Long-time Leidos employee Wayne Jacobs on progress in diversity over three decades and his best career advice
Wayne Jacobs has worked for nearly 33 years at what is now Leidos. Currently deputy program manager and chief engineer for the Leidos Civil Group, he has used his dedication to family, work ethic, and mentors to guide his career.
While considering his journey, two themes crystallize:
- His career progressed thanks to hard work, commitment to continuous learning, and mentorships.
- Over his career, he has witnessed the gradual understanding, appreciation, and embracement of diversity.
Let’s dive into both.
Jacobs’ perspective on progress in diversity
“Years ago, at technical conferences, you could practically count the women and people of color on one hand, but now the participant pool is much more diverse with wider representation,” he says. “And the workforce overall is more apt than 20-30 years ago to recognize opinions, thoughts, and direction from minorities and women.”
Jacobs partially attributes this advancement to training efforts that foster awareness of how people’s backgrounds can result in unconscious bias and, therefore, influence their actions.
“I started my career when diversity wasn’t valued, so I’m glad to see a conscious effort to be more receptive to ideas from everyone, supplemented with training and awareness to embrace all perspectives,” Jacobs says. “People and companies benefit when they welcome a wealth of diverse opinions and expertise.”
Jacobs would know. Some of the most impactful career advice he remembers getting came from a speaker at a Black Engineer Awards ceremony. The speaker was not only a company leader but also a mother. Jacobs remembers her speaking about how she achieved work-life balance as a black woman with young kids who aspired to move her career forward without sacrificing her family or her values.
“Her advice was to perform at your highest level while also establishing your boundaries. You’ll earn respect by proving your work ethic while also normalizing the parameters you set,” he says. In other words, know your priorities and honor them in your actions. From Jacobs’ experience, when you do this for yourself as a leader, you also empower others to set their own boundaries.
“I want my team to have work-life balance while also optimally preparing themselves for their next opportunity,” he says.
Advice for making a positive impact that advances your career
When Jacobs considers the lessons he’s learned over the course of his career, these points of advice stand out.
- Constantly look for ways to support others. When you see someone who needs help at work, don’t hesitate to offer support and even step into the gap. You’ll have a chance to learn new skills, and they’ll likely support you back.
- Speak openly with potential mentors and prove you’re worthy of their mentorship. While working on a litigation support team for the DOJ in the early 2000s, Jacobs enjoyed the digitization of legal records that culminated in searchable databases and realized he wanted to pursue an IT career path. He worked diligently to prove himself during that high-profile project and communicated his career desires to his boss. “By the time we completed that project, we had developed mutual respect and trust. He honored the promise to help me move into the IT department even though it meant leaving his team. We continued our close mentor-mentee relationship for years, even after he’d retired.”
- When you find great mentors, don’t lose touch with them. As he navigated his career, Jacobs noticed when people were honest, ethical, supportive, and forthcoming and truly cared about employees. He developed mutual respect with those people, built relationships that turned into mentorships, and still maintains ties with them. He also says he understands the importance of giving back what he receives and enjoys mentoring others. “I want to prepare them through exposure, experience, education, training, and stretch assignments, helping them take on greater responsibilities and more challenging roles. I remain in touch with people I’ve mentored since before 2000. They were 18 or 19 years old and still stay in contact with me. It’s a wonderful feeling to watch them grow into their potential.”
- Trust your mentors’ guidance. Earlier in his career, Jacobs enjoyed being an individual contributor and didn’t consider moving into a management role, so it surprised him when a leader offered him a managerial job and encouraged him to take it. “Looking back, I realize that he saw me naturally leading others, spearheading work, and communicating between teams. Those skills translated well to management roles, but at the time, I just couldn’t see that for myself.” These days, Jacobs truly enjoys being a manager. “I identify as a nurturing manager and get a tremendous sense of satisfaction when my people succeed in their careers.”
- Make a real effort to embrace every person on your team. If you don’t recognize that each person you work with offers unique value or take the time to understand their unique capabilities, you risk missing valuable contributions. At one point, Jacobs managed a team that included a non-native English speaker. People often complained to him that they couldn’t understand this employee. “But,” Jacobs says, “I understood every word he said, and that was because I wanted to understand what he was saying. He was solving our problems, so I listened intently because I understood the value his expertise brought to the company.”
- Take advantage of the resources your company offers. Jacobs strongly encourages his team to use the tools and training that Leidos supplies. “If you want to grow, you have to stay inquisitive and commit to continuous learning. Leidos offers an abundance of training, both in technical and non-technical areas, including multiple certification and educational opportunities.” For instance, Jacobs has pursued and earned multiple degrees and certifications that were sponsored by Leidos.
“Growing up in the South Bronx shaped my perspective on life and helped me realize that I’ve been abundantly blessed. My path in life has been orchestrated by people who cared, had high expectations, instilled a strong sense of self in me, and demanded that I always set the bar high and never subscribe to excuses. As a result, l feel obligated to reach back and give back,” Jacobs says. He actively volunteers in organizations that support the disabled, disadvantaged, and disenfranchised. These interactions solidify his position that embracing, interacting with, and respecting diverse individuals and views is mutually beneficial. “We’re the sum of our experiences, education, and exposure. Our willingness to embrace, understand, and appreciate others not only enriches us personally but also brings value to our workplace.”
Have questions for Wayne Jacobs? The Leidos Career and Collaboration Event will take place on Thursday, April 27, 2023, from 12 to 2 p.m. EST. Register to attend.