My interest in working with women was triggered over a series of events throughout my life and career, not necessarily connected, yet all with the same theme around courage, confidence and community.
It began at a very young age. Raised in rural Ohio, I did not fit the profile of a young country girl. I loved physical activity and remember playing football with the neighbors. I also remember being told to “sit like a lady and find a good book.” Being fiercely independent, I tested the patience of my mother whose conservative roots meant women were to be seen but not necessarily heard. She and I did not discuss my interest in going to college.
When I launched my career in advertising sales, few women were in leadership. In 1989, I was named as the General Manager of a publishing startup. I gained the opportunity because I was willing to work for an incentive plan, taking a risk around my salary, something no male colleagues were willing to do. I had less to risk, something no one discussed.
Upon taking that opportunity, I was fortunate to work for some wonderful men who mentored me. They saw that I was eager for opportunity in my 20’s. Thankfully, time was on my side and I learned to navigate the waters.
In 2000, I took a position of leadership in academia and I was shocked to see few women in higher education leadership. I thought it would be different for women working in a progressive university system. There were a few who did, but for the most part it was male dominated.
In 2005, I observed the very short tenure of a newly hired female County Manager. She was appointed after a long-standing male predecessor retired. It was an experience I will never forget. She was competent and capable, but her biggest hurdle became her inability to navigate the political darts as a female leader. Her tenure was short, and she was replaced by male leadership. I observed what it did to her confidence and her career, not to mention the fiscal impact to her personally. She needed a community of women but lacked that network.
Working with dislocated NASA aerospace contractors due to the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, my eyes were opened to gender inequities in that male dominated industry. One brilliant female engineer ended up homeless after she’d depleted her resources due to the hurdles she was facing while seeking funding her business. Realizing her desperate situation became a defining moment for me. I determined if there was anything I could do to impact parity for women, I would champion that effort.
Another observation. Inequity in compensation or promotion or funding was not because of inferior education, in fact it was quite the opposite Something was clearly inequitable. That lightbulb moment sparked an interest in working to change the culture and the mindset of people, both male and female.
I’ve lived through tremendous changes in attitudes towards women in the workplace. I am amazed at how far we have come, and yet how far we must go.
Early in my career, I worked for men and with men in sales and observed that men often held the most lucrative sales accounts. I tried to hustle and build my portfolio to impact my income. I expended tremendous energy and worked longer hours but did not gain parity. That experience got my attention. As I grew in confidence, I became vocal about an equitable compensation package.
As I moved into mid-career and became affiliated with the governmental and non-profit industries, the gender biases became even more apparent. Females occupied a disproportionate share of the lowest paid and most challenging customer facing positions in government. As I’d experienced in earlier settings, I knew I would need to prove myself to advance to leadership. I crafted a game plan and determined to:
gain/grow the tools I was lacking
connect to influencers and leaders and demonstrate my competence
show up and participate in the conversations and contribute to solutions
track the outcomes and milestones achieved
be at the table – and speak! Leading requires being intentional
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