“Why would a nice ‘girl’ like you want to work in a field like this?”
“You are the first woman supervisor I have ever had in my career.”
“Wow – I would never have thought you’d come down into this manhole to learn to splice.”
“Would you take the meeting notes Leslie?”
Me: “I have someone I’d like you to interview for the open manager position.”
The Director on my team: “Ok, great, what is his name?”
Me: “Why would you assume it is a ‘him’? The candidate is actually a ‘her’….”
Over the course of my career – working in the field of criminal justice as a police training coordinator and work with the US Marshall Service and the National Institute of Justice and then moving into the field of telecommunications in network, field, construction, and technical operations roles I have encountered skepticism, challenges, and years of being one of the only women on the team. None of that was ever an issue for me. My competitive spirit, my goal to excel (personally and professionally), my desire to leave a team, an organization, and a business better than it was before I arrived – all those things superseded any challenges as a woman in a male dominated field. I dove right into learning the technology, the field, the art of leadership, and the people. Learning the organization, the skill set of the work, the directional goals, and how I could best support/lead was where I spent my energy and effort.
The above quotes are comments shared with me over the years from 1990 until today. Advice from a Chief of Police as I considered a field in criminal justice, an introduction to my first switch technician, my favorite cable plant technician, a peer Director who was a man, and a Director on my team – a collection of comments from the men I worked with over the years.
All of this skepticism and doubt created a stronger work ethic and a passion to prove that a woman could not only meet the opportunity to be successful in a male dominated field but could rise to the occasion and excel. Achieving excellence has been a critical goal for me personally and professionally as I have forged my path.
What have I learned?
• People can do anything given the opportunity (with the right knowledge, skills, and ability) and with a support infrastructure, women can be equally (and often times more) successful in male dominated fields.
• Paying it forward is not simply expected – but required. In order to ensure women rise in non-traditional fields, those who have cleared the pathways (no matter how much clearing or how little clearing has to be done) must reach out to other women and support and lift their journey. We owe that to one another.
• Never ever be the one who takes notes in the meeting or gets the coffee – never!
• Be certain you sit at the table – always.
• Make sure your voice is heard – in meetings and on calls.
• Focus on your knowledge, skills, and leadership – improve them and excel at them. Do not focus on the naysayers.
• Know that every opportunity that comes your way is an opportunity to continue to clear the way for the next generation of women to rise higher and make more of an impact with fewer obstacles. That is a part of your legacy!