Dave Uejio, Acting Chief Strategy Officer of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), gave us a hard truth at today’s Next Generation of Government Summit. He said, “There are barriers in place that preclude us from reaching our potential.”
In government, he continued, this can be particularly true. Especially if you’re a woman or racial minority, the career ladder is still a tough climb due to cultural and institutional biases. What’s more, many of these are unseen and therefore difficult to address.
However, another of our favorite govies, Nicole Gilbride, Deputy Director of Business Operations at the Department of Veteran Affairs, gave us hope. While we work to unearth and tackle these barriers to success at an organizational level, she said there are a few things that we can do personally to thrive in government despite the odds.
Tip #1: Get your email etiquette down
Gilbride started off simple. Check your email. Make sure you are sending an email to the right people.
Then, dive a little deeper into your email. Are you using language that undermines your conviction, passion, or authority? Words like “just” or “might” seem like throwaway words, but as Ellen Petry Leanse noted in a recent article, they can undermine your message and your self. Where possible, make sure your words match your message before you press send.
Tip #2: Be your best self
Gilbride asked who in the room compared themselves to their coworkers. More than half of the attendees raise her hand. “You gotta stop!” Gilbride said.
Gilbride called us all unicorns because we provide unique value to our colleagues and our government. So what good does comparing ourselves to another person do? We are incomparable to each other.
Not only is this comparison illogical, it’s also detrimental, said Gilbride. It will reduce your morale and, if you’re voicing your comparisons out loud, it will likely reduce others’ morale as well.
Tip #3: Get a mentor AND a sponsor
You’ve probably heard that you need a mentor – someone to listen to you, give you advice, and set an example for what you can achieve. That’s still true. Mentors are awesome. However, Gilbride said this just one piece to your support network puzzle.
You also need a sponsor (no, not the AA kind) who works closely with you, but at a higher level. This person will be your advocate, telling others on their level and above how you contribute to the organization. They will also push you into new opportunities.
Tip #4: Just say yes
Speaking of opportunities, Gilbride adamantly said to take them at every chance you have. More specifically, take the opportunities you don’t want. The tasks that seem tedious or too challenging are the same ones that will likely open you to new skills, new people, and new environments. If you want to get ahead, you have to continue to grow. Saying yes to opportunities is a great way to grow, not only in responsibilities but also in experience.
Tip #5: Train up
But don’t stop there, said Gilbride. Opportunities to grow will come your way, but you can also make them yourself through training. “You need to develop skills that aren’t in your traditional wheelhouse,” Gilbride said.
Whether in-person (like NextGen!) or online (like GovLoop Academy!), training provides an avenue to grow that might not be available in your daily work. It may also expose you to new areas of interest or even career opportunities.
Tip #6: Join a group
Similarly, joining an affinity group such as Young Government Leaders or Blacks in Government can provide you a new venue in which to exercise your skills and grow your network.
In her spare time, Gilbride is the communications director for a large organization called Federally Employed Women. She can’t tweet at work due to government firewalls. However, she can apply with confidence to any government communications role because she manages the social media for an organization as large as many federal agencies.
Forging a successful career is never easy. However, personal dedication to expanding your skills, networks, and experiences can help you surpass institutional barriers and ultimately excel.
Gilbride’s presentation can be accessed here.
From July 20th – 21st we’ll be blogging from GovLoop and YGL’s Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Follow along @NextGenGov and read more blog posts here.