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2017 Influential Women in Business: Camille Conaway


May 10, 2017
By ANNIE OURSO
Originally Posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

Hometown: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Age: 38

Family: Married for 14 years to husband, Jeffrey, with two children: Olivia, 7, and Sam, 4

Years with company: 3

Camille Conaway knew early on that whatever she did in life, she wanted to make a difference. But she never imagined how far her influence would reach, as her career led her to the nation’s capital to work on U.S. foreign policy and eventually back home to Louisiana to impact policy at the state level.

As the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry senior vice president of policy and research, Conaway has a seat at the table of the most powerful business lobby in the state. It’s one of many impressive posts on Conaway’s résumé, which features positions with the United Nations, former Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Blueprint Louisiana, among others.

“When people ask how I got where I am today, the best thing I can say is, ‘Take risks,’” Conaway says. “Take the gamble, especially when you’re young. You won’t fall flat on your face. Have no five-year plan. You’ll miss out on chances.”

And you can always go back home if need be, she adds. After earning her master’s degree in foreign policy from American University, Conaway worked in Washington, D.C., as a consultant to the United Nations, traveling the world. But when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, Conaway knew it was time to go home.

“Hurricane Katrina was a landmark in my career,” she says. “With such a dramatic change in my state, I had to be there. My husband and I quit our jobs and moved to Baton Rouge in November of 2005.”

Conaway became a policy adviser to Jindal after he was elected governor for his first term in 2007. Her top accomplishment was fulfilling Jindal’s promise to pass ethics reform in state government within weeks of his taking office. Louisiana soon rose to No. 1 in national rankings for ethics laws and transparency, and Jindal personally thanked Conaway.

Another proud moment came in 2012 when Conaway worked with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create a diverse coalition to advocate for legislation to improve public school accountability and empower families with school choice.

“It’s hugely important to keep pressure for improvements on policymakers to expand opportunities for as many kids as we can,” Conaway says. “Great schools are the path out of poverty, and any small impact I can make on that matters tremendously to me.”

Conaway, a mother of two, has excelled at the intersection of two fields—politics and business—that are dominated by men. She says she has never felt held back as a woman, which is important, but she realizes that because there are few women in these roles, they often work harder to get there.

“No one is holding us back,” she says. “Sometimes it’s our own standard to be as good or better than people around us. In a room full of executives, women have worked very hard to get there. That’s not to say men haven’t.”

Women, especially with children, often juggle multiple roles. Conaway’s advice to them is to remember there are seasons in life. You can be an amazing mom and businesswoman, but maybe not all at once, and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

“Because women juggle all of that, they have to give up more and work harder. I see it all around me,” she says. “It’s just the nature. I think women are better for having to work that much harder. It makes us very thoughtful. We see things differently. We can use that as a positive thing.”

Q&A 

AN EXPERIENCE THAT CHANGED HER LIFE | For better or worse, my career has been shaped significantly by events I didn’t plan. For example, Hurricane Katrina was the reason we returned to Louisiana. We just couldn’t watch the devastation on TV. We quit our jobs within weeks and moved to Baton Rouge with no plan in sight, but to help friends and family in the recovery. And wow, did it work out for the best. Risk taking has been a hallmark of my career, and it has always paid off.

WORST ADVICE SHE HAS BEEN GIVEN | “Get a five-year plan.” In my opinion, planning your life in advance can lead to an overemphasis on advancement, missed opportunities and a sense of failure if something unexpected happens. Focusing too much on what’s next ignores the great things happening now. We don’t get to plan life. Take it as it comes and make the most of every day.

WOMEN WHO INSPIRE HER | My mom’s work ethic and self-sacrifice was my first inspiration, and when she finally got the chance to earn her college degree after all three of her daughters left home, I could not have been prouder. Madeleine Albright was the first female secretary of state when I interned at the State Department, which was very special to see in person. I have a mentor, Sanam Anderlini, who taught me early in my career how to be both passionate and analytical. She made me believe I can change the world for real people through my work, and for that I’m so grateful.

MILESTONES

1999 • Moves to Washington, D.C., a week after graduating from college

2002 • Gets her first full-time job in her field as a foreign policy research assistant, working for her first mentor, Sanam Anderlini

2006 • Meets Stephen Moret at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, “which set me on a path to a career in my home state”

2007 • Becomes a policy adviser to newly-elected Gov. Bobby Jindal and works for her second mentor, Stephen Waguespack

2010 • Becomes a small business owner when she and her husband open Beausoleil restaurant. She leaves the Jindal administration for a better work-life balance after the birth of her first child

2012 • Works with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the Gates Foundation to help coordinate a coalition of diverse groups to advocate for a package of laws to improve accountability in public schools and empower families with school choice