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Women’s Empowerment Conversations tell stories of success

LAPLACE — Be kind, cultivate confidence and show up at the table —leading ladies of the River Parishes shared these pieces of advice during Session One of the Women’s Empowerment Conversations.

Aspen Murphy, 2020 chairperson of the River Region Chamber of Commerce, had a vision to hold an Inaugural Women’s Empowerment Conference. What was planned to be a one-day event changed to a four-part series delivered via Zoom amid COVID-19 concerns.

The first session, held Thursday, put the spotlight on women in politics. However, the insight gained from the conversations can apply to women striving for excellence in any career field.

St. John the Baptist Parish President Jaclyn Hotard, St. James Parish District 6 Councilwoman Vondra Etienne-Steib and St. Charles Parish District 7 Councilwoman Julia Fisher-Perrier were the keynote speakers during Thursday’s virtual meeting.

Hotard was 24 years old when she earned the District Four Parish Council seat in 2003. She was the only woman on the council at the time, and she got there by overcoming the negativity of those who brushed her off as being too young to lead.

In her 16 years of the Parish Council, Hotard became the first woman in St. John history to hold an at-large seat. In 2017, Governor John Bel Edwards appointed her to the Louisiana State Licensing Board, where she was the only woman at the table. Last fall, she won a landslide election with record numbers to become the new parish president.

Through her journey, Hotard has learned the importance of the phrase, “Shoot your shot.”

Hotard recognizes that women are often left out of the decision-making in male dominated local, state and national politics. Only a few decades ago, even the smartest and sharpest women were denied a seat at the table or the right to vote.

“Understanding the landscape will help you move forward and undo some things that have been done,” Hotard said.

She added, “I think it’s important for women to double down on our commitment to excellence and double down on our commitment to each other.”

That could involve initiating conversations specific to women and what makes their respective journeys unique. It also involves treating others the way you want to be treated.

“If I could just leave women or people in general with anything, it’s just to be kind,” Hotard said. “It sounds so simple, but sometimes because of stress when you are anxious or down on yourself, it’s easier to be critical of someone else. Do more to uplift others. We’ve got to do a better job of being nicer to people.”

Vondra Etienne-Steib, St. James Parish District 6 councilwoman

St. James Parish Councilwoman Vondra Etienne-Steib is inspired by the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s quote, “What people want is really simple. They want an America as good as what’s promised.”

Etienne-Steib is the first woman in St. James Parish history to be elected to the Parish Council. She is also the director of special education for St. James Parish, a former justice of the peace and a proud member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Before she was elected to the Parish Council, Etienne-Steib applied to fill a vacant seat. She was turned down in favor of someone who was not qualified for the seat, according to rules laid out by the Home Rule Charter. It fueled a fire within her to win the election and fight for what’s right.

“I had to cultivate my own confidence and become more assertive. I learned in order to be heard in this male-dominated field, I had to not allow others to speak over me or interrupt me when I was saying something that I thought was credible to the situation,” Etienne-Steib said.

Her advice to aspiring politicians and businesswomen is to continue to think forward and keep things professional. She said it’s important to be transparent and value being respected over being liked.

“Assess yourself. Do you have what it takes, and are you willing to give it all that you’ve got? Don’t lose your confidence. If you second-guess yourself, others will, too.”

Julia Fisher-Perrier, St. Charles Parish District 7 Councilwoman

St. Charles Parish Councilwoman Julia Fisher-Perrier doesn’t necessarily feel a chip on her shoulder as a woman in politics. She is a proud third-generation Luling resident. In addition to serving on the Parish Council, she is the assistant director of business development for the Port of South Louisiana.

“I haven’t succeeded in everything I’ve done. I haven’t won every election or scored every account or job, but I haven’t felt I have missed an opportunity because I was overlooked as a woman or really for any other reason,” Fisher-Perrier said.

She said self-awareness is key, and it is up to every woman to ask educated questions and put forth ideas of substance.

“Always show up, sit at the table and lean in, and make sure you are armed with knowledge. Knowledge really is what can set us apart,” Fisher-Perrier said.

She added, “We’ve got to compete at our very best, and the world will start to take notice.”

Upcoming Women’s Empowerment Conversations include “Diversity and Inclusion” on Aug. 26, “Self-promotion and how to negotiate” on Sept. 23, and “How to understand that you are enough” on Oct. 21. For more information, please contact admin@riverregionchamber.org.