Understanding how to learn, grow and strengthen your weaknesses is just as important as building on your strengths, says Johnita Jones, Pipeline Risk and Integrity Manager, ExxonMobil Pipeline Company, and Texas Conference for Women board member. We asked her a few questions about her career and advice for other women. Scroll down to listen to the full interview.
Q: How did your professional journey begin and what would you say was your defining professional moment?
A: My professional journey really began in high school with participation in JETS (Junior Engineering Technical Society). After my junior year, I had the opportunity to attend an out-of-state MITE program (Minority Introduction to Engineering), which further piqued my interest. My parents continually fostered my enthusiasm for all things ‘science’ and set me on the path to being an engineer. I was fortunate to be able to intern for several summers while in college to help further define my areas of interest. I believe it is very important for young girls to know that it’s OK to like math/science and take their own path.
Over a 30-year career, there are so many defining moments that it’s hard to pick just one. I have found that every experience tends to build upon the prior one to get you to the place you are now. At about three years into my career, I was given an assignment that at the time, I really could not see where it would take me. Fast forward to today, and the experiences from that assignment form a great foundation for the work that I do today and allow me to interact in a meaningful way with a diverse group of co-workers as I gained a fundamental understanding of the work that they do through that assignment.
Q: You have excelled in a very male-dominated industry. What tips do you have for other women who are trying to do the same?
A: Engineering clearly is a male-dominated industry. I think sticking to your guns and being technically solid is a key to success in a male-dominated industry. If you have the technical background, you then must exhibit very early on your ability to manage your work, manage the details and continue to learn and grow. It doesn’t really matter what sex you are, you can do well in that type of organization.
Also, as an aside, I’m a huge football fan. So it helps to sit and be able to talk to the guys about football on Monday or what happened over the weekend in the sports world. You have to find some common ground sometimes too.
Q: What are the top three tips you would offer for a woman who is ready to make her next career move?
A: The first thing women need to do is really understand their strengths and weaknesses. You have to be able to play to those strengths and use them, but at the same time, you can’t ignore your weaknesses. You have to look for opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and strengthen your weaker areas. Doing something like this interview is not something I consider as a strength. I’m not known for being a public speaker. I can speak to guys in hardhats and boots all day long, but outside of that, it’s a little more difficult for me.
I think the second item would be to do your homework on the companies that interest you, understand the business side as well as the culture of that company. Third, one of the things women always have to understand is that there are always going to be sacrifices to move up in your career. There will always be trade-offs between your career and personal life – especially for women.
Q: What is a great piece of professional advice that you’ve gotten from a mentor, and do you think that advice still applies?
A: Very early in my career I was told this piece of advice, and I tell it to new engineers every chance that I get: You have to show that you can handle the small stuff before you will be given opportunities to handle the bigger things, whether construction projects, business deals, legal trials, head coaching jobs, or whatever your ultimate goal may be. You must exhibit a thorough understand of the business, a willingness to go the extra mile (or hours) when needed, and the tenacity to manage the details early in your career.
Q: What’s the one thing that you make time for in your daily life that helps keep you refreshed and positive and going?
A: I have somewhat of a unique work arrangement because I work in one city and my family is in another city. I’ve been doing this for quite a while. I go back and forth and spend quite a few nights away from home. The biggest thing for me is connecting with those who love you just for you – not for the work you do, your professional accomplishments, or how much money you make. I make time for family and friends – even if it is just a phone call, email, or text message to someone special each day. I make sure I am talking to someone away from the work environment each and every day, whether it’s one of my children, my husband, or a close friend to just help keep grounded and keep the right perspective.
Interview by Karen Breslau