WFPL’s Jean West moderated a panel discussion at “Louisville’s Leading Ladies,” a forum organized by AARP Kentucky. The panelists, from left to right, were Jackie Ford, Rita Phillips, Sadiqa Raynolds and Grace Simrall. | Photo by Darla Carter

It’s easy for a woman to be overlooked in a male-dominated field like information technology, but Grace Simrall wasn’t having it.

Instead of being a shrinking violet, Simrall said she decided, “I’m just going to put my shoulder out and push and push and make sure that no one silence’s my voice.”

Simrall, the chief of civic innovation and technology for Louisville Metro Government, was a panelist Wednesday night at a forum called “Louisville’s Leading Ladies: Inspiring Success at Any Age.”

During the Women’s History Month event, WFPL’s Jean West moderated a panel featuring Sadiqa Reynolds of the Louisville Urban League, Jackie Ford of the Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana, Rita Phillips of TravelPlex travel agency, and Simrall, who encouraged women interested in her field to dive in.

“You don’t have to wait for permission to participate in IT and in science and in technology,” she said. “You can as a very young person contribute today.”

Panelists at the event, which was organized by AARP Kentucky for Women’s History Month, took questions from the audience and offered advice about how to succeed on the job and in life. Common themes included treating people with respect, living with integrity and building on past experiences.

“It’s a blessing to be able to use every skill that you have to serve the people to help make their lives better,” Reynolds told the crowd gathered at the University of Louisville’s ShelbyHurst Campus.

Reynolds, who previously served as the city’s chief of community building, explained the benefit of having a varied background when executing her current job, which includes being a civil rights advocate and tackling a variety of projects, from expungement clinics to raising money for a $35 million track-and-field complex in west Louisville.

Sadiqa Reynolds mingles with the crowd after the panel discussion. | Photo by Darla Carter

“When I look back over my life, it is very, very clear that everything that has ever happened was in preparation for this,” Reynolds said. “… the experiences that I’ve had, whether as a practicing attorney, a judge or the mayor’s office, they all really did help me to be able to make connections – the connections that are necessary to be able to move a project like this.”

West, the host of “All Things Considered” and owner of FacesWest Productions, shared advice from a successful friend to keep a journal and find “someone who will stand up for you, who will listen to you, who will guide you, who will tell you when you’re wrong, give you advice and mentor you.”

Jackie Ford, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts, spoke on the importance of being a leader who treats people with respect and realizes that everyone is unique and has value.

“There’s always something you can learn from every person, really,” she said.

Rita Phillips, president and chief executive of TravelPlex, spoke about being a mentor to another woman and the qualities that she tries to stress with her, including standing for what you believe in and having empathy and integrity.

If you’re honest with others and yourself, “then that creates a foundation for you to do whatever you want to do,” said Phillips, who went from starting her own business to being a consultant for other small business operators.

Phillips also spoke about the importance of staying the course. “You don’t let anyone steal your dream, and you go forward,” she said. “You have to have a commitment to stay with it because you’re going to have ups and downs.”


Darla Carter
Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.