In 1999, Kristina Croslin found a whole group of sisters in what she at first thought might be an unlikely place. Since then, she's realized that the other women in the Faulkner County chapter of Business and Professional Women are the keys to keeping her life in great order.
Kristina is the current state president for BPW, a group founded in 1919 to work toward providing women with equity in the workplace. Today, BPW is the leading advocate for working women and has members in every state. However, the membership is dwindling, and Kristina is taking her message across the state to show that BPW is just as vital for women today as it was for the women in the early part of the last century.
As Arkansas' BPW leader, Kristina is taking on several issues, including working toward the passage of an Equal Rights Amendment in the state, promoting health care for women, and revitalizing the organization. Her logo is "Moving Forward," which really works for her because she is employed with an agency that services car dealerships across the state, providing products to dealers who in turn sell them to customers.
In order to revitalize the state BPW in general, and the local chapter in particular, Kristina has looked for reasons why the membership is dropping. She feels today's women have time constraints that prohibit them from attending meetings, therefore keeping them on the outside. She also said women who are not necessarily "business" women or "professional" women don't realize that the group is open to "all" women.
These issues are being addressed. For example, at the National Federation meeting which was held recently in Atlanta, members were allowed to vote for officers on an Internet election. "The Internet has created a lot of different dynamics for how the organization works," Kristina said.
A particular problem with BPW is that the median age of the members is high, meaning younger women are not being pulled in. Kristina said that early on women were not allowed to join the Rotary Club and other traditionally "all male" clubs, so women "were fighting for a chance to participate." Now, women can join those organizations, so BPW is losing members to those other clubs, largely because women are so constrained by time that they choose only one club to join.
"People just don't have the time. With dual worker families or single working moms, there's not the time," she said.
Kristina is really concerned about getting the message to the women of Generation Y (generally including people born in the early 1980s to the middle 1990s). These women, she said, "don't see the need for the organization. They think we're equal. They don't see that women make 77 cents on the dollar for what a man makes, and that's from the U.S. Census bureau numbers."
Kristina was introduced to BPW by reading meeting articles in the newspaper and clipping them. She said she is not in Conway during the day because of her job, therefore she didn't meet anyone from this area except those at Central Baptist Church, where she is a regular attendee. "I knew I needed to get out and meet people," she said.
She attended her first meeting in 1999, "and I joined on the spot. I felt energized and I just wanted to be involved." She didn't know one person at her first meeting, and now her closest friends are her BPW sisters. The women, she said, help each other through good times, bad times, illnesses, deaths, divorces, job losses, and all kinds of life's trials.
"It's such an empowering thing to be with those women," she said. "I've met women from everywhere, from all across the world. It's great to have that kind of involvement in this sisterhood. When the day's done I can say, 'Now there is someone I can count on'."
It didn't take Kristina long to become fully involved. In 2000 she was named the Faulkner County chapters Young Careerist, at title given to a woman from age 21 to 35. She was named the Arkansas state representative for Young Careerists and attended the national convention. At the convention, all the Young Careerists from across the country gave speeches on what it means to hold the title, and Kristina said she was amazed on how the speeches were talking about the same topic but came from such different angles, depending upon the person's life experiences.
Kristina feels this year's group of Young Careerists are coming from a different place in life than she did. These young women, she said, are seeking relationships and an emotional security before they get involved. They were not raised "with an automatic feeling of security," she said.
One way Kristina feels will draw this technologically tied group into BPW is through a Friends of BPW membership. Women who feel they don't have time to attend local meetings can go online, and for $19.95 they can receive the group's legislative hotline e-mail outlining issues in Congress and the Business Women's E-zine (an electronic magazine they can flip through on the Internet).
"This is a great way to garner support for the national organization, and some women will convert into actual members," she added.
Revitalizing the organization is more than business for Kristina, who says this is her biggest task as state president. Kristina wants to make sure her nieces will be able to participate in BPW when they are old enough.
"My 16-year-old niece has been to three events so far, and when she gets old enough I'll pay her membership," Kristina said.
Conway will get a lot of exposure to BPW over the next several months, as two large meetings will be held here. Included will be the regional meeting in November and the issues management meeting in March (discussions will include health care for women and personal development issues). The state meeting will be in Little Rock the last weekend of May, where women and organizations are recognized for having made a difference in Arkansas.
When not working on BPW matters, Kristina lives with her husband Anthony near Greenbrier. Both are originally from Cave City, having gone to school together, but they were not in the same grade. Kristina moved to Conway in 1989 to attend the University of Central Arkansas, where she graduated in 1993 with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration. The Croslins lived in Arkadelphia for three years, and when Anthony was ready to make a move in his job, they decided to come back to Conway. Between them, they have 10 brothers and sisters and 16 nieces and nephews. They also have a basset hound named Sandy, who was purchased to keep Kristina "company" while Anthony traveled for a year to Jonesboro for his work. "She's our baby now," Kristina laughed.
Kristina is a member of the Conway Regional Women's Council, and has encouraged BPW women to work with the council's Dazzle Daze and Great Escape events. She also pushes the BPW's Dress for Success program, which collects new and slightly used business suits to give to low-income women trying to attain new jobs. The Dress for Success program in this area is based in Little Rock, but she would love to have a Conway-based program soon.
Work such as this, however, takes active hands, and the membership of the local organization is low. Kristina said there are only 7 to 8 active workers in Faulkner County, and several of them have worked hard for BPW while going through personal trials such as health problems and divorce. "These women are just as energetic and just as enthusiastic; we've continued to be able to do all we could do. Just think what we could do if we had more members."
The local membership is currently 12, down from 130 in 1989. There are 400 members statewide.
"With a city of 50,000 people, I just can't believe there are not more women who don't feel it would be of benefit to them," Kristina said.
BPW is open for ideas and suggestions on how to make the organization more inviting to new members of all ages. She says young women bring enthusiasm, middle-aged women bring encouragement that positive changes can be made midstream and older, and retired women bring a lifetime of experience to the group.
Kristina's message is that BPW will bring a benefit of personal willpower, having a passion and having a belief in your abilities. She loves the words willpower, passion, and belief, because they spell BPW backwards.
"Kids today are not getting that sense of empowerment, so they don't join. We want to make this an organization rich in heritage with a new face," she said.
Kristina said BPW has many facets. These could include political work and social work. "If you don't have political interests, just come help us collect some dresses, or work with the Great Escape for domestic violence. We want to still be around to continue our work."
The local organization meets the fourth Tuesday of each month at 6:00 p.m. at the Faulkner County Library, and a special program is presented at each meeting. Networking is held from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m. The public is invited. For more information, visit conwaybpw.org or bpwusa.org.