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  • Marnie Suss

women in resilience: 5 powerful ways to grow your career

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Recently, I sat down with one of my favorite people. Shannon and I worked together at the US Capitol Police and experienced some historic moments together including the January 6th Insurrection and the Inauguration of the 46th President and the first woman Vice President.

Shannon is a sharp and passionate leader in business resilience with more than 10 years working with some of the most influential departments in the country. She’s a problem solver at heart and no challenge too big. With her strong intuition and measured approach, it's not surprising that she is paving the way for more women in resilience.

There’s so much to share from our conversation, but it's only right to start with what brought us together - resilience.

As I listened to our conversation for this post, it became clear that Shannon’s stories and lessons are not only relatable, but serve as a roadmap for personal growth.

Here are 5 ways to grow your career:

1. Say ‘yes’ to one thing that scares you.

For many women, saying ‘yes’ to everything can become a problem. Shannon agrees, it can be a slippery slope.

But in her experience, saying ‘yes’ to one thing that scares you is the most important qualifier.

When she was offered her first job in emergency management she says, “I was terrified to take this job [because] I didn't know what the field was, but I knew I wanted a job. And I knew it would give me at least a stepping stone to somewhere.”

And what a stepping stone it was. Currently working for the U.S. House of Representatives Shannon ensures the legislative branch can continue its duties during a crisis or disruption.

“I am in a field that I love. I said ‘yes’ to a mentorship with someone who worked for DHS [Department of Homeland Security]. I did not know her. She ended up opening a window for me to get into DHS as a contractor.”

Shannon’s story reminds us that growth often lies just beyond our comfort zones. The next time you have a chance, say ‘yes’ to that scary opportunity. It might change your career or life.

2. Exercise your voice.

At 23, Shannon was one of four women in an office of ten. Shannon explains, “It was very intimidating because the other women, one of them, had a degree in emergency management and had come from working for Maryland state. The other person she didn't start off in emergency management but she had been working in the field for almost 10 years by the time I started. It was very daunting to me, because at the time I said [...] I was very meek, [and] very timid.”

There were times when she had to force herself to be tough, proving she deserved to be on the team. She recalls one incident, where she not only found her voice, but used it to stand up for herself.

A colleague felt comfortable enough to speak down to her in front of a client. He was frustrated about something that didn't go well during a client exercise. It was a tough moment but in trying to calm him down, he directed