WASHINGTON — One of the highlights of last month's Women Veterans Leadership Summit organized by The Mission Continues was a panel from prominent business leaders on how to navigate the transition from military life to civilian careers.
Below are excerpts from that event, designed to focus on ways women leaving the service can use their experience to succeed in workplaces very different than their military posts:
** Know your mission
Amy Gravitt, executive vice president at HBO Programming, is a Navy veteran who served on board the USS Constellation in Persian Gulf:
"It was quite a change going from the Navy to the entertainment industry. I took an unpaid internship with a production company. So I went from being a lieutenant and having a ton of responsibility and having people who worked for me to being the low man on the totem pole, by far.
"What got me my start in the industry and got me to where I am now is that I was the best intern. I went into this industry that was a mess and had no systems in place, and I started organizing it like my division on the ship ...
"The company I worked for was George Clooney and Steven Soderberg's company, and there were a lot of eager film students there who wanted to talk to them about films and ideas. And I knew they did not want to hear my ideas. They weren't interested in me pitching them movies.
"So, I did the job that made their lives easier, and I was recognized for that."
** Appreciate your service
Paula Boggs, founder of Boggs Media, served as an Army attorney and later when on to roles in the U.S. Attorney's office and various technology firms.
"By the time I got to Dell, there were very few people who had military experience. I was like a unicorn. But because of that, there was heightened awareness of who the military was and what they were doing. And this was pre-9/11.
"A lot of tech companies are heavily male. So I was a unicorn in the sense of being a veteran, and a unicorn in the sense of being a woman. All the greater in figuring out how to capitalize on those two things in a setting like that...
"As a team building exercise, we were doing war games, playing Army ... There was a moment when Michael Dell, founder of the company, just stopped and said, 'Guys, Paula really did this!' And you'd see this awe, this transformative moment. 'She did something we can only play at.'
"Never underestimate how special being a veteran is, particularly in this post 9/11 environment … There's this moment now in the country where veterans are not understood, but there is an elevated awareness of who you are and the specialness of the service you have given."
** Embrace the civilian workplace
Nana Adae, executive director at JP Morgan Private Bank, spent seven years in the Navy specializing in communications and signals, including assignments in Japan, Greece and Spain.
"One of the things that I stress is that people just need to know you, because if it’s all about whether or not people like you, that’s a very superficial way of thinking about how you’re going to be judged.
"And unfortunately as women, I think a lot of times we put our head down. We just want to work. We don’t want to have any of the noise about who we really are or what’s going on with us because that might complicate things.
"But truthfully, in the work environment, the more successful people are the people who are known."
** Don't exaggerate your skills or limitations
Gravitt: "You’ll make a million mistakes along the way … so don’t be too eager to move up quickly. Make sure you’re ready to ride without the training wheels before you take them off."
"When you make a mistake, apologize once and move on. Nobody else is going to obsess about your mistake, so you shouldn’t. Just figure out what you can learn from it.
"It doesn’t mean you have terrible instincts. It doesn’t mean that you’re bad at your job. It just means that you made a mistake. People do it all the time."
** Keep looking for mentors
Boggs: "One of the most powerful mentors for me was my last assignment. I worked in the White House on the Iran-Contra investigation. My boss was a civilian, middle-aged white guy. I was a 20-something black female.
"On the surface, not like me at all. But saw something in me that reminded him of himself, and became my champion for the first 15 years of my career."
"Years later, someone wrote an article where I called him the most significant mentor of my career. He called me and said, ‘Paula, I never considered myself your mentor. You were just my friend.’ But he was that to me."
"Mentors can be everywhere … keep an active peripheral vision, because you just never know."
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.