The biggest thing I have done to stand out is to stand out. I don’t follow crowds and trends, and most of all, I don’t jump on band wagons—I build them.
In an effort to move my career forward, I focus on finding new and innovating ways to serve our target population in a manner that is successful. I am not afraid to take risks, because risks are good and, in fact, great when they are successful. I focus on thinking outside of the box, which is not always popular. So I often find myself by myself until others realize that I have developed an effective approach to a longstanding issue.
Colleagues tell me that I am very authentic. Being your authentic self can take you a long way. No matter what career field you are in, being your authentic self speaks volumes. It’s a trait that draws people in. To me, being authentic means I do my homework and research, and go the extra mile to complete the task at hand.
Being my authentic self has also helped me succeed outside the organization. I am a highly sought-after speaker, and have received three governor’s appointments in the state of Maryland, including my most recent appointment as a commissioner on the Maryland Commission for Women. I was also selected to serve as the chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Commission for Veterans. I’m particularly proud of this appointment, because Prince George’s County is the most populous county in Maryland and this is the first time a woman has held the post.
On Doing the Inner Work that Leads to Success
My “inner work” consists of love and compassion for, as well as a deep understanding of, women veterans. When I talk about “inner work,” I’m talking about a drive and commitment rooted so deep inside me, it becomes bigger than me. It causes me to move ahead full speed.
I used to be a member of the population we serve at Women Veterans Interactive. That’s right. I was a homeless women veteran in the early ’90s, along with my husband, a Marine who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and our two-year-old son. The “inner work” that I have had to do in order to find fulfillment in my career is simple—I just remember! I remember what it’s like to serve my country with a sense of pride and dignity, remember what it’s like when then sense of pride and dignity diminishes because you are now unskilled, unemployed, and on your way to being homeless.
I have learned that although I have a story, I am not my story. My story is a part of who I am, and it is because of my story that I work hard to make sure that other women veterans know that there is help available, that they are not alone, and, most of all, that there is hope.
On Knowing When to Make the Leap to a New Company or Role
I knew that Women Veterans Interactive had to become a mainstream nonprofit organization in order to become a major contender for the corporate and foundation funding that would enable us to be around for years to come. I also knew that the rate of homelessness among women veterans was on the rise (currently about 50,000 women veterans are homeless on any given night). My organization’s need to enter the main stream, combined with the alarming rates of homelessness among women veterans, helped me make the decision to tackle homelessness from a different angle.
I created a unique workforce development program and applied, and was invited, to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to participate in their workforce development group. Women Veterans Interactive made a Commitment to Action (announced at the 2014 CGI America meeting) to help 1,000 women veterans become workforce ready and employed by 2016.
Along the way, I have acquired great negotiating skills, and the ability to think strategically and outside the box. I learned that a “no” can be turned into a “yes” that benefits both parties. All in all, I’ve learned to be confident in my own abilities, believe in myself, and accept myself.
On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
The nonprofit world is a little different from the corporate world. But it is definitely as competitive as any type of business structure. I am a firm believer that one size does not fit all and no two women veterans are the same. I designed Women Veterans Interactive to specifically meet women veterans at their points of need through advocacy, empowerment, outreach and unification. This mission gives us enough flexibility to serve a very diverse population of women veterans.
I have spent a great deal of time listening to what women veterans need. I have spent time in the trenches with these women, literally and figuratively. What truly sets Women Veterans Interactive apart from other women veterans organizations are our programs and the impact that we have made. Since its inception in 2011, the organization has supported more than 1,000 women veterans. And we just launched a new, first-of-its-kind workforce development program at the recent Clinton Global Initiative meeting in Denver, Colorado.
Our programs have been recognized by the White House. I was one of fourteen women veterans invited to the White House by First Lady Michelle Obama and honored as a Champion for Change for Women Veterans. In February of this year, Women Veterans Interactive was selected as the sole beneficiary of the BET Honors. All of these honors have come from hard work and dedication, which leads to impactful results.
On Facing Challenges
The hardest challenge I had to face in my career was breaking free of my story and not allowing people to stigmatize me because of my bout with homelessness. It took me a few years to realize that people were not taking me seriously as a business woman because when I introduced myself, I would begin by telling my story and explaining having been a homeless veteran led me to start a nonprofit organization. After that introduction, all of my accomplishments and degrees didn’t seem to matter, because people were still stuck on story. This went on for about two years before I made a change. Now, if someone asks me why I am so passionate about my work, I tell them. If they don’t ask, I seal the deal first. Then, if time allows, I bring in my story as a part of the conversation.
Ginger’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Pick a career that has piqued your interest or your passion. Go to school, get your degree, and build good quality relationships along the way. Keep going and keep growing!