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“Each of us, no matter where we are in our organization, we all have a space. … I encourage you to step in and own all of that space and you will grow professionally and develop from that and your organization will as well,” Jean Block told professional women in central Arkansas last week.
Block, chief legal officer at Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority, was one of three panelists for the “Navigating the Boardroom & Beyond” discussion held virtually as part of the Women’s Leadership Symposium. The online symposium was hosted by Little Rock Soirée magazine.
Kristi Crum, COO of Rock Dental Brands, and Laura Landreaux, president and CEO of Entergy Arkansas were also on the panel, moderated by Lori Burrows, vice president and general counsel for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. and Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc.
Topics ranged from career transitions and “imposter syndrome” to pay equity, work-life balance and diversity.
Crum spoke about how spending 19 years in telecom, in 13 different jobs with 14 different supervisors, prepared her to enter the dental services industry a year and a half ago.
“I’ve lived in the uncomfortable. I’ve lived in that change for 19 years, so making a change of that nature was something, I think, I was prepared for,” Crum said. “It’s a great thing to step out of your comfort zone and step into the unknown. It will take you places, and I always encourage it.”
Landreaux said others urged her to step out of her comfort zone, and that’s what led her to her current position atop the state’s biggest utility.
Complete Video of the Panel
Program begins at the 14 min. 30 sec. mark
Landreaux also described “imposter syndrome” — a feeling of self-doubt that can cause women to question why anyone would listen to them, whether they deserve a promotion or whether they have worked hard enough to earn a seat at the table.
“I think we all have it. I think women, inherently, judge their performance worse than it actually is objectively,” she said. “But, when I think about what it does for us, my advice to everyone is to embrace it. Embrace that feeling because, if you run with it, think about where it can take you. It makes us over prepare. It makes us ask more questions. It makes us dig deeper into an issue than what we would otherwise just see on the surface. And, as a result of that, we perform better. We learn to handle stress better.”
In a poll taken during the panel discussion, audience members said by an 81% to 19% margin that they believe work-life balance exists. Crum said that “one of the best tips that I’ve ever been given is to set the expectations right at work and at home” and then hold yourself accountable.
For example, Crum promised her twin boys that she would attend their football games and told her office that she would be doing that. Crum even wears what she’ll wear to the game to the office on the day of to hold herself to that obligation.
Landreaux said she doesn’t believe work-life balance exists but the important thing for women to do is deal with guilt in a healthy way. That guilt comes from making choices they have to make that may result in them not being who they want to be at home, at work and for themselves, she said.
In another poll, the audience members said by a 71% to 29% margin that they had negotiated salary or benefits when accepting a job.
Block described receiving a job offer with a salary that was “drastically lower than what it should be.” She countered the offer with a salary that was $40,000 higher and also negotiated a few benefits. After a few rounds of negotiations, she got her benefit changes and a salary that was $15,000 higher than what she was first offered.
“I encourage women to really shake off the discomfort. I recognize it. It is something of discomfort, something we’re not used to doing,” she said. “But I really think not doing so leaves money on the table.”
Block said she’s been a hiring manager and expects and prepares for counter-proposals when offering jobs.
She added that companies should be asking questions about diversity and inclusion within their ranks.
“I think, unequivocally, without reservation, yes, these are conversations that need to be had, meaningfully with action taken and not just at this time, frankly,” Block said.
All three women said their companies are focused on addressing diversity and inclusion issues and stressed the importance of taking actions like offering unconscious bias training, listening to different voices and changing a company’s recruitment practices to broaden its job candidate pool.
Burrows, the moderator, added that having a diverse workforce to service diverse customers benefits an organization’s bottom line.
“The low-hanging fruit, for all of us, is looking at our supervisor base,” Block said. “Is it all the same? Looking at the people that we are sending, or submitting, for 40 Under 40 and 30 Under 30 lists or Leadership Greater Little Rock participation. Looking at who is in our leadership development programs. Looking at who is in the pipeline for succession planning and promotions, etcetera. Across the board .. Is it homogenous?”