Local attorney creates WLA for aspiring female politicians

November 4-10, 2013

By Becca Bona

Oklahoma born, but raised across the Midwest, now-Central Arkansas based attorney Stephanie Harris has finally found her true calling in none other than Little Rock. 

Currently working as Communications Counsel for the Supreme Court of Arkansas, Harris is no stranger to the local political climate. Outside of her current positions, she found the time to create Women Lead Arkansas, an organization dedicated to encouraging more women involvement in politics, leadership, and the future of the Natural State.

“I found that thing in life that I have to do, and it makes me happy, and I have to do it here,” she explained. 

Harris first became interested in the topic of women in politics when she heard actress, writer, and producer Geena Davis speak at the Clinton School. 

She remembered being surprised by a statistic: “When I heard Ms. Davis say the U.S. is 90th in terms of women serving in parliaments or legislatures, I was shocked. I thought the U.S. was a leader in that context. It made me start paying attention,” she said. 

Around the same time, Harris was having lunch with a friend when she realized she had a special skill of bringing people together. 

“I just know so many different women from different areas of life and work, and I wanted to put them together. I’m a connector,” she said. 

This epiphany led to the formation of a group called the Executive Board, which aims to give women in Central Arkansas an open forum and network to find mentors and learn from each other. 

“I want[ed] this to be strong. We’re all smart women who have a lot going on, and so that is how the Executive Board was born,” she said. 

To date the group has over 200 members of women mostly located in Central Arkansas, however some out of state members are also active. The group often hosts seminars and events that can cover a variety of topics: for example, on the agenda for December is a talk that discusses marketing and social media. 

Needless to say, the group has successfully expanded and continues to offer support to the members. At some point along the way, Harris felt that something greater could also come out of the group. 

“As the Executive Board grew, and I met more people, this idea for Women Lead Arkansas was born,” she explained. Harris incorporated the organization in July, and began working on a November campaign-training event. She wanted the organization to be open to all females, and therefore WLA is nonpartisan, will work with all political parties, and will not endorse individual candidates.

“I wanted to do the campaign training for women because I want more women in office and in leadership positions,” she said. Statistics show that Arkansas’s General Assembly has only 23 female representatives, down from a historical high of 31 in 2009; along these lines, Arkansas is currently ranked 41st in political gender diversity.

With these statistics in mind, the WLA has created and will offer its first campaign- training event on Nov. 16. The event offers a daylong training session, which will host experts and women who have run before, as well as party representatives, to discuss the process of campaigning. 

Thanks to a generous donation, 6 scholarship positions were also available to college-aged students, which have already been filled. 

Space is still open for others interested in participating. Visit womenleadarkansas.org for more registration information for the event, which will take place at Pulaski Technical College. 

Beyond providing campaign training the organization pursues other goals for women in Arkansas. By providing leadership workshops and conferences, the WLA hopes to show how young girls and women alike can get involved to improve their own lives, their families’ lives, and their communities. 

Harris commented: “Speaking in front of our girls is not to change their mind about anything, not to make them ‘do’ anything in particular, but just to make them aware of what they can do, what’s holding them back, challenges they face, and societal pressures.” 

Ultimately the WLA is a source of inspiration for women in Arkansas, a network, a support system, and a resource. 

Harris explained, “I just want to create this space for us all to support each other and use each other as a resource.”

As a young organization the WLA is on the path to solid growth. At the heart of the mission, ultimately, is education and support for the direction of the state of Arkansas. Harris said, “All issues are women’s issues. We just need to put ourselves out there and try to help determine the direction of the state.”

For more information visit: http://womenleadarkansas.org/