Nearly 100 women in the logistics industry gathered in Washington, DC on November 19 for the second annual meeting of Women in Logistics and Delivery Services, or WILDS. This young organization had a lot to celebrate. Ruth Goldway, chair of the organization, called the meeting to order and discussed the accomplishments of WILDS, notably that women from around the country had been volunteering to start local chapters. After briefly taking care of essential business — passing of the newly amended bylaws and election of officers — Goldway introduced the highly anticipated panel, whose members were going to share their experiences and lend insight into mentoring. The end result, WILDS members hoped, would be the start of a national campaign to create a mentoring program among women in the logistics industry.
Panel moderator Katherine Tobin, a Governor of the U.S.P.S. and WILDS member, introduced the panelists: Judy F. Marks, President, Transportation and Security Solutions, Lockheed Martin Corporation; Vicki E. Spira, Vice President, Postal Automation Systems and GSD European Operations, Government Systems Division, Electronic Systems, Northrup Grumman Corporation; Anita S. Pursley, Vice President, Postal Affairs, Quebecor World Logistics and Chairman of Mailer’s Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC); and Denise Wilson, Professional Staff Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
As Tobin led off the discussion, she noted that leadership and the ability to problem-solve were key factors in rising to high-level positions in the logistics industry. The panelists shared their insights as they gave a brief display of mentoring in action.
Having graduated college in the early 70s with a degree in sociology, Spira entered a working world where men were being handed management trainee jobs out of college while women were offered clerical jobs. She landed a job at Northrup Grumman in, of course, a clerical position. But she worked hard and continued to point out that she had a degree and was qualified to do more. Out of nowhere, she was offered a management job in a department of which she had no knowledge base. She asked why the offer was made to her, and their response was, “You already demonstrated you can work hard, so we know you will die trying to do this [new] job.” It was a defining moment for Spira, which started her down the path to vice president at the same firm.
For someone who has to handle the ever-changing faces on Capitol Hill, Wilson said that thinking outside of the box and not being afraid to make a mistake have helped her move forward in her career. But most importantly, she added, you need to figure out your work style and surround yourself with great resources, especially human resources.
Concurring with Wilson’s remarks, Marks added that once you have figured out your style, stay true to it. Although an engineer and analytical by nature, she leads with emotion. By caring about what you do and those around you, you can make decisions that will make people happy; and happy, smart people are who she wants to surround her. She remembered all she wanted to change because she had kept a “what I would do if” list. Take her counsel: When you are in charge, change what you don’t like, and “steal” what you do like.
Tobin then steered the panel to talk directly about the mentors in their lives.
While her company, Lockheed Martin, has a formal mentoring program, Marks encouraged WILDS members, “Don’t hesitate to reach out to potential mentors, people that could be helpful. They will be flattered and will gladly give you an hour of their time. You will be surprised as to how happy they will be to help.”
When Spira started her work career, there were no formal mentor networks, but she noted that when people saw her working really hard, they wanted to help or mentor her. Today, she surrounds herself with good counsel.
As head of the Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee where she has to deal with professionals from diverse businesses, Pursley has found it useful to find mentors across industries, noting that while differences exist from industry to industry, there is a commonality: “We all need each other.”
Mentoring doesn’t come from just within the business world. For Wilson, one of her two mentors was her father. “All people put their pants on one leg at a time, and remember that when dealing with people,” shared her father. Taking that advice, Wilson has been extremely successful in making things happen on Capitol Hill. Her father also counseled, “Come from a position of strength, and explore areas that could be a surprise.” From her other mentor, a former boss, Wilson was advised, “Figure out what environment works best for you.”
Wilson’s comments on the working environment opened the panel to discuss the balance between working and personal time as well as bridging the gap between a staff position and a managerial position, concerns acknowledged by the audience of working women.
When making the leap from staff to management, Tobin noted that you need to find a comfort level for yourself. She suggested you ask yourself: How much time are you willing to devote to work? Are you willing to relocate? There aren’t any right or wrong answers; there are no positives or negatives. But you must accept what you really want, she advises, and then find a career path that will meet that comfort level. If working 60 to 80 hours a week or working at night is not within your comfort zone, a career path with ever-increasing responsibilities is probably not for you.
“You struggle all the time to find balance,” noted Spira, who put off marriage and family until she was 38 (“I was too busy working,” she said). Technology, however, has given her the ability to blend, more so than balance, work and a personal life. She can now work from home, day or night, thanks to her Blackberry and the Internet.
A final question from a WILDS member circled back to the discussion of the panelists: “What crack in that ceiling had they opened a bit wider to climb through?” Marks replied, “I never thought of myself as a woman,” followed by Pursley: “I never entered a discussion that I was a woman.” Clearly, these women never perceived a ceiling. As Spira concluded, “Just have clear priorities and a clear message of who you are.”
The meeting was adjourned with a call for WILDS members to both be mentors and to be mentored.