Beginning in 1995, the “Top 100 Women in Arkansas” list published by Arkansas Business featured influential women from different sectors of the economy and was sent to executive leaders throughout the state. The goal of this list was to highlight women who would be assets to those executive leaders by serving on boards and in leadership roles.
Three years later, the 100 top women of 1998 attended a luncheon where they collectively decided to make a difference for women and girls across the state. Their focus was education, specifically preparation for careers in STEAM fields. From there, Olivia Farrell of Arkansas Business Publishing Group and Pat Lile, Mary Gay Shipley and Karen Potts, all from the Arkansas Community Foundation, formally proposed the idea of establishing a Women’s Foundation of Arkansas.
Their initial fundraising luncheon at the governor’s mansion raised $100,000 and a board of directors was formed. This foundation challenged women to be philanthropists, funding the organization’s work of grantmaking for causes that supported other women and girls. Eventually the annual luncheon was re-named “Power of the Purse,” and each year moving forward, the WFA would honor outstanding Arkansas women and their impact.
Through the years the organization’s research into the role and impact of women in the state has informed its growth and projects. There are action plans to improve the status of women and girls in the areas of health, education, economics and workforce, and politics and leadership.
In 2018, the WFA launched a Gender Equity Scorecard tool to help Arkansas businesses evaluate and improve gender equity in the workplace and the Women’s Economic Mobility (WEM) Hub to support Black women-owned businesses. Save10 is a movement of WFA’s that was started to educate women on how to create their own economic stability, and along with former Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the WFA created the Commission on the Status of Women in Arkansas that identified issues affecting women, uncovering facts about the role of Arkansas women in the labor market and economy.
From its inception, the WFA has recognized the necessity to educate girls to make decisions to reach their goals. To date, the Girls of Promise initiative has given more than 7,000 girls the opportunity to attend workshops on STEAM topics led by successful women in those fields, and the program was trademarked in 2010. Launched in 2021, the Tjuana Byrd Summer Internship Program is an opportunity for college-aged women of color pursuing careers in STEAM fields to complete a paid summer internship with leading Arkansas companies.
And no matter what generation of participants you ask, they’re all in agreement: The WFA is just getting started.
POWER OF THE PURSE
This year’s Power of the Purse is an evening event, a departure from previous years’ luncheons, and reinforces the WFA’s commitment to the next generation with mother-daughter co-chairs Carson and Sharon Tallach Vogelpohl.
“My mom and I have the honor of representing generations of women and girls impacted by the WFA,” says Vogelpohl, a sophomore at Mount St. Mary. “We will highlight WFA’s initiatives over the last 25 years and celebrate the Top 100 Women of Impact in Arkansas. The WFA created this list with Arkansas Business Publishing Group and Little Rock Soirée, and it features women from all sorts of jobs, ages and places in Arkansas who are inspiring and changing things for other women and girls.”
Her earliest memory of WFA is from 2017 as a 9-year-old when she watched her mom win its Business Woman of the Year Award.
“The event was a very special moment for me because it truly solidified my mom as my role model. In her speech, she had a call to action to my friends and me that said, ‘Even if you encounter an uneven playing field, don’t let it keep you out of the game.’”
Vogelpohl is most excited about the WFA’s continued impact on Arkansas’ STEAM industry, an interest that hits close to home. She participated in robotics at the state and national levels and understands firsthand the leadership, teamwork and fun that comes from STEAM applications.
“The WFA has done so much great work getting more than 7,000 girls excited about STEAM careers and providing them with resources and support to help them in school and their careers. I’m excited to see what this impact will look like in the next 25 years,” Vogelpohl says.
“The work of the WFA is important to even the playing field, not only between women and men, but also between women of different locations, backgrounds and upbringings.”
GIRLS OF PROMISE
Member of the 2023 Girls of Promise cohort, Episcopal Collegiate highschooler and volleyball player Jordyn Jones was most excited to learn more about STEAM opportunities through her participation in the program.
