An Interview with the 2022 Woman of Influence Award Recipient 

Robin Rone of Smithbucklin is Association Forum’s 2022 Woman of Influence. Read about her career trajectory and what keeps her inspired.

By TJ Baskerville 

woman of influence Robin Rone

The prestigious Woman of Influence award was created to recognize exceptional achievements and contributions to the advancement of the association management profession and society. The Woman of Influence award is awarded to trailblazers in the Association industry who have demonstrated a proven track record of innovation, impact and paying it forward through coaching, mentoring and service to others with excellence. This year’s honoree is Robin Rone, executive director of Apra International and head of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Smithbucklin.

A trailblazer is defined as a person who blazes a trail for others to follow through unsettled country or wilderness; a pioneer in any field of endeavor. Robin’s commitment to the association world and its contribution to the community lives up to this definition. By successfully developing a strategic vision and partnering with her organization’s staff to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive company through the ongoing support of the clients at SmithBucklin, she’s been able to help pave the way for her clients’ diversity, equity, and inclusivity journeys.   

I had the distinct pleasure to ask Robin a few questions about her career path, her work-life balance, her aspirations, and goals. I think you will find her answers both relatable and inspiring.  

Tell us about your career path. Where did you start and is this where you saw yourself going? 

Robin Rone: I think like many, mine is a bit of an accidental career path. Association management is my second career. I started in publishing and writing as an editor for an academic press – a role I held at various companies for about 11 years. My first position at an association was in 2002, when I went to work for the American Bar Association (ABA) in their communications services division (so – still in communications and writing!). I was a manager of strategic communications and in that role I supported several of ABA’s entities, helping to develop and implement communications strategies. My subsequent roles at the ABA included serving as a special adviser to two ABA presidents, staff director of two DEI commissions, and as the director of the ABA Young Lawyers Division. After 16 years at the ABA, I came to Smithbucklin. 

What was your most challenging experience? 

Robin Rone: Navigating through Covid and the social upheaval and calls for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Covid, and much of 2020, laid bare so much of what companies and associations now must grapple with in terms of workers and members: inequity, healthcare and health outcome disparities, and economic and social insecurities.  

The past several months forced many companies, including Smithbucklin, to re-examine how to meet the needs of a forever-altered workforce and establish hybrid work models. I wanted to understand the many experiences of people on my teams and how they were – and are – experiencing the impact of the pandemic and other social justice events. At the same time, we are supporting and helping associations to navigate these same challenges and emerge in a secure place. This period is challenging for everyone, I think.  

What would you consider your greatest accomplishment? 

Robin Rone: I’m very proud of the work I’ve been able to do at Smithbucklin to develop a strategic vision and approach to building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive company, including the ongoing work to support our clients in their own diversity, equity, and inclusivity journeys. 

What advice would you give a young woman starting her career in the Association world? 

Robin Rone: Associations are wonderful places to work. You are often surrounded by really smart, engaged, and enthusiastic people who care deeply about their professions and the communities and causes they serve. Thinking about advice, though – I would remind any young person starting their career to always keep in mind that while you work with members, you work for the association, and that you are the association professional; cultivate that expertise.   

Woman of influence 2021

What is your biggest motivator? 

Robin Rone: I’m motivated to help shape Smithbucklin and its culture as our company grows from a “big small company to a small big company,” as our President & CEO Matt Sanderson often describes it. It’s exciting and incredibly rewarding to be a part of that effort. 

Where do you see the vision of your organization in the near future? What about your career? 

Robin Rone: A part of Smithbucklin’s vision for the future is having a diverse and welcoming workforce and an inclusive culture that can evolve and grow to reflect the communities where we are and the associations and societies with which we work. My role at Smithbucklin is central to that vision.   

In terms of my career, it is important to me to help others grow and develop in their careers, particularly those who are just starting out. I want to make sure I am helping build the next generation of association professionals so there are plenty of people to step in and help associations even more. 

What are your life’s goals? 

Robin Rone: That’s such a big question! One of my goals is to travel more. My husband and I are hoping to go to New Zealand in the next year or two, and I am also planning to get to Bogota to visit my brother in the coming months.  

Can you give an example of an empowering moment in your life? 

Robin Rone: Recently, I was invited to present to the Smithbucklin Board of Directors. It was empowering to know that my position and expertise were valued, and that our CEO trusted me to update the board and engage in discussion about our work around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging for our company and for our client associations. 

Who would you say is your “Woman of Influence” and why? 

Robin Rone: I’ve had the good fortune of working with many “women of influence” – from my early career days as a book editor at Howard University Press, where our entire editorial team were African American women; to my years at the ABA where my bosses – and many of their bosses – were incredible, gifted, and talented women; to now, where I work with and am inspired by so many of my colleagues – Smithbucklin’s workforce is about 72% women. It’s impossible for me to pick only one. I learn so much from each of them. 

How do you balance your home life and your work life? 

Robin Rone: It’s important to me to be present in my home and personal life, as I am in my professional role. I’m compartmentalized, which I think helps – when I’m done with work, I’m done. I try to protect my personal time. I set boundaries – and I encourage others I work with to do the same. I’m not always successful, but it’s important to me to try. 

I am also incredibly privileged to have a supportive spouse and family who don’t expect me to do or be everything. I’m eternally grateful for that. 

What is the most challenging about separating work life and home life? 

Robin Rone: It’s helpful right now – in this moment – that my child is grown, and that my husband and I have figured out our own rhythm. It was much more difficult when we had a young child who had a lot going on (sports, friends, etc).  

I accepted early on that I would miss some things, and that was ok. We didn’t try to plan and program every single moment. And while my husband and I took a “divide and conquer” approach to many activities there were a handful that we always attended together as a team (for example, parent/teacher night, report card pickups, open house.) It was very important that schools saw us together, as Black parents who are a team in support of our son. 

Tell us about your family. What is a typical day like for you and your family? 

Robin Rone: In the mornings, my husband and I commute in together for work, which we’ve always done and is quite lovely. Then, we spend evenings and weekends together – again. Our kid is nearly 24, so it’s a whole different experience! 

What do you like to do to unwind? 

Robin Rone: I read a lot, I have a great dog (Cloud) who I get to walk, and my husband and I “hang out” together just about every night and on the weekends – even if it’s doing nothing but watching the huge backlog of recorded programming we keep forgetting. I also like to cook, and so I will put together an elaborate meal about once a week.  

About the Author

TJ Baskerville is the Assistant Director for Online Education with RSNA. In 2020, she was named one of Association Forums Forty Under 40 and currently serves as the Chair of Association Forums Women's Executive Forum Planning Committee and is a member of the Professional Development Professionals Advisory Council (PDPAC) for the ASAE. In 2019 – 2021, TJ served as the Education Committee Chair for the Illinois Alliance for Continuing Medical Education (IACME), she was the CMEpalooza Intern for the Spring 2020 session and was a member of the 2021 Alliance Program Planning Committee and the Alliance Fundamentals Committee. She is an advocate for Continuing Education and Professional Development in all fields and offers a wealth of knowledge for Association Management and Education.

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