Guest Column: Let’s Focus, Alabama

Encouraging and empowering women to achieve economic and professional success is the goal of FocusWC

A snapshot of the Focus Women’s Conference at the Mobile Convention Center. This year’s conference is March 28.

After moving to Los Angeles with a solid portfolio and a degree, Devin Ford learned the hard way that artistic talent and business acumen are two totally different skills. Trying to find her footing, confidence and stride in a new city was a seemingly insurmountable challenge at first. But then, everything changed after attending a women’s conference while living and working as a photographer in LA. It was there that Ford connected with a mentor and other women in the community doing work that mattered and ignited her passion. She found the missing piece — coaching, training, and the beginnings of relationships that continue to nurture her professionally and personally to this day. Ford finally found her ‘people’ plus the resources and knowledge she needed to grow.

Devin Ford

When she moved home to Mobile, Ford felt that all-too-familiar feeling of being completely isolated and without resources or a network once again. She became determined to create a positive experience for others and give women the tools and relationships needed to be successful. Ford founded FocusWC in 2017 to encourage, educate and empower women for economic success, professional fortitude and personal growth.

It was no direct shot, but years of trial and error in her adult life have been devoted to developing her confidence professionally and personally. Ford’s experience taught her that the building blocks for successful, impactful women are encouragement, education and empowerment. This foundation doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t, be built by women alone — but by all people, men, women and allies alike. Here is Ford’s quick crash course on the three keys to a more fulfilling future for all:

True success is found when we encourage and support others on our path.

As women, we are used to being saturated with messaging telling us to do better, be better and look better in order to rise to the top. We are bombarded by the notion that we must compete with other women to achieve one of the coveted “seats at the table.”

It’s no surprise that women have internalized this lifestyle of competition. Female CEOs represent a mere (and disappointingly, record breaking) 8% of Fortune 500 companies. Women make up 15.7% of the Alabama Legislature (22 out of 140 members), but 52% of the state’s population. This mentality is as tiring as it is toxic. Women should not have to compete against one another, rather we should turn to one another as a vehicle for strength and encouragement as we continue to push the glass ceiling up, making more room for female leaders at the metaphorical table. Or, in the wise words of Shirley Chisholm, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

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Always seek to educate yourself, and your peers, on the reality of the circumstances we face.

They say knowledge is power; the more we share, the stronger we’ll be. And while we’re all familiar with them, discussions about the ‘gender pay gap’ and the effect it has on our economy do not give the women of Alabama justice; we are facing a sharper steeper deficit than national standards.

Women in Alabama earn only 73 cents for every dollar a man earns, compared to 82 cents for U.S. women overall (and this disparity is even greater for women of color). And yet despite this lower earning potential, more than 60% of employed Alabama mothers have young children and more than 74% of Alabama women are breadwinners (Women’s Foundation of Alabama’s Status of Women in Alabama report). Accelerating access to childcare, health care and the job training needed to enter, and thrive, in the workforce is not only beneficial for women and our state’s economy but for every Alabamian.

According to The Women’s Foundation of Alabama’s recent report, raising Alabama women’s labor force participation rate to the national average, currently the second lowest in the country, could add 80,941 women to the workforce. This would simultaneously move the state closer to its workforce goals and women and their families closer to economic security. Women in Alabama are an essential demographic for the future prosperity of our state. Educate yourself and others in your life to care about women in Alabama for the holistic success of our state.

Use your own growth and success to empower the women around you.

We’ve all seen the now-cliche phrase, “empowered women empower women,” but the meaning behind this Pinterest phrase could never be more relevant. As we are all aware, the last few years have been unlike any other, separating us from parts of our lives through quarantining and social distancing. Women are searching for impactful opportunities and communities that empower them to learn, grow and succeed.

Now more than ever, we need to empower one another to find hope and joy again. Women are proven successful leaders and community game-changes, but we must support each other to maintain that momentum. Empower the women in your life to go for that dream job, apply for the promotion or take the leap of faith and leave their corporate job to start their own business.

If there is any question as to why we should empower women to go after leadership opportunities, note that there is substantial evidence that businesses with women in leadership positions perform better, often with higher stock returns and greater profits. A recent study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics showed that having women in C-Suite positions increases a company’s net margins. Another study by Harvard Business Review showed that gender diversity at a company increases its market value and revenue. And the Boston Consulting Group found that businesses founded by women deliver higher revenue than their male-run counterparts.

Your community, our state and the world will be better and stronger when we all encourage, educate and empower women. Let’s Focus and do it together.

Kendra Haskins

Kendra Haskins was named executive director of Distinguished Young Women in 2017. Before moving to Mobile, she owned a design, marketing and branding studio with an emphasis on helping small businesses. She is an award-winning business leader who serves on the steering committee of the Focus Women’s Conference and formerly helped execute the Charleston Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Business Conference and the PubSmart Conference for independent book publishers. She was also recognized this spring by This is Alabama as one of the “Women Who Shape the State 2022.” Her mission is to see women of all ages be successful in both their personal and professional lives.

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