Who am I? This picture says more than 1000 words ever could. A friend suggested this picture after I rushed off a construction site in order to make a Glamour Shots appointment. My husband bought me both the tool belt and the dress but he didn’t expect me to wear them both for a picture!
When I started my career there was a saying about a woman who pursued a non-traditional profession–“She is either looking for a man or she wants to be a man.” But as the men I worked with soon learned, neither of those options applied to me. I was – “different”.
“Different” meant that I don’t fit a perceived stereotype. It meant I had the opportunity to forge a new perception of who a Woman is and what she can achieve.
Since, I was always good at math and science I decided to be an engineer. I went to Virginia Tech and studied Civil Engineering. I was also enrolled in Air Force ROTC which meant membership in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets (military school). During my freshman year the Women’s Squadron (L Squadron) was disbanded and we were integrated into the men’s units. The men’s units kept their male traditions and we had to adapt. There were no rules, no sexual harassment committees. We basically had to figure it out on our own. And we did-without controversy. I think most of the women felt like I did-empowered to set and enforce our own individual boundaries and be respected for them.
When I graduated and got my commission I joined my husband at his first assignment-lovely Minot AFB, ND. Terrible location, incredible assignment! I wish every woman could have the experience I had at Minot! I learned about leadership from men who were truly great leaders. They mentored, challenged and recognized me for my abilities and achievements. They were genuinely excited to have a woman distinguish herself from her peers. These men guided me in laying the foundation on which I built my career.
For our second assignment we moved up in the world–geographically that is–to Eileson AFB, Alaska–outside of Fairbanks. I put into practice what I learned at Minot and turned a large failing operation into one of the best in the Air Force. Again, I felt encouraged and respected by the base senior leadership because they were true leaders. I didn’t feel held back from doing and accomplishing all that I could.
While at Eielson, I did the Supermom thing. Besides working, I got my Master’s degree in Engineering Management and gave birth to two daughters. My husband was deployed most of the time so I was a single Pioneer mom. (Ever stack 3 cords of wood at minus 20 while 7 months pregnant?) The only thing I didn’t do was sleep!! in the 1980’s women were supposed to be in awe of women like me but don’t be!! There were a lot of ugly days fueled by exhaustion. My advice – don’t try to be Super-Supermom!!
I got out of the Air Force at the end of my assignment and was happy to be uniform-free after 10 years. Women who have been in the military understand how wonderful this feels.
Our next assignment was near Washington DC and like everyone who works in DC I was a consultant. It was pretty cool because I was barely 30 years old and all of my peers were 60 year old retired Colonels who had kids my age. I was making a lot of money and was on track to become YUPPIE Mom. (The 1990’s ideal woman)
But, after two years, my babysitter decided to move to Florida. I rethought my life and decided to stay home with my girls. Financially it was hard–we still owned a house in Alaska that depreciated over 20%. I got good at clipping coupons, shopping the bargain racks and squeezing pennies!
We then moved to San Antonio TX where I initially stayed home but was getting bored. I thought with a Master’s degree in engineering I should do more with my life than clean bathrooms. I started to pick up consulting work but just as I was really getting my career going again my husband called from his assignment–we were moving again…to Georgia.
Augusta Georgia – not known for welcoming southern hospitality. I couldn’t find a job. I had no friends. I was an Air Force wife on an Army base. There are no words to describe how much I initially hated it! But then my luck changed. I got an opportunity to be a VISTA volunteer with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter.
All I can say is that as much as I hated my first year in Augusta is how much I LOVED my second! I got to be Me, every bit of ME–doing something that made a big difference in people’s lives, building houses with my hands, recruiting volunteers and material donations, connecting with the community-talking to every church and civic organization in town. All the doors in town that were closed were now open. I met hundreds of warm, giving people. If it weren’t time for the next assignment I don’t think I would have ever left.
After Georgia we moved to Arizona. Not knowing if we would be there even two years, I took the first job I could find–a superintendent for a national homebuilder. The pay was worse than terrible. After a couple of years I left and found a job more in line with my abilities. Great pay but for the first time in my career I worked with a lot of women. I supervised 4 women and 1 man. I lasted 50 weeks.
From there I took a job as a construction Project Manager with a general contractor. It is here that it really sunk in how the all-male organization works and its inherent inefficiencies and ineffectiveness. And how easy it is for a woman to be successful in it!!
I stayed there until a new opportunity came along – the opportunity to manage a $100+million project.
Normally women don’t get the big projects and I was surprised the guys weren’t clammering for it. I eventually learned why. First, the project was literally in the middle of nowhere and no one would move there. Secondly, and more importantly, the project was already labeled a “bad project” – and no one wanted to go to a “career killer”.
As it turned out one man’s trash is a woman’s glorious treasure! I made the project was a tremendous success by all construction standards. It proved my credentials as a project manager – as one of the best in the industry.
It was during this project that I came to realize my career success was attributed to being a woman. I kept notes of work and compared them to my experiences with my previous employer. I felt like I was living in continuous deja-vu. I realized I spent my career leading men away from their all-male behavior patterns and into a different, more effective organization.
Like many women I spent much of my career believing I had to prove that being a woman wasn’t a detriment – women are just as good as men. It was during this project that I realized that being a woman was the real advantage!
Armed with that thought I created this website.
I am glad I took the time to create this website because it prepared me for the next chapter in my career as the General Manager of a construction company. A deeply, Blue construction company working to support a the deeply Blue oil industry!
I know the concepts I write about really work because I used them – and I needed all of them – to change this company and earn its first positive margin in 4 years. I learned a lot during my tenure including some things that proved to be great disappointments. I learned what makes a truly Blue company tick and that if a company is deeply Blue it is because its corporate senior management is vested in that culture. I learned that a deeply Blue company may not be salvageable, despite my best efforts and positive outcomes that should encourage it to change. Sadly, I learned that a deeply Blue company will eventually wither and die and women, even though we like to rescue, should not waste time trying to save them from themselves.
And while that may seem sad, the light of encouragement is brighter than ever.
Because what I really learned it that NOW is the time for women to identify with who they are and to bring greatest to the world. The world has changed and the male dominated culture that has proven successful for centuries is no longer enough. Everywhere we look we can find examples of how it is failing today. The world needs women who understand their value, who empower themselves to bring companies, governments and organizations back to their correct balance so they can achieve greatness.
My goal going forward is to spread this message and encourage women to take their rightful place in business, government and society. Ladies, the world needs us!