Group of diverse HR professionalsFew topics are as important or relevant to the HR field than diversity and inclusion. Diversity can bring substantial benefits to the business environment by creating a group better equipped to solve problems and offer creative innovations. We provide this blog as a way to discuss the latest accounts, questions and concerns on inclusion, diversity, and equity and how it relates to the human resources profession.

Would you like to contribute to this blog? Is there a specific topic you would like to see addressed here? If so, please contact the NOARK Inclusion Chair, Rachel Jessen, M.Ed., SHRM-CP, aPHR at eat0@eau0eav0eaw0

Articles appearing in NOARK Inclusion Blog are provided as general information only and are not a substitute for legal or other professional advice. Published articles do not necessarily represent the views of NOARK. Permission to reprint articles must be obtained.


Navigating Work-Life Balance, Equal Pay, and Advocacy: Insights from Women in the Workplace

By: Rachel Jessen, M.Ed., SHRM-CP, aPHR and NOARK Inclusion Committee Chair

In honor of March as Women’s History Month, we are highlighting the experiences of women at work in Northwest Arkansas.

Women's History Month

Alison Ward is an HR professional with over fifteen years of diverse work experience. In addition to working in various HR support roles, she also spent time as a buyer in the poultry industry. She has been in her role as an Operations Manager for 1st Employment in Siloam Springs for the past 9 years. Alison currently serves as the NOARK Foundation Committee Chair and has supported the organization with her positive attitude, enthusiasm, creative ideas, and proactive solutions.

I asked Alison to share about her experiences not only supporting female employees within her office and in her capacity as a human resource professional but also supporting women who apply with 1st Employment seeking the perfect role for their skills, goals, and life situations.

Alison Ward Headshot

Alison encourages employers to be open to flexible work arrangements, particularly for work schedules. Many women also serve as caretakers in their personal lives, whether for minor children or elderly relatives who need assistance. Providing options for when employees start and end work for the day or for a flex hybrid work style helps ensure they will successfully balance work and family responsibilities. Alison is always keeping in mind how to help employers retain talent and knows that a company that helps employees maintain their work-life balance will likely lead to higher retention rates.

Alison not only uses her years of work experience and professional competencies to guide her in her role, but she also remembers her own experiences as a single mother raising 4 children while working 3 jobs to make ends meet while she simultaneously put herself through college. She knows the importance of employers considering the big picture of an employee’s life when evaluating their situation. She has seen employees doing everything they can to perform well and feels they should be rewarded by accommodating and supporting them. If she sees they are bending over backwards to meet goals or even exceed expectations, she encourages an employer to show how much they value an employee’s efforts.

Alison Ward with employees

Alison’s office mainly focuses on helping individuals find entry-level manufacturing roles. She estimates that they have a 40% female workforce at this time. Her goal is to help employers make attractive offers to candidates. She advocates getting to know an employee to better identify their strengths and envision what kind of career trajectory she can support them in attaining. She values mentoring all staff not just during recruitment and placement, but even afterwards to make sure their needs are being met and they are thriving in their roles and within the larger organization. She advocates for more check-ins with direct reports or the employees we are responsible for. Instead of just relying on annual reviews or appraisals, employers can check in weekly and monthly. Conducting Stay Interviews helps an employer create opportunities to identify problems or potential issues before an employee leaves. It is better to know about these areas ahead of time so the organization does not find out the truth until an Exit Interview when it too late to retain a valuable employee.

Alison Ward with employees

I reached out to Katie Donovan, founder of the Boston-based consultancy Equal Pay Negotiations. Among other areas of advocacy, Katie helps women learn how to advocate for themselves in salary negotiations. Katie shared with me an article in Forbes magazine featuring the latest statistics on the gender pay gap. Findings show that despite progress, women still earn 16% less than men on average. The authors shared that women earn just 84 cents on the dollar for every dollar a man makes (Haan & Reilly, 2024).

Alison and I also discussed the unique issues she sees female employees facing. Even though many advancements have been made in the last few decades to advance equal rights for women, we both still see women afraid to speak up for themselves to advocate for equal and higher pay. In one discussion with a female employee, Alison spent time going over all of her current duties and job responsibilities. Together they identified that this employee was doing double the work of her male coworkers. By gathering info, listing the skills, and building data, they were able to build a case to successfully renegotiate the employee’s pay. An August 2023 Inc. article about the gender pay gap featured research by the Academy of Management. It addresses a common myth that women receive less pay because they ask for raises less than men. They highlight that “the implicit belief is that women somehow deserve less pay because of their behavior (or lack thereof) (Hobson, 2023). The research showed that women reported negotiating their salaries more frequently than men (Kray et al., 2023). Most employees do not feel they have sufficient knowledge or skillsets to enter into such negotiations without support. HR professionals like Alison can also advocate for their female employees by embracing pay transparency within their organizations. Hiring compensation analysts to conduct a comprehensive compensation study within an organization can also show employees that they are committed to ensuring pay equity.

Female and female-identifying employees are also often at greater risk for experiencing forms of sexual harassment within their workplaces. Alison and I both agree that HR professionals and employers cannot over advocate for someone regarding this issue. It is not enough to give information for what an employee can do if they experience sexual harassment. We can be proactive about checking in on employees, conducting risk assessments, and analyzing power structures within our organizations to try and minimize situations that might put women or other vulnerable employees at greater risk. Despite an organization’s no-tolerance policies or handbook verbiage prohibiting retaliation, women are still very much aware that they might face repercussions for bringing harassment to light. Retaliation can occur directly, but more often women experience retaliation indirectly and face social ostracism among colleagues, assignments being taken away, lack of further advancement opportunities, and other subtle negative repercussions. Employers who are on guard for this very real possibility can be vigilant about ensuring this does not happen to women or other employees who bring covert harassment to light. Holding offending employees visibly accountable can help women feel valued and supported within their organization.

Within her own team at 1st Employment, Alison aims to listen and says she is careful about giving specific advice because she knows she cannot always fix what is going on. However, she sees that she can connect employees with resources, help them learn how to be more productive, and aim to support their professional development by sending them to conferences like SHRM’s ELLA each year. She tries to use every opportunity she can to empower so they want to come to work and give their all.

Alison Ward with 1st Employment Staff

If you would like to connect with Alison or learn more about the services 1st Employment in Siloam Springs can offer, you can reach her at eat1@eau1eav1eaw1 and find her on LinkedIn at Alison Ward LinkedIn Profile.

To connect with Katie Donovan, Founder @Equal Pay Negotiations LLC, find her on LinkedIn at Katie Donovan LinkedIn Profile.

Podcast Resources:
• Career Talk: Learn - Grow - Thrive with Stephanie Davis podcast
• She Mentors: Empowering Women in Business

Book Resources:
• The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers that are Holding Women Back at Work, by Michelle P. King, 2020
• What Works: Gender Equality by Design by Iris Bohnet, 2018
• Women Mentoring Other Women: Strategies and Stories to Lift While We Rise by Michelle Renaldo Ferguson, 2022

Northwest Arkansas organizations supporting women in the workplace:
• Dress for Success NWA
• WFA – Women’s Foundation Arkansas
• NextUp Northwest Arkansas

Article Citations:

  • Haan, K. & Reilly, K. (2024, March 1). Gender pay gap statistics in 2024. Forbes Advisor.
  • Hobson, N. (2023, August 23). Surprising new research on the gender pay gap: Women negotiate more than men, but get told no more often. Inc.
  • Kray, L., Kennedy, J., & Lee, M. (2023). Now, women do ask: A call to update beliefs about the gender pay gap. Academy of Management Discoveries.