2010 WOMAN OF INFLUENCE: Barbara Holder

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Diversity Manager, Smoot Construction

Sphere of Influence: In her role as diversity manager for Smoot Construction, Holder has monitored the participation levels of minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses in some of the state’s biggest development efforts. She’s overseen MBE/WBE programs for more than $800 million in projects, including Lucas Oil Stadium, the new JW Marriott hotel and the new Wishard Hospital.

Holder (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Smoot Construction diversity manager Barbara Holder is a second-generation civil rights advocate. Her father, the late Rev. K.T. Robinson, picketed East Chicago’s city hall to call for stronger minority hiring practices. Today Holder advances his philosophy not through marches, but by insuring that women and minorities get a substantial slice of the construction projects she represents.

“My dad embedded in me the simple philosophy that no one can ride your back unless you bend over,” Holder said. “The marches, the civil rights meetings, the sit-ins, the walk-outs and watching my dad encounter injustice and prejudice firsthand instilled in me the sense of determination to make a difference, the tenacity to stand tall when others choose to sit, and the commitment to be the change I want to see.”

Through her consulting firm, Barbara Holder Consulting Services, she’s helped numerous companies develop and implement affirmative action and equal employment opportunity programs. Such moves, she believes, positively affect not just public perceptions, but the bottom line as well.

“When corporations embrace diversity—of people, of knowledge and of resources—they secure their hold within their respective markets,” Holder said. “The returns on their investments are increased because their employees and their customers see themselves in the company and become more loyal to and supportive of an organization that ‘gets’ them.” Her efforts to further diversity earned her the Affirmative Action Officer of the Year Award from the late Mayor Harold Washington of Chicago.

The theme carries over into her charitable activities as well. Holder spearheaded the Indiana State NAACP WIN (Women in the NAACP) statewide celebration, “Remarkable Women Improving the Nation” in 2010. For the past two years she’s also overseen Coats for the Cold, which provides winter clothing to those who can’t afford it.

She also mentors students and young professionals who are thinking about entering the building trades. Holder served as a board member for the ACE Mentoring Program of Indiana, which encourages high school students to pursue careers in architecture, construction and engineering. She’s also participated in Project Stepping Stone, which helps Hispanic high school students prepare for college. Perhaps most tellingly, Martin University offers the NAACP Barbara Holder Scholarship to honor her commitment to eradicating disparities faced by women and minorities.

“Daily, I make a conscious effort to emulate the image that I wish to see in my community, within my place of worship, my family, my profession and the world,” she said. “I live by one creed: In order to make a difference, you must be the difference you want to make.”

Holder has two adult children, Tammi and Michelle, and two grandchildren, Kourtlen and Kyrah. In her spare time she enjoys theater, listening to classical music and jazz, traveling and, most of all, rediscovering her love for playing the violin.

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  1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

  2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

  3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

  4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

  5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.