When asked what was the key to my advancement, I knew there was not one answer. First and foremost, I knew I had been blessed with great mentors. They saw the potential in me—especially when I didn’t. They taught me the ropes, and the unwritten rules. They encouraged me to develop, to take risks, and to stretch outside my comfort zone.
Second, knowing and understanding the organizational culture and how to navigate it was critical. It helped me get properly positioned for the next move.
Third, establishing a good internal and external network was critical to having a successful career. When I say a good network, I mean a genuine mutual partnership where all parties benefit from the relationship. Too often, I see people only seek out those that they believe can help them, yet offer little in return. This results in shallow networks which become very one dimensional and unsustainable.
Finally, at every rung on the corporate ladder that I have climbed, there is at least one person that comes to mind as being not just instrumental, but also paramount in my being there. No leader can be successful without excellent support from the people they work with. Acknowledging their support is key to building a strong team. My people don’t just work for me; I also work for my people.
As an African-American woman who chose to be an engineer in the 1970s and even wanted to take time off to raise my children, I experienced every obstacle imaginable. There were those who refused to take me seriously or even to recognize me as an engineer—let alone someone with promise. There was a reluctance to give me challenging assignments that would be crucial to my professional development. Barriers made me only more determined to succeed.
I learned that by displaying confidence and competence, as well as by listening to, acknowledging, and respecting what others bring to the team, I can build effective relationships. It was these relationships that helped me to press against the glass ceiling. I also realized that failure and adversity came with lessons to be learned, and each offered a new opportunity. Confronting and overcoming them helped me to develop and become the person I am today.