Women’s Foundation of Arkansas
by Tristan Bennett | Photo By Jamison Mosley
First Lady’s Woman in Public Service winner
Director, Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise, Arkansas Economic Development Commission
Patricia Brown has seen the Arkansas business environment change quite drastically over the course of her career. But in 2017, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission added women to the focus of its Minority Business Division.
“These changes gave women the opportunity to certify their businesses, to compete for state and federal contracts, as well as access to capital through our loan mobilization program which improves the ability for women businesses to grow,” she says.
Women now own more than 80,000 businesses in Arkansas, up 88 percent from 20 years ago, according to a 2017 American Express OPEN report. These businesses employ roughly 56,000 people and contribute $9.5 billion to the state economy.
Brown says the rapidly changing business environment for women is fueled by a need for diversity. “State and local government as well as large businesses are attempting to meet diversity goals for awarding contracts to women.”
Brown hopes to inspire the next generation of girls with her own success story. “I would like for them to hear my story of starting as a receptionist at AEDC in 1975 and working my way up,” she says.
She also believes in the importance of investing in future female leaders and hopes to encourage girls to dream big by giving them the tools they need to make those dreams a reality.
“I hope to provide young girls with access to professional role models, career education and resources to live their dreams,” Brown says. “We can’t tell girls they can do anything without equipping them to take on the task.”
Woman in Business winner
CEO, Entergy Arkansas
For Laura Landreaux, the most challenging obstacles in her climb to the top of corporate Arkansas were her own self limitations.
“I have a law degree, and it never really occurred to me that I would do anything other than practice law,” she says. “It wasn’t until I stepped out of my comfort zone to take on a new role that I realized I was capable of serving the company in other roles. It was then that I began to challenge myself to grow and try new things. Entergy both supported and encouraged me every step of the way. I am fortunate to work for a company that invests heavily in the development of its employees.”
Entergy encourages its employees to give back to their communities, and Landreaux leads by example. She views leadership and community as “one and the same.”
“We encourage all employees and retirees to volunteer in the areas where they work and live,” she says. “What is good for the community is good for Entergy.”
Landreaux credits her parents with instilling in her the drive to succeed.
“I owe everything to them,” she says. “My father raised me to be confident and independent and instilled in me a strong work ethic at a very young age. He made sure I knew I could be anything I wanted to be and to never let being a woman hold me back. After he died, my mother showed me first-hand what a strong and independent woman really looks like. She taught me how to pick myself back up in the face of adversity and move on. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her strength and inspiration.”
Woman in Philanthropy winner
Director of Special Projects and Economic Development Liaison, Arkansas Governor’s Office
Quite simply, Alisha Curtis makes things happen for Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Her role as executive assistant and director of special projects may be the most important in the Governor’s Office.
But for Curtis, the most significant role she plays is volunteer.
“For some time, I’ve had a passion for giving back to my community,” she says. “I’ve found that when you support something with heart and purpose, the awareness spreads. Because you believe in something, it makes the people around you want to jump on board too.”
Curtis sees more women impacting government in Arkansas.
“We’ve come a long way since 1917 when women were finally granted the right to vote,” she says. “Today, out of the governor’s 15 cabinet members, seven of them are women. Twenty-five women serve in the Arkansas House of Representatives, and seven serve in the state Senate. Women have more of a voice than ever before.”
But it hasn’t always been that way. Curtis says when she first started her career in state politics, she learned to have thick skin as a woman in a male-dominated field.
“In the beginning and sometimes still today, I may feel like I need to prove myself and work twice as hard in order to be taken seriously,” she says. “But in recent years, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of women in leadership roles and have seen the positive impact that women make on our state whether it be in public service or politics.”