It's a woman's world
Amy models what it means to be a woman in top leadership positions.
Up to this point in my professional life, I had worked exclusively for non-profit organizations. When a business partner and I formed a software training company in the 1990s, I still thought about our company with a non-profit mentality: provide good services, pay our employees first, and if there’s anything left over, pay ourselves. We never developed a business plan, a budget, or a financial strategy. I had no firsthand experience with what went on in large corporations. That all changed, however, when Amy, as vice president of information technology in a publicly traded company, hired our tiny firm to provide software training to their extensive workforce.
Her company’s new headquarters boasted remarkable amenities: dedicated rooms for nursing mothers, a hair salon, a massage therapist, and my personal favorite, a state-of-the-art computer training room. Although certain areas seemed cramped, the overall ambiance exuded spaciousness and light—a truly pleasant atmosphere. In fact, the company's commitment to employee well-being and comfortable work environment contributed to its recognition as one of the county’s "100 Best Companies to Work For.”
However, that didn’t mean everything was perfect. Amy was among a small minority of women at her level. “I really have to fight to have a voice. And when they do acknowledge one of my ideas, some man claims to have conceived of it first.” She confided after returning from a difficult meeting. Frustrated, she plopped down in her chair. “It makes me feel like I’m invisible.”
That never stopped Amy from speaking up, though. She ardently advocated for her positions, championed her department, and fought for the good of the company. Over time, she not only earned respect, but also spearheaded efforts to expand opportunities for women within the organization, benefiting all employees.
In listening to her frustration, I gained a fresh understanding of the hurdles faced by women executives. Although I had read about the glass ceiling and experienced some instances of being sidelined, I had hoped that progress towards gender equality would have alleviated these challenges, especially in one of the best companies to work for at the onset of the new millennium. Amy's experiences reminded me that there was still much work to do.
Amy's work to improve opportunities for women expands beyond the corporate sphere. For much of her life, she has volunteered for the United States Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a congressionally chartered, federally supported non-profit corporation that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force.
Despite CAP's predominantly male leadership, Amy rose above being an ordinary volunteer. During the same period in her career when she fought for her voice at work, she became the first woman State Commander of CAP and eventually ascended to the prestigious position of National Commander, holding the rank of General. Amy reached those goals because she never quit.
Over the years, Amy has provided me insight into the realities of how to negotiate being a woman in a male-dominated environment. She has demonstrated how to lead with compassion, caring and strength. More importantly, she has shown me how to transcend these barriers by not backing down and making sure my voice is heard so I can achieve the goals I set for myself, regardless of who or what’s in the way.
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