Michelle B. Barnes Talks Women Leadership with We Belong Blog

Real Images Founder, Michelle B. Barnes, was interviewed by Justina Parker of "We Belong blog. We Belong was created in July of 2020 as a way to connect with womxn* in leadership positions throughout the state of Arkansas.

Visit the full interview at:


October 26, 2021

Justina Parker

What’s your highest level of education? Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Arkansas (UA) Little Rock and Master of Public Administration from UA Little Rock

What was your first job? Cashier at Walgreens

What is your biggest accomplishment? I think being able to consistently navigate using my authentic voice while advocating for disenfranchised populations, women, and the youth in my career has made me proud.

What’s the most difficult part of being a woman in a leadership position? I find that it’s hard to push through certain stereotypes and unconscious biases from other people while handling business. People are often shocked by the wide knowledge base that I have. I try to bring all of my experiences into a work project. There is a ton of knowledge I gained growing up just by watching my family and community members. They have given me a lot of practical knowledge that I couple with my formal education and work experience.

What’s your favorite part of your job? I love hearing people’s stories and finding out what motivates them. I always say there’s power in a person’s life story. I’m forever humbled by people’s openness to share very vulnerable moments because I feel it’s sacred for someone to give you that level of trust to accept, and hold in confidence, raw and real imperfections----that we ALL have.

What is one thing you still want to achieve in your career? To have just one job. (Laughing) I don't think that will ever happen though.

What major failures/setbacks have you had on your career path that helped shape who you are today? How did you overcome them? I just shared with my brother this year that I suffered severe depression in 2006/2007. To the point that I quit my job without having another one lined up. The job was very emotionally taxing and I had severe insomnia. I was prescribed antidepressants, but I just quit the job instead. I was about two weeks away from having to move back home with my mom when a job opened up at the Arkansas School and Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts. Anyone who’s heard the story of Real Images knows the seed was planted at the job. I also credit my time there to the start of my career in management and going back to school to earn my MPA. Disclaimer: I don’t recommend people quit their jobs without having another one to go to!

What’s your go to jam when getting things done? It depends on the day. Sometimes I need a Pandora “Shirley Caesar” Radio Station. Some days it’s Cardi B. -- other days maybe Pink or Demi Lovato. I guess powerful women are the common thread here, huh?

What is the best piece of advice you can give to young women wanting to be in a position of leadership? Don’t compromise yourself. Meaning don’t change the very essence of yourself to conform to someone’s “box” for you. That’s their problem, not yours. I’ve often felt pressure to conform to a certain leadership style that didn’t work well for me. It didn’t feel natural to me and there are so many leadership styles out there and more being developed by the day. Do we all need to grow and develop throughout our careers? Yes, we do. However, don’t change what makes you, you. Lean into your natural gifts and talents because it’s needed and can be used in almost any leadership style.

What’s your favorite women’s empowerment quote? “No one can make you inferior without your consent.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

How do you stay organized? Synced calendars!!! I literally have to plan out my day to juggle multiple projects and deadlines. If it doesn’t make my calendar, it doesn’t exist. I also love writing out my ideas on a dedicated tablet. If an idea pops into my head during a time I can’t get to my tablet, I just do a quick voice memo.

What do you want men in the workplace to know? Women were capable of raising you and keeping you alive through the critical years of your life, I think we can handle running the company and enterprise. That may get me into trouble, but hey.

How many glasses of wine do you think it’s taken you to get this far? Glasses or bottles?

Do you have any upcoming events you’d like to promote? Stay on the lookout for our spring fundraiser, Phenomenal Women Luncheon, on April 9, 2022. It will be an outdoor event at Heifer Village Pavilion. We are also grateful for sponsorships at this time to make this event extra special. Take a look at our past luncheons at www.realimages.org/luncheon and contact us if you would like to become a sponsor.