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Michelle Webb

Director of Diversity & Inclusion, TEKsystems

Baltimore, MD

Now I have the incredible opportunity to tell my story, to make a difference, and live my passion. And I couldn't feel more up to the challenge.

I've been with TEKsystems for over 18 years, starting when I was young, single, and kid-free. I began as a recruiter with the company, which is still our most common entry level position. I was thrilled to join an organization where I was supported by both my leaders and my peers, but I couldn't help notice that the company was primarily male.

I was ambitious, optimistic, and while I didn't know how I would do it, I knew I wanted to make a difference and maybe even lead one day. For the first several years, I was focused and determined to develop and grow and ended up taking a nontraditional role in the company. Going against the grain didn't scare me; rather I was excited about the opportunity to create my own niche.

However, I watched my peers who followed the traditional career path begin to shoot up in the organization while I was left in a position where I knew I was valued, but not noticed in the way I wanted to be.

I continued to embrace different challenges while still taking the road less traveled, but there was something missing. I was not fulfilled in the way I thought I should be, and I was not achieving the financial goals I had set for myself. It's difficult to measure success or failure when there is no precedent.

Then my life completely changed when I had my first child. All of a sudden my priorities shifted and now balance became more important than any type of monetary compensation. I was more comfortable just being good at my job and instead of thinking about that next step in my career; I began leaning on my husband more and focused on being a mom. The career that had been the primary driver in my life was now fulfilling but not my main priority.

Still, I realized that this could be the time when I could get noticed. The promotion opportunity I had always wanted was presented to me by my current VP. And instead of jumping at it, I hesitated. Hadn't this been what I wanted? What was so different now that something I had had once dreamed about now made me balk? It meant that now my decisions didn't just impact me (and my husband) but someone who was completely dependent on me and I wasn't sure I could handle it. I was comfortable where I was. I knew what to expect. I was scared of the unknown for the first time. Failure was terrifying.

But instead of just letting me choose the path of least resistance, my VP and mentors, who happened to be all men, believed in me and pushed me to lean in when I was trying to lean back. So many people around me had more confidence in my abilities than I had in myself and wouldn't let my fears hold me back. And after many conversations and soul searching, I took the position.

I ended up loving the challenges presented to me and rose to meet the expectations set by others and exceeded those set by myself. And I was reaching my financial goals, the icing on the cake. I was exactly where I wanted to be. It proved to be the most significant decision in my career. We had our second and third children over the next few years and I saw my company making progress with new roles and hiring, specifically of women.

The future was bright, I had found my niche as a mom and a leader and then my family's world was turned upside down. My husband was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and shortly thereafter went on permanent disability. I was now the sole provider for my family, a role most women don't expect to take on.

Instead of leaning in, I tried to lunge in. I didn't know how to react to the weight and the pressure so I panicked. All my decisions were completely driven by finances, and my own well being didn't matter. Everything was a reaction and I was paying no mind to my own personal development and purpose.

I had a strong group of mentors that brought me back to reality. They made me realize that I needed to take a step back, think about what I truly wanted in my career and in my life, and they would support me in any way that they could. Once again, they taught me that I couldn't sacrifice who I was to do what I thought I needed to do. They also taught me that I didn't have to be afraid any more.

Don't get me wrong, I still get nervous and question myself. But I've learned how to play to my strengths and overcome my weaknesses all while maintaining my integrity and purpose, and how to rely on the support of others to continue to grow and evolve. And as I grow and evolve, opportunity will always present itself.

Looking back on my career it’s clear that most of the professional mentors that helped to develop and guide me were men. I’ve actually never worked directly for a woman but as our company has evolved we have promoted several women and I consider these women partners and friends. It has been their perspective and insight that has helped me find my voice and want to make a difference for other women in our organization. There was one specific woman early on in my career that I leaned on for understanding and support. Lee is a friend to this day and she taught me that sometimes it only takes one example of success to break down real and perceived barriers.

My own self awareness and commitment to staying true to my own sense of purpose eventually opened up the newest door in my journey. I found that I had a strong desire to impact those around me and tell my story because I think everyone has a lesson to teach. And mine is empowerment. Be your own champion. When I questioned myself, I held myself back. And I watched many women in the organization hold themselves back because of their own insecurities or preconceived notions of how things should be. Through my own challenges and struggles, I felt an obligation to make a difference. So I decided to talk to our company president about my observations as it pertained to women advancing their careers and how crucial it was for things to change. I didn't realize at the time that this conversation would play a part in my leaders asking me to lead our diversity and inclusion strategy for TEKsystems. Now I have the incredible opportunity to tell my story, to make a difference, and live my passion. And I couldn't feel more up to the challenge.