For this week’s Woman Wednesday, AY About You sits down with Graycen Bigger, executive director of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority.
Bigger was born and raised in northeast Arkansas. She grew up in Paragould and attended Arkansas State University, where she earned her undergraduate degrees in Art History and Photojournalism. Bigger worked in journalism after college for a couple of years before earning her master’s degree in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York.
“Going into graduate school, the plan was to work in an auction house, but I developed a passion for creative placemaking and art’s relationship to community development,” Bigger shares. “My thesis was about the impact of Crystal Bridges on Northwest Arkansas. That was 2012-2013, and it drew me back to Arkansas.”
During that time, Bigger reconnected with a college friend, Alex, whom she would go on to marry.
“He’s from Pocahontas and was just starting out his law career, which is how we ended up in Pocahontas,” Bigger says. “After grad school, I actually worked in education, teaching art history for the Arkansas State University System for a few years and worked on some community development projects. My first job in community development was with Cherokee Village and then the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority, which now covers four rural counties in Northeast Arkansas.”
Today, Bigger says that she is really lucky to have two opportunities to work in community development.
“I still serve as the Executive Director of the NEA Intermodal, which allows me to focus on industry recruitment and retention, workforce education, and infrastructure needs of my area,” she says. “I also started work as the AVP of Community Development and Public Relations Officer for Farmers and Merchants Bank in 2019. My husband and I have been renovating a 100-year-old family home for several years now, and that has been a hobby and a passion project. We actually got married at the house in 2016. I’m also passionate about the arts and travel. I really love being able to work in community development.”
We asked Bigger what it means to her to be a woman.
“Being a woman means being bold … a force,” she says. “It’s about problem-solving and taking care of others. Hospitality, inclusivity and community building are all part of being a woman. I also think that being a woman is about strength with grace.”
We asked Bigger about the challenges that she has faced as a woman in her field.
“I think the biggest challenge for women in the workplace, in my field or any other, is feeling like you have to prove yourself — feeling you have to work harder for the same respect and the same platform,” she says. “It’s not unusual for me to be the only woman in the room, and there have definitely been occasions where men look surprised to see me be part of the conversation. Thankfully, my colleagues, board members and local partners have always been supportive, listened and trusted me. I work in two male-dominated fields, banking and economic development, and seeing the increase of the number of women in leadership positions over the past couple of years has been amazing. Balance between work and home life is also a big challenge for most women.
Bigger offers a word of advice for the women and girls who might read this article.
“Be bold and ask questions,” she advises. “Don’t feel like you have to know all the answers, because every day should be a learning experience. Take care of other women, especially in the workplace. Get involved in the local community. If you dedicate your time to helping others and taking care of your community, I promise good things will come back to you. If you’re just starting out or wanting to grow your career, it is a great way to meet folks and make an impact. Remember that Arkansas is a small state built on social networks. People want to work with positive individuals they can trust. I know I’ve met some of my closest friends that way and I’ve recommended women for jobs after volunteering together.”
READ MORE: Woman Wednesday: Natalie Black Blaney