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2016 WOMAN OF INFLUENCE: Tavonna Harris Askew

Chief of Staff and General Counsel Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County

November 3, 2016
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(IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Askew successfully led an effort to turn then-Wishard health clinics into a federally qualified health center. Now, she also serves as the public entity liaison on that project, which has received over $5 million in federal funding.

Rising up: Askew received her bachelor’s from Indiana University and law degree from the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University in Bloomington. She worked for Indiana Legal Services as a homeless legal attorney, UAW Legal Services, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, and as special assistant corporation counsel and public access counselor for the Office of Corporation Counsel before her nine years at the Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County.

Career turning point: In 2011, HHC CEO Matthew Gutwein asked her to handle a project, and, at the same time, the director of the Marion County Public Health Department, Dr. Virginia Caine, needed a quick resolution to an annual agreement with the city of Indianapolis. “I gave 125 percent on the project for Matt and used my resources to solve the issue for Dr. Caine in less than 48 hours. From there, I was given more opportunities to work on projects and to handle complex legal issues.”

“Made it” moment: “When I was promoted to chief of staff in April 2015, I knew then that my organization had faith not only in my ability as a lawyer but as a member of the business team.”

Choosing boards: Askew’s long list of civic activities includes The Mind Trust/United Negro College Fund Education Champions, the MDWise Inc. board, the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana Advisory Board, the Cancer Support Community of Central Indiana board and the Central Indiana Regional Development Authority board. She’s also communications chairwoman for the Circle City Chapter of The Links Inc., and a member of the National Constitution and Bylaws Committee for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. “It’s very difficult to say no when asked,” she said. “My family often reminds me that it’s OK to be a lifeboat, but if you put too much in it, even a lifeboat will sink.”

Mentors: Askew has a group of people she calls her “personal board of directors.” “My mother is CEO of that board,” she said, with other members including Elaine Bedel, Martha Lamkin, Joyce Rogers and Octavia Matthews. “These women encourage me, provide constructive criticism, and push me to be and do more.”

Advice for young women in business: “Develop a support system. You can accomplish so much more when you have a strong home team supporting you.”

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