Helpful tips on seeking leadership opportunities for women in the workplace
While women make up one-third of the Leidos leadership team, this isn't typical of most organizations. In fact, women make up less than 15 percent of executives across the U.S. At Leidos, the number is much higher because the company is passionate about helping women see — and take — opportunities for leadership.
One of these women is Jonet Johnson, a project control analyst - and a rising leader. Johnson models the type of trajectory any woman with drive and a vision for their future can have at Leidos when they seek out and seize opportunities. Here are some of her tips.
Seek Out Leadership Opportunities
No matter your current professional level, there are leadership opportunities — you just need to know what to look for. A general rule of thumb is to keep an eye and ear out for special projects that go beyond the scope of your day-to-day job.
Consider Johnson's example. After starting at Leidos, she looked for more ways to get involved in the organization beyond her job description. This led her to represent Leidos at a diversity event, where she met people who encouraged her to join the company's African American Network.
"I'm passionate about more minorities — especially women — getting into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field. And I'd love to someday be a leader in the African American Network, so I volunteer for opportunities whenever they arise," Johnson says.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Why limit yourself to a specific career path based solely on your education and past experience? Along the way, people often pick up soft skills that can be applied to numerous roles at any organization.
Consider what your strengths are, including degrees and certifications, but also skills like communication, rallying coworkers around a cause, and the ability to see and capitalize on patterns. Use this self-awareness to explore a path you may never have imagined.
Johnson, for instance, pursued her graduate degree in organizational science with the intention of following a career path in organizational consulting. As she stayed open to new experiences and took advantage of opportunities along the way, however, she ended up in project management before becoming a project control analyst.
"My job doesn't seem to have much at all to do with my master's degree," Johnson admits. "But I've been able to use many of the skills I gained from it in my career, anyway. And now my short-term goal is to get PMP certified.
"Even if you start off in one path, you can take advantage of classes and training to pursue any path and go as high as you want to go."
Network Internally and Actively Engage in Your Organization
Do a bit of research. Visit your company's intranet and ask your human resources team if your company has employee resource groups. Then participate in them and volunteer for leadership opportunities.
While attending a diversity event, Johnson connected with people who sensed her genuine passion to have a larger impact at Leidos. They told her about the company's mentoring program and she jumped on it. Now, she has a mentor and is a member of both Leidos’ Women’s and its African American Network, all while regularly attending the company's PMP certification practice group.
"Leidos has a ton of resources, and the culture is great. There are many women and minorities in leadership roles. It's nice when you have leaders who represent your own demographics. And people want you to succeed here in what you want to do," Johnson says.
Even if your company doesn't have internal networking groups, you can join industry groups, alumni groups and local chapters of professional affiliations. For instance, Leidos partners with and sponsors groups such as Women in Technology (WIT) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).
If you'd like to be a leader at your company, don't be intimidated. Take it one step at a time. While your ultimate goal may indeed be to join the C-suite, you can take advantage of leadership opportunities at each level that help you move to the next. If there is a call for volunteers to research something new or lead a project, take the initiative to chair or co-chair the effort. Any time you can, express your desire to continue developing and you'll be well on your way to achieving your leadership goals.