“Girls in STEAM are a powerful thing, and we should never stop because of what society might say,” says Jordyn, who is debating between scientist or actress as her career goals.
Jones says she first learned about GOP from her mom Dr. Jerrilyn Jones, who was awarded WFA’s inaugural First Lady’s Woman in Public Service Award in 2021.
The GOP introduces eighth grade girls to women with careers in STEAM and gives them opportunities to participate in hands-on learning activities. The goal of the program is to increase the number of women in higher-level STEAM courses and careers, putting them on the path to achieve economic security.
In addition, the Innovate for Good competition, a sort of extension of GOP, challenges sixth through 12th grade girls to team up to develop an app, website, computer program, 3D printer template or anything innovative incorporating technology to directly benefit a community need predetermined by GOP.
“[The WFA has] worked hard to build programs that give women the tools to be their very best and that encourage girls to shoot for the stars,” Jones says. “I am excited to see how strong girls who turn into strong women change Arkansas for the better.”
She believes the work of the WFA is important because it builds up women and young girls while opening doors and opportunities to help girls find future careers.
For other young girls, Jones has this advice: “Don’t stop doing something because you are a girl. If you believe it is right, then keep going.”
TJUANA BYRD SUMMER INTERNSHIP PROGRAM
Through a partnership with several companies located in Arkansas, the WFA offers a paid 10-week summer internship program with free housing for women of color attending college in Arkansas and pursuing degrees in STEAM, including finance and related majors. Named after the WFA’s first Black president, nearly 60 women have benefitted from the Tjuana Byrd Summer Internship Program since it launched in 2021.
Xamaria Collins is one of those women. From Wynne, Arkansas, she moved to Little Rock at the age of 4. She is a senior at UA Pine Bluff majoring in industrial technology management and applied engineering, and plans to become a construction project manager after graduation.
“I was honored to participate in the Tjuana Byrd Summer Internship program,” says Collins, who interned with the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.
Companies like Arvest Bank, Acxiom, Southwest Power Pool, Central Arkansas Water, CDI Contractors, L’oreal, Garver and Windstream commit to pay interns between $15 and $20 per hour while WFA finds free housing for the duration of the program, access to mentorship, networking opportunities and professional development workshops. The internship is designed to increase access to and representation in the STEAM fields for women of color by eliminating cost, social capital and location barriers.
“WFA focuses on women empowerment. They primarily focus on not only lifting up women in STEAM, but also recognition of successful women whose careers focus on STEAM,” Collins says.
“I’m excited for the foundation to expand. There are a lot of different women in STEAM connecting and networking. Coming together as a whole is the key. Yes, every individual has their own unique story, but together they show courage, commitment and compassion.”
Keneasha Scott, alumnus of the 2021 WEM Hub and supporter of WFA for around 10 years, is Collins’ aunt. The two share similar upbeat personalities and can-do attitudes, so much so that Scott says the two are often compared.
An industrial and organizational psychologist who serves as a regulatory consultant in her professional life, Scott started her own business in 2014 that helps keep workplaces safe and in compliance with government regulations. At the time, she had clients and work to do for them, but didn’t know how to effectively run the business.
“I was an expert in my field,” she says. “I wasn’t an expert in business.”
The WEM Hub helped bridge that gap.
“The WEM Hub basically made sure that we had the tools we needed to successfully run businesses. Every month it was something specific, like it was a marketing month, it was a banking month, it was an accounting month,” Scott says. “They brought the industry experts to us.”
So it was only fitting her niece ended up in the summer internship program.
“It’s pretty cool that I get to be in the WEM Hub, and then my mini me gets to be an intern,” Scott says. “We’re both getting to have the same experience. [The WFA] has been so instrumental in helping women that not only are they helping the 40-something-year-old woman in business, but they’re helping the 20-something-year-old who is a college student as well.
“I don’t know if America’s seeing what’s going on here, but literally when you work on one generation, every subsequent generation gets blessed behind it.”