“Brittany is bossy” was common feedback at the parent teacher conferences when I was a child. Second to that was, “Brittany is quite a talker”. Both are true in their own right, but it would be many years later before I would learn that my mother’s response was, “Brittany is a leader”.
When I was born my mother was the ripe age of 17, and 11 months prior she had given birth to my older brother. Our young father had joined the Navy to provide for his family. I should be a statistic, but my mother saw a future for her strong-willed daughter that was different than the life she led. I would become the first in my family to graduate from college and 4 years later I was back at the podium of my Alma Mater receiving my graduate degree. I would soon learn that I was deeply driven, not by being another statistic, but by being a symbol for other women through leadership and hard work.
It wouldn’t be long before I would find myself back on the lower end of “statistical success”. Upon graduation I chose a career path in financial services. Coming into my entry level position at the corporate office of a top 10 life insurance carrier, I had no idea that I was about to endure an uneven playing field. More meetings than not would be held in rooms filled with men, and my knowledge would be questioned in times when my male counterparts were given accolades. In these early days I would try to blend in under the assumption that if we all acted the same, we would be treated the same. All I was doing was blending into the background as men rose to the top.
I found my home on the stage; microphone in one hand, PowerPoint clicker in the other, bright lights shining in my eyes and a mind full of information that I was excited to share. It became my calling card to be the only woman presenting at conventions. I started to realize yet again that the only way to rise to the top was to be true to yourself and all the things that make you different. And of course, always strive to flip any statistic on its head.
Times are changing rapidly. Leadership is taking on new forms, but we understand now more than ever that it happens from the front of the pack, not the back. It has become common practice for me to challenge the norms, to lead with my heart and to push past what is simply expected. As I celebrate my first decade in this industry, I am proud to say that I help run a successful sales region, lead the Women’s Inclusion Network for my company and have chosen to be a member of an esteemed group of strategic thinkers throughout my organization. As a member of this group I will help my company strategize and develop products that are internally, externally and dynamically consistent.
The journey from “Bossy Brittany” to “Brittany is a boss” is not complete, it may never be. What I can control, is how I proceed when faced with adversity. I refuse to be a statistic, and I refuse to be the quiet girl in the back of the room when I can lead from the stage.
This article is part of a series of posts from National Life’s Women’s Inclusion Network. WIN is a concentration of bright and forward-thinking women (and men!) who collaborate on the leadership development, diversification, and empowerment of National Life’s female field affiliates and home office employees.