Secret to her success: Loudon trains to be a leader

Deborah Loudon learned from leadership opportunities, whether they led to success of failure

 WIT's new book, “No One Path,” is a collection of affectionate, but no less affecting, profiles of technology professionals who happen to be women. The 48 women profiled in the book reflect the many ways women have demonstrated leadership in science and technology — fields that, more than most, have long been the domain of men.

Here is an excerpt from the profile of Deborah Loudon, as told to Cindy Lancaster.

On her rise in government IT: Deborah Loudon rose to deputy chief information officer at the Defense Department's National Reconnaissance Office, which designs, builds and operates the nation’s reconnaissance satellites for customers that include the CIA and military services.

Women in government IT

Janice Cuny, National Science Foundation's Broadening Participation in Computing Program

Karyn Hayes-Ryan, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's Engineering Enterprise

Susan Keen, Navy's Enterprise Resource Planning Program

If you envision a place where you want to take your career, you can create it — just be ready for it when it comes, she says. So she defined the type of career she wanted and earned the certifications required to become a CIO. She then tapped into her network to find a way to get there. “I had to market myself and market the job [I wanted] as well.”

On what she brought to her current job as an independent consultant: Leadership is a never-ending journey. “Once you become a leader, you can’t stop. You must continue on the journey and learn and evolve."

On early inspirations: As captain of her high school basketball team: “When I was young, I didn’t really have [female] role models. I knew [women] had so much to offer. I felt that if I did it, if I led the way and showed we could take the risks and accomplish things, we could show results.”

As a young mother in a small Arizona town near an Army post, there were few activities for young women. So she started a girls’ league for 8- and 9-year-olds. Later, she launched the first modeling agency in Arizona. She collaborated with a local community center to teach modeling classes, skills she had learned after graduating high school. She organized the first fashion shows in the area and initiated mannequin modeling outside the stores in town.

As a college student, she earned a bachelor’s degree when her children were babies, then two master’s degrees when her children were school-aged.  “As a role model for my children, I wanted them to learn that education is important, and you are never too old to learn more or do a different job.”

On failure and persistence: Not everything was a smooth ride. “At first. I thought it was it me. Was it something I was doing wrong?"

She came to realize that failure is a learning experience. “If something doesn’t work, guess what? You just try something else, and try something else, and keep trying. Each new thing you do or try gives you one more experience that you can incorporate into your skill set.”

On power and persuasion: It’s one thing to lead, another to understand the power of that leadership. “One thing I didn’t realize was the impact I would have on other people’s lives, how others would feel about the decisions I made. When I was team captain in high school, I didn’t understand the impact of not picking someone to be on the team or of not including someone in a game.”

On being a woman in a man’s world: “It was more difficult to ensure respect at the table when I was the only woman.” But standing her ground, while understanding the culture and respecting differences, eventually earned her the respect of her male peers. “In a business environment, you have to take the ‘person’ part out of it and look at larger factors like the competition, environment, culture. There are so many external factors [over which] you have no control that play into decisions you make.”

Cindy Lancaster is business development manager in the Space and Geospatial Intelligence Business Unit at SAIC.

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