How did a woman with a history major and a law degree end up in a science and engineering laboratory with a white male dominant culture, successful and loving it? By following a couple of principles – some might call them career objectives, but I simply think of them as words to work by.
Be open to new challenges, always. In order to succeed, staying flexible and open to new challenges are key characteristics. I have never remained tied to one vision of success. I started my career as a corporate and securities lawyer, but soon realized I needed to make a mark in the law firm distinct from all the other associates hired at the same time. While I had no background in science and shied away from such courses in law school, when a new and very different opportunity presented itself – to practice environmental law – I jumped.
Taking this leap allowed me to stand out in the firm and provided the springboard for my next enticing prospect, an environmental law position at Sandia National Laboratories, which led to my current role as vice president and general counsel. Of course, there were other challenges and jumping opportunities along the way; I sought them out and relished the experiences in each new and untried area.
Call attention to yourself in a respectful way. Another key characteristic for success is the ability to be noticed in ways that are respectful of your organizational culture. As I entered the workforce, I believed that hard work and impressive results alone would move me onward and upward. But when your colleagues are smart, talented and hard-working, it takes a little extra help to move ahead. Don’t wait for someone to notice and offer support. Yet not all attention is good attention; learn the culture and styles of those from whom you want attention.
Moving from a private law firm to a federally funded research and development center threw me into a vastly different culture. I watched, listened, and thereby learned a different communication style that allowed my voice to be heard and my impact to be recognized. Make your mark in a positive way that distinguishes you from your co-workers and fits within your culture. Show your organization that diversity and inclusion means recognizing the talent within you. Don’t wait, don’t hide. Be noticed, respectfully.