In Episode one, I interview my sister, Sarah Shaw, on her experiences as a woman at the US Military Academy, as an army Captain deployed to Iraq, and her learning experiences while making career transitions and growing as a leader.
A little background Sarah. We grew up in Owasso, OK which is a small town outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sarah chose to attend the United States Military Academy at Westpoint for college and then served as a Captain in the US Army for several years, deploying twice to Iraq. She followed that career with a transition to the management consulting world in Washington DC working for Bearing Point and Deloitte and now works in State Government as the Director of IT Vendor Management for the Texas Department of Transportation.
- Westpoint interest piqued by recruiter who came to her high school. Realized it would be an amazing experience, free education, guaranteed job. Visited and realized there were other women there like her.
- Women made up only 10% of her class. Sarah had a great experience – surrounded by stand-out people. Valued for contributions to team, regardless of gender, in part because they were all facing a tough stressful experience together.
- Empowering moment as Captain in the army – Was 20 years old, leading 30 guys, no maps, having to figure it out as she went. Had Kuwaiti military report her for insubordination, after she had threatened to ram their truck if they didn’t move. Her boss’s boss told her “If they’re complaining about you, you must be doing something right. Keep up the good work.” Felt very supported throughout time in the army.
Supervisors can give you feedback that really builds you up or that tears you down.
- Transition to civilian workforce: Very helpful to have a network who could check resume and cover letter, help translate job descriptions. Looked for companies who already valued military leadership. Took advantage of career fairs / conferences and joined company that had program for military, which meant she also had access to mentors. Was nervous when starting the job knowing how to dress, what she was going to contribute, etc. Realized she brought a lot of value with her and could contribute right away.
- Leading through tough times: Bearing Point acquired by Deloitte, everyone was nervous about what it meant for them. Sarah would be transparent with team, encourage them to stay focused, showed up and stayed confident, asked questions of leadership.
- Learning moment: Sarah demanded answers from leadership on behalf of her team. A Managing Director and mentor grabbed her for coffee and suggested she find a balance – you need to ask the hard questions, but also be positive. It was great that this woman cared and was willing to provide this honest feedback.
This was a light bulb moment for me, that I needed to mature as a leader.
- Decision to move across country -Prioritized the desire to be closer to family. Started thinking about buying a house in Washington D.C., but the big financial commitment forced her to look into the future and think about the bigger picture plan for the next few years. Good to occasionally re-evaluate your situation and ensure you’re on the right path and making the right decisions for all aspects of your life.
- Prioritizing work-life balance – Doing consulting once in Austin meant she had to travel 100% and made it very tough to establish a personal life in Austin. After a year, she moved over to state government. Was able to get better work-life balance as well as go back into a civil service-driven organization. Better lifestyle choice, met her husband, etc. Also very fortunate to join TxDOT in a part of the organization that was well aligned to her consulting career.
- Fighting lack of confidence – While interviewing for Director of IT Vendor Management role, Sarah questioned her own qualifications even though the organization has confidence in her ability to take the role. She focused on the elements of experience she was lacking. A female co-worker told her “You’re smart and you’re a leader – you can figure it out.” Women are obsessed with ticking every line item off of the resume. Have to push the doubts aside and just go for it.
- Networking across the org – Had the opportunity to work with many cross-functional teams in previous role. Made lots of allies who then rallied on her behalf to the CTO (who she has not worked with directly) when she was being considered. In newer role, has found it harder to network with other teams. Cocktail hours are not her strong point, prefers to work directly with others to prove her value.
Advice for others
- On joining the military – “It’s a great learning environment. Lots of opportunities to show leadership at a very young age. I have nothing but good things to say about it” It attracts great people, has a great legacy, and a built-in large supportive network.
- Making career transitions – Know that you are never starting from scratch, you’re taking skills, experience, network, on that journey with you.
[The military] is a great learning environment. Lots of opportunities to show leadership at a very young age. I have nothing but good things to say about it.
Thanks for listening to episode one. If you have a second, an iTunes review would be MUCH appreciated, as it will allow others to discover this podcast and the incredible women it highlights. -Becky