Throughout her 23 years of military experience, Barbara J. Stephens led by example. Her outstanding performance level, combined with ethical work habits set the standard high for others to emulate. “My subordinates followed my lead,” she says, “and most of them now hold high ranking positions.”
After graduating from Richland College at the age of 35 with an associate of arts in business, Ms. Stephens began working in the finance and personnel departments of the Arkansas National Guard. She also taught finance classes to military personnel at nearby Fort Benjamin Harrison. Ms. Stephens saw her teaching role as a valuable opportunity to encourage military personnel to take advantage of all of the educational benefits offered by the armed forces. “The schooling is what gets you promoted,” she points out, “so I always encouraged the women I worked with to try to study and get as much military education as they can.” She retired in 1998, holding the rank of Chief Warrant Officer.
Ms. Stephens was awarded the Legion of Merit Medal, twice awarded the Army Commendation Medal as well as a Meritorious Service Medal and an Armed Forces Reserve Medal. In 1996, she was named Federal Woman of the Year by the Federal Women’s Program.
Conversation with Barbara J. Stephens
Who’s Who Publishers: What would you like to promote most about yourself and your career?
Barbara J. Stephens: Women in the military do outstanding jobs.
How did you land a role in accounting for the military?
I was trained by the military. They pretty much educate and prepare you for whatever career you want to go into.
What ways did you motivate women in the military?
I especially tried to motivate the women to do a good job. When I went to Fort Benjamin Harrison to teach, I would encourage women to always present themselves as an outstanding soldier in the military: wear your uniform correctly; keep your hair cut the way regulation mandates; always present a good picture of yourself in the military. I tried to do that everywhere I went.
Consequently, there were several women I know who were in the classes that actually went on to become officers. They were encouraged to go to OCS [Officer Candidate School] and become an officer in the military. One of the ladies is now a Command Sergeant Major. These ladies have presented themselves really well.
What is the most difficult obstacle or challenge you have faced in pursuit of your personal goals? How did you overcome them?
The most difficult thing I had to overcome was male dominance in the military. Men do not appreciate women coming into the military and taking their jobs. I was able to do that without creating enemies, while impressing my superiors with the way I presented myself in the military.
What topic(s) do you consider yourself to be an expert on?
Military finance, which is where I spent most of my career. I did more in finance than I did in personnel.
What makes you a valuable resource in your industry?
Funny thing is I have been asked to come back. They’ve got a lot of people who have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re short of personnel. They said that because of my knowledge, they would like for me to come back under a contract to work again. My age doesn’t allow me to go back into the military. I didn’t think I could do that. They’ve got a lot of people who can take care of that without me going back into the service.
What advice can you offer fellow members who work in your industry?
My advice to anyone who wants to go into the military is to pay attention to regulations and make sure they are obeyed. Go to as many schools as you possibly can to further your career in the military.
What are you passionate about?
Obeying regulations. I’m a real stickler for making sure that you not only obey the regulations, but that you know what they are. We used to have classes every once in a while about your appearance, uniform regulations and drill and ceremony regulations to make sure you not only knew how to do it, but why you were doing it – why you were trying to be the best that you could.
Did that help your focus?
Based on your experience, if you could offer someone who is not in the military advice, what would it be?
No matter what field anyone goes into, if they apply themselves and try to learn as much as they can about their field, they are going to improve themselves and promote themselves into the field that they are in. Most of the time, you’ll find that the superiors notice people who try to learn and try to improve whatever they do. It doesn’t matter if they are a car mechanic or a finance person in a big corporation. If that individual is going to all the schools they can go to improve themselves, they’re going to promote themselves and get into higher positions to make more money.
What was your greatest accomplishment to date?
Going into the military at 35 years old and retiring in a chief warrant officer position – which is the equivalent to a major – in 22 years.
What are your current activities and endeavors?
I am the secretary for our community association here. I am trying to help keep our community neat and clean. I’m making sure the inhabitants obey our covenant here.