Woman of Influence: Leigh Hixon, Senior Director Alabama Policy Institute

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Leigh Hixon has been making waves since her college days at Auburn University.

Spending a majority of her career in fields dominated by men, Hixon wasted no time in making sure her voice was heard, and her ideas executed.

Leigh Hixon

[Photo Credit: API]

She grew up in Saraland, Ala. and graduated from Auburn University in 2008 with a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science and Government. When asked what influenced her to pursue a career in government and policy, Hixon responded; “When I was a student at Auburn University, I led the SGA’s Lobby Board and helped to create an organization for freshman to get involved in government and politics on campus.”

“I brought legislators to campus and shuttled hundreds of students to Montgomery for higher education lobbying days over the years. Just as I believed then it was important for students to have their voices heard in Montgomery, I still believe it is important to stay actively engaged in political debate,” said Hixon.

In January of 2009 Hixon went on to work as a Scheduler for a member of the Alabama delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives and stayed on the Hill until January 2012; when she shifted her career from government to the private sector.

Hixon began working in Government Relations at Airbus, “Navigating an unknown industry, aerospace and defense, it was important to prove not only to myself, but to my colleagues, that I had an ability to quickly build the knowledge base and skill set to succeed,” explained Hixon.

And succeed she did. By identify stakeholders and investment opportunities for Airbus, Hixon guaranteed long-term success for the organization. 

In 2016 she made an even greater leap — moving to New York City and working at The Nasdaq Stock Market. There she advised, managed, and built relationships between Nasdaq’s CEO and executive team and executives of Nasdaq-listed companies and prospects, and worked with Adena Friedman, the first woman to ever become CEO of a major U.S. stock exchange operator.

In 2017 Hixon made the decision to return to her policy roots, and headed back home to the Yellowhammer state to take a position as the Senior Director of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute. For the past year she has worked in Birmingham, and across the state, leading a team of professionals who provide in-depth research and analysis of Alabama’s public policy issues.

Hixon is a woman of high-calibre, and displays an amount of strength and ambition that many young women hope to one day obtain. She was kind enough to answer some of our questions on her work, influences, and how she gained those qualities:

How have other women influenced your success?

For much of my professional career, I have predominately worked in male-dominated industries: policy, aerospace, and fin-tech. I owe a great deal of gratitude to the female trailblazers and mentors who empowered, challenged, and supported me early in my career, and to countless male colleagues who embraced equality in the workplace.

It is true that it’s important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and your abilities. One of my former managers on Capitol Hill, and a mentor to this day, cheered me when I told her I was leaving the office to pursue a more challenging role off the Hill. Her words still ring true to me today: always set the highest expectations for yourself and use your self-confidence to motivate and inspire others.  

One female trailblazer purposefully helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses. We worked through the StrengthsFinder, a performance assessment to identify my natural talents. Pinpointing those strengths, I was then able to develop a skill set which enabled me to identify stakeholders and invest in opportunities that ensured profitable, long-term growth and success for the company.

I had the privilege of working with the first female CEO of a U.S. stock exchange. She would say stop with the timid voice.  Assert yourself into conversations, and you will be heard.

This was a tough habit to break for a girl growing up in Alabama, but I intentionally stopped always replying with a “Yes, Sir”, “Yes, Ma’am”, “No, Sir”, “No, Ma’am”, and use other pleasantries or assurances to respond in certain conversations, instead. Don’t get me wrong, I have and will always respect my elders and those with honorable distinctions. But in casual conversation, by constantly saying “Yes, Sir” “No, Sir” to my male peers, I felt as though I was putting myself at a disadvantage and lowering my ability to “compete” on an equal playing field. I prefer to use other pleasantries to convey respect, removing any attempt to deference my role or abilities in conversation.

What has been your favorite area of service, and what is your favorite thing about that position?

Throughout my career I have demonstrated an ability to work effectively with others. It is my goal and mission to help build up the next generation of conservative leaders in Alabama, while identifying policies that are good for our state and working with others to find opportunities for change. I enjoy working in a results-oriented and demanding environment with a group of driven people.

(I’m listing out here because I can’t choose just one.)

Compassion for the less fortunate and a desire to help those in need

Grit for the long days, when all seems to be against you, and the will power to persevere  

Faith in God, my husband and family; reliability and loyalty to my friends and my career

Keeping an open mind, because as they say, your brain is not going to fall out.

What advice would you give to young women who want to work with policy or government relations?

Coming back to Alabama after almost ten years, I have learned the unfortunate truth that progress in policy is slow. Stay motivated and focused.  

No matter how difficult the challenge, the right team and a good attitude can overcome any obstacle. Having a positive mindset is the first step to taking on any career path, and I would argue is especially true in policy when at times the work can be very polarizing and partisan.

Now more than ever, I believe it is imperative to harness the talent of the millennial workforce. My generation seeks careers where organizations are mission focused and companies are good corporate citizens. This should be no different for careers in politics or government relations.

Have you read any books that have shaped your perspective on life?

Blue Ocean Strategy is marketed as a business book. It uses data and case study to help companies and leaders strategically think about how to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant. The authors argue that to create lasting success, one should not battle their competitors, rather they should create “blue oceans”- untapped, new waters and identify new spaces for success.

This book is important to me because in policy and in life, we should be thinking how we solve challenges all the while creating a more self- reliant society. Our elected leaders should learn how to execute blue ocean strategies in the public sector- combating crime, excessive government spending, etc.  

For her work and service to our nation and our state, for setting the bar high for other Alabama women in the aerospace, and fin-tech industries, Leigh Hixon is unquestionably an Alabama woman of influence.

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