Leadership and success in your career search: Lessons and shared experiences for women in academia and industry

Leadership and Success in your Career and Research, a forum addressing the career journey of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers was held at UH on February 10. The Deans of the Colleges of Engineering, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Technology sponsored the forum.

Moderated by Camille Ford, a partner with King, Chapman & Broussard, Inc. a panel discussion featured four women from industry—Heidi Alderman, Senior Vice President of Petrochemicals at BASF; Susan Howes, Reservoir Management Consultant at Chevron; Julie Mahler, Global Geoscience Recruiting and Early Career Manager at ExxonMobil, and Mandie Shook, Operations Manager, CenterPoint Energy. The panel discussion focused on how to expand leadership and growth opportunities for women, the value of mentorship, owning one's career, and inspiring others in their own success.

Realizing the impact that companies can have on education and furthering the career success of individuals, Camille Ford transitioned into business after a 10-year career in politics. She is a member of the College of Technology Human Resources Development advisory board in addition to her current role at King, Chapman & Broussard.

What are your primary responsibilities as Partner?

I work with clients to develop and design solutions for effectively implementing large-scale organizational change that requires engagement, leadership and cross-boundary collaboration. I am involved with planning organization change efforts through outcome-based projects that deliver a significant return on the clients' consulting investment.

How did you advance to your current position?

I delivered results in the engagements I worked on, was reliable, asked questions, identified issues before they became big problems and recommended possible solutions. I learned to ask for help when I needed it, and said “yes” when asked to lead internal projects.

In addition, I let the engagement manager know that I was interested in the next position or assignment such as project management.

What are the trends for women conducting a STEM career search process?

I am most familiar with STEM as it relates to the energy industry. Some companies put diversity at the forefront, but unless it is an overt effort, it may not be in people's minds; and they will not organize around it. Large firms like a BP or a Chevron have a number of networking programs to give people opportunities to come together as a community. In some smaller organizations, there may be networks but they are driven by skill set or role rather than focused on diversity.

What advice can you offer for career success?

For women engineers in an organization, hunkering down and doing the job will not necessarily get you promoted. The biggest difference is made when there is involvement in internships, volunteering, and gaining leadership experience. If you are in the middle of a career transition, find some way to be exposed to the business that interests you. For example, the Women's Energy Network would be a great one for initiating contacts in the energy industry. Anybody can attend the lunches that foster networking and mentoring. I suggest that you start by doing a Google search for associations in your area of interest and start attending meetings so at least you know what is out there.

Why is it important to create and build connections between academia and industry?

Having worked in industry for more than 20 years, I realize that some organizations can stay insulated and do things the same way without ever looking outside. Benchmarking does take place; however, my belief is that academia can bring ideas for innovation to industry.

On the flip side, academia can take notice and learn how industry executes change and organizes change more quickly. Companies that are results driven get things done. There are leadership qualities of executives in industry that could translate very well to academia such as, a clear articulation of commitments; a high level pathway that communicates in clear terms where the organization is going and how it will get there; how it will be measured; and what is expected from its employees.

What role has mentorship played in your own career growth?

I have used mentoring relationships to identify specific gaps or opportunities, get feedback, and to bounce my ideas off people.

What advice would you give (especially to women) to be successful in a career in the STEM fields?

Get clear on your long term and short-term goals. Be open to options for achieving your goals. If you think that your way is the only way, it will be a lonely trek. Some of the best advice I got made me a little skeptical at first. But, I tried it and the result was far better than what I had done.

Take advantage of leadership opportunities. Join a team or volunteer to lead it. Volunteer with organizations that will allow you to develop as a leader. Network within your targeted industry and join related associations. Do a Google search to find industry business publications and examine the challenges that they are facing. Think about how you may be able to solve them.