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United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.

Image Courtesy of Shannon Foxx Day

Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Shannon Foxx Day.

Affiliation(s) (past and present):

Affiliated with Genex Systems (work), Project Management Institute Central Virginia Chapter (PMI CVC – member and volunteer), William & Mary (Grad School, volunteering)

How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?

Currently I’m a Senior Program Manager for the NASA GSS2 Enterprise contract, working for Genex. My field is comprised of a variety of lanes, such as Project and Program Management, Technical Management, Geospatial/ Geographic Information Systems (GIS – Maps), Leadership, Business Development and more. I started in the area of Civil Engineering ~20 years ago, and gradually made my way through architectural design, traffic engineering, civil drafting, sanitary sewer system design, land management and sustainability, and cartography. I realized that my roles had always had a component of project management embedded within them, and that I liked the variability and dynamism of that sort of job. The story sounds simple, but the trick to it was that we moved relatively frequently because my husband was in the military; we needed to go where the Army told us. Finding a job at each location that would incrementally further my career took some initiative, and there were a few times I went back to waitressing/ bartending to fill gaps. In 2015 I had a second opportunity to work in government contracting and that changed the game for me; giving me a much different challenge than previously experienced, and one that I was quite ready for. The environment of identifying and implementing innovations that directly support soldier training, as well as working in fast paced challenging scenarios to solve problems, and with highly motivated people has been a great fit for me. I’ve since moved from being an analyst on projects, to managing them, and to my current position as program manager, with an amazing team of analysts, developers, administrators, and technicians from the Hampton Roads area to Texas and everywhere in between. I got here by focusing on what I can do in the present and making sure that I take a lesson or learning experience from each person, job, and project. I talked to people I wanted to emulate, and when I saw someone that had a career path similar to what I thought would be a good fit for me, I made a connection and talked to them about how they achieved their role.

How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?

I moved to Williamsburg at the tail end of 2018 with my husband, who had started a civilian position in Operations Management at Fort Eustis. My job was remote and open to my relocation anywhere; we came from New Hampshire, where my husband was completing Grad school and I was managing a team of GIS Analysts while located at Fort Devens, MA. I continued working in Project and Program Management until May of 2021, when I began working for a local consulting firm, Genex Systems, in Newport News, as Senior Program Manager for NASA’s Enterprise Geospatial Support Services contract. Our team of 17 is located from Virginia to Texas, working a hybrid model of remote and onsite support to two NASA centers: Langley Research Center and Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.

What advice would you give young women going into your field?

Project and Program Management is about trust. They want to trust that you can execute, that you will be consistent, and that they can rely on you. Your honesty is paramount when entering the industry and fostering strong relationships. You will be valued for your honesty and integrity, many time moreso than the results. Take time to look inward at your skills and abilities, and seek out resources; we can learn from every interaction we have. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room, and you must correct that immediately. Never stop learning, and remember when you were in their shoes: what did young you need to hear, what did young you need to learn. Deliver gently, always be honest, be tough, but be fair. Germans have a phrase, sitzfleisch, meaning the ability to sit still for the long period of time it takes to work through difficult situations and see a project through to completion. Sometimes, we need to put our heads down and work through the unsavory, the paperwork, the reviews, the financial plan just one more time, in order to make progress. It can feel a bit like we’re the rocking horse; moving but not going anywhere, but this practice provides the foundation that you can stand on later.

Does your gender influence your relationship to your work? In what way?

Absolutely. On the one hand I’m always cognizant of my interactions with others because I am aware of perceptions in my field: passionate women can be seen as aggressive or bitchy, women who hold people accountable can be seen as high riding, and women who show vulnerability can be seen as too soft. Though my team may not realize, I’m acutely aware of the silly jokes that I make and fall flat, or of any misstep I may make and of potential repercussions. As stated above, as we grow into leadership roles, our success hinges on trust. I find that exposing myself and vulnerability to my team in a feminine way can help to catalyze the trust that we have established. I am not an automaton; there are things I need help with and this is why we have assembled this team. I make sure to recognize that at all points. The team that I work with is critical to the success of the project, indeed, I would not be there without them.

Have you faced challenges in your field because of your gender or have you found your gender to be an asset? What kinds of challenges or advantages, and how have they affected your life?

When I was about 19, I was waiting tables and a man about 60 asked me what I was going to be when I grew up. I responded that I wanted to be an architect. He told me that architects are men, not women, and that I should seek out another career path. This was in the late 90s or early 2000’s! As I continued, I did find the fields I pursued to be more male oriented: civil engineering, master planning, CAD drafting, architectural design, project management, program management, etc. There have been many times I have shown up to a client site being the only woman there, or one of a very few, and having to immediately make connections with a variety of people, quickly, who may have some preconceived notions about working with women or of what I was there to do.

Interestingly, I would say that my experience in the service industry has helped me more than anything else in my career. Having to navigate a plethora of personalities and stay one step ahead of the customer, while putting a positive spin on things and always upselling have been critical skills that have transferred directly to the corporate world.

Has parenthood impacted your career or shaped your perspective as a professional? In what ways?

I am child free, which I do believe has served me positively throughout my career, but hasn’t been without comment, and is easily the most likely thing that people are to disbelieve about me. About 4-5 years ago, I arrived on a site for a new position and someone, upon meeting, made the comment that I was of childbearing age and questioned if I had plans for that Additionally, comments have been made to me directly in the past 10 years about my potential to leave or take leave due to child bearing and rearing. As a woman in their 30s, I am sure this is not uncommon to experience, however I do hope that this becomes less common as different family structures are more accepted.

I am very aware of people on my team that do have children, and, particularly in the pandemic, work to be flexible and understanding of additional challenges and responsibilities that they may have. With our increase in video conferencing, there have definitely been more appearances of kids and pets in meetings, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that this is a new environment for us professionally, and also for many personally. People who were working from an office and had kids in school now find themselves all in the same house, which can be stressful and a completely different dynamic. I think it’s important to recognize we are all human, and have different home environments and to be flexible with how we make things work.

What accomplishment is your greatest triumph?

Graduating magna cum laude with my bachelor of science. It took me ~8 years to finish my degree because we moved a few times while my husband was in the army and I had to continue to work full time. I ended up attending 4 college before getting my degree.

What has been your greatest challenge and what have you learned from it?

My greatest challenge has been consistently pursuing my goals. It can be comfortable to stay in a place where you know the systems and processes. I had the opportunity to relocate geographically, so sometimes I was forced out of comfortable situations. Other times, I had the definite opportunity to maintain the status quo, but knew if I took a leap or made a big change that it could greatly change my trajectory in my career. Staying consistent with school and continuing to grow and learn is a challenge, it is time consuming and isn’t always fun.

Any closing thoughts?

I appreciate the opportunity to share my experiences and thoughts with Spotlight, thank you so much for taking the time!

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