Last week, following my trip to Boston, I had the honor of traveling to Orlando to speak at the Women in Public Safety Communications Leadership Conference, hosted by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International. This event is of course near and dear to my heart, as it combines two of my passions: promoting public safety and empowering women. Women face unique challenges in the workplace, so I always jump at the opportunity to share my experiences in arriving at where I am today.
The most important lesson I attempted to impart at the Conference was to understand and embrace the fact that there are many paths to becoming a leader in this industry. Over the years, I have spoken with a number of women who have conveyed their discouragement in the fact that they are unable to advance into leadership positions in their respective fields. I always stress, however, that there is a big difference between being a leader and having the title of leader – the ability to take charge and to be a model for others to follow is what defines a leader, not necessarily the position one holds.
When I am invited to share my experiences with women, I am often asked, as I was at this Conference, about who my mentors were and what they taught me. At these times, I will usually mention my close friend and mentor, Marjorie Amos-Frazier. Miss Marjorie was a trailblazer in my home state of South Carolina. While she was the first woman to serve on the Charleston City Council and the first African American woman to serve on the South Carolina Public Service Commission, it was her courage and fortitude before she held these titles that made her a leader and pioneer in my eyes. A staunch advocate of civil rights, she encouraged Charleston African Americans to register to vote and worked to desegregate restaurants, theaters and other public places in the city. She also focused on providing better opportunities for the less fortunate, including expanding access to health care for the elderly and programs to rehabilitate drug users. As the first anniversary of her passing approaches, I am grateful to her now more than ever for breaking down a number of barriers that made my service possible and for being a constant inspiration in my life and career.
We can all learn from Miss Marjorie’s dedication to public service. I believe that, regardless of the positions they hold, it is vital that women play an active role in the public safety community. The diverse styles, interests, backgrounds, experiences, approaches, and skill-sets that females bring to the table must not be lost in this largely male-dominated environment. Not only is there a place for diversity in this industry, there is a need. The more a local public safety agency reflects the diversity of its local community, the more well prepared that agency is to serve its citizens in a time of emergency. I encourage all women, notably those in public safety, to bring and be proud of their unique experiences that ultimately come into play while assisting those in crisis. These experiences should be viewed not as impediments to leadership, but as enhancements.