"You will never be a project manager!" Those words reverberated in my mind like a ricocheting bullet. I was stunned. After faithfully and successfully toiling away at a general contracting firm for several years, I felt I had earned the privilege of becoming a project manager. The 14-hour days, the difficult tasks, the successful completion of projects—didn't all of these validate my ability to move up the ladder into a project manger's position? I certainly thought so, but the Regional VP of Construction did not.
After approaching him about being the project manager on my next project, he shut me down with those hurtful and undeserved words. My soul was crushed. My confidence was shattered. I believed I would always be relegated to the role of assistant, never being allowed to fully realize my potential in the construction industry. I had no idea what to do or how to move forward, so I called my mentor, the VP of Operations from my former company, for advice. He explained to me that as a woman I should have expected that response because a woman running a construction jobsite is — and always will be — an anomaly. That wasn’t what I thought I would hear from him. He had always been supportive and I felt even worse after hearing that. I was prepared to “lean back” and just learn to live with where I was.
His next statement, however, was the nugget of wisdom I needed. After hearing my silence on the other end of the phone, he finally said, “Natasha, look. Sometimes the best way to move up is to move over.” His words were like a life preserver to a drowning woman. I clung to those words for dear life. I picked myself up, dusted myself off and began my job search. I stepped out on faith, relocated to Atlanta, a city known for upward mobility for African Americans and women, and found the job of a lifetime.
At the new company, I would not let anyone hold me back. I volunteered to work with all of the toughest clients, worked on all the most complex projects and strategically sought out professional mentors to guide me through the construction landscape. In other words, I leaned in, developed a take-no-prisoners attitude and cut a swath through my company to become a Senior Project Manager in less than two years. As second in command in the Transportation department, my role has morphed from managing individual projects to business development and program management. Reading Lean In has validated my experience and has let me know that there are others like me.