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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

At the top: Women business leaders share philosophies, lessons learned

Despite shattering glass ceilings, managing companies and running their own businesses, women still faces a myriad of challenges that include proving their credibility to juggling the responsibilities of work and home, especially when they have children.

Top women business leaders from Fort Worth shared their experiences and some advice during a Business for Breakfast meeting on Wednesday sponsored by the Fort Worth Business Press. Sarah Webb, president of Plaid for Women was the moderator.

Marianne Auld, who was recently promoted to managing partner of Kelly Hart & Hallman, the largest law firm in Fort Worth, is the first woman to reach this position and only the third managing partner in the firm’s nearly 40-year history.

Auld said she has seen a lot of changes since she began practicing law almost thirty years ago. The biggest change is the number of women who now practice law.

“I went to law school in the ‘80s and even at the time, my law school class was almost half women,” Auld said. “That seemed like a lot. When we started, though, to go out into the workforce and look for jobs at law firms, we realized very quickly there were far fewer women in actual practice.”

Auld, who graduated first in her class at Baylor University School of Law, is also chair of the appellate section at the law firm. She credits several women who preceded her at Kelly Hart who served as role models who have helped shape her success.

Marie “Doc” Holliday said she was in an even smaller group of women as she prepared to become a dentist about 40 years ago. There were about 20 women in her dental school class in Boston but only six in her class at the Baylor College of Dentistry, where she enrolled to prepare for her Texas board certification exam.

Holliday said was only the second female dentist in Fort Worth when she began in private practice in 1978.

“I was in a man’s profession and you can only imagine how it was dealing with male dentists, physicians,” said Holliday, who also owns several other successful retail businesses.

Breaking into a man’s world was equally challenging for Sheila Jackson, who has spent most of career working in male-dominated businesses. She is currently CEO of Principle Transport Group and JA Jackson Construction. These firms provide innovative solutions in transportation and logistics and commercial construction.

“I definitely had to work harder to prove myself as credible,” she said. “What it really has taught me over the years that I’ve been there is to not fight so hard to be heard as a female, but really I’ve gotten much better at just listening to what’s going on, recognizing my audience…just learning to observe, ask better questions.”

Nancy E. Jones, CEO/president of the North Texas Community Foundation, was hired for her job eight years ago and discovered she was the first woman to head this foundation that set a record in 2016 of giving out $30 million in grants and scholarships from a fund stream of $275 million.

Jones, who was hired to rebrand the foundation and move it from “transactional to something that really has an impact” credits the support of Mayor Betsy Price and others for her success in achieving that goal.

The panelists attributed their success to the support they received from colleagues in Fort Worth, which they defined as a welcoming community characterized by deliberate intent to be helpful.

But for women, the challenges of climbing the corporate ladder or becoming a successful entrepreneur can still be more challenging for women than men. Among those challenges include balancing family obligations, obtaining financial support for an enterprise, building credibility and even making the critical networking connections that seem to come so easy for men on the golf course.

“The impact of networking is only as good as the relationships that you build when you are networking,” Holliday said. The experience has to be more than passing out business cards.

“I think that we need to expand on this whole concept of networking,” Holliday said. “I think that it will make, women especially, more powerful, more influential and able to achieve a lot more things.”

Being the boss and a woman is a skill that can be developed, and is particularly important in dealing with employees who expect that women bosses are more understanding of babysitters who don’t show up.

“Employing people in this day and time, as you grow and scale a company is, I’ve found, one of the most challenging parts of doing business,” Jackson said. “Also being a female and having kids and dogs and husbands and all of that, I think they do expect us to understand, but again I’ve had to learn to define really clear boundaries.”

One of the biggest obstacles facing women is a confidence gap, which sometimes holds women back.

“When you’re up against something and you’re not entirely sure that you can do it, or that you have all of those bullet points that you can check off, how do you get yourself over that hurdle?” Auld said.

Recalling her first experience going to court on behalf of a client, she remembered thinking to herself, “what are they thinking, letting me do this?”

“I kind of had to pull myself together and say look ‘here’s the deal. I don’t have that confidence in myself but they have it in me’,” she said.

The takeaway: “Surround yourself with people who will have confidence for you,” she said. “If you find yourself in a situation where you’re with people who whether intentionally or not tear that down, find another group of people to be around.”

Platinum sponsors for the event were Plaid for Women and the North Texas Community Foundation.

The next Business for Breakfast event is scheduled for May 16. The topic is entrepreneurship.

Contact Lauren Vay at lvay@bizpress.net for more information.

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