and CEOs of theSkimm, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg.

“In many industries, including mine, which is the printing industry, the good ol’ boys club is still very much alive and well,” said Dannelley, whose company employs about 65 people and offers printing and marketing services. “So it can be difficult to have your voice heard. The other thing that I still see a lot of is women are, oftentimes, expected to balance home and work perfectly. And it’s just about impossible.”

The four discussed a range of issues women in business commonly face, including challenges around work-life balance and stress, and generational challenges that come into play at the office. There’s also how women interact with one another in the workplace.

“I think a barrier that is often there for being a woman in executive leadership is often ourselves,” Doderer said. “We are our worst critics, and we are the worst critics of our peers … I have seen and witnessed when women are meaner to other women to protect their own seat at the table.”

The women also talked about how to be effective leaders. Doderer, who leads a statewide pediatric health care network that employs more than 4,400 people, said it starts by having a clear purpose.

“I’m not sure you can lead without purpose,” she said. “I think, if you are not leading with purpose, you’re actually not leading, because I don’t think you can accidentally lead. I think leadership is by definition purposeful. You have to know in advance of where you’re headed how you’re going to get there.”

She said it’s important to have a mission, vision and plan, and to “lead from where you are” in the company.

Minkel said it’s important to take a look and make sure you’re meeting pre-determined goals. Those goals could include organizational benchmarks. Dannelley said it was “transformational” when her leadership team spent a whole day honing the company’s core values, putting them on posters to hang in their office, and making a “concerted effort” to align management strategy with those values on a daily basis.

Another topic was saying “no” — the panelists agreed that women can be reluctant to do so. They said the best approach is to only say “yes” to tasks that fit for your skill set and the business as a whole.

The panel also shared insights about recruiting, engaging and retaining millennials.

“All of the millennials I’ve been fortunate enough to work with are driven, they’re engaged, they’re hard working,” Dannelley said. “Now, I do think that they expect more than prior generations in terms of flexible work schedules, access to continuous learning and mentoring. So we’re working to do all of those things. 

“But we’re also trying to recognize talents that they might have beyond their normal job description and engage them in other areas.”

Doderer said millennials make up 47% of Arkansas Children’s workforce, but the industry employs all five generations, including the youngest in the workforce, “Generation Z.” She said her office has to be a good fit for everyone and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

Minkel said prospective employees must see overall diversity on your team, not just people who look like them.

Asked for their secrets to success, all three panelists cited hard work.

“Ninety percent of it is just showing up and working hard,” Dannelley said. “It really is. Then what puts you over the top is if you will be committed to adding value to everyone around you.”

But Minkel, who oversees millions of dollars of Walton Family Foundation donations in Arkansas and the Delta region, said hard work by itself is not enough. 

“You have to have intellect. You have to have the competency to do the job. You have to work really hard at it and bring value to your organization,” she said. “I would recommend you don’t say ‘no’ very often in the workplace. You do different things. You learn different things. You are willing to expand your role whether you are promoted or not. It takes luck as well, luck and timing.”

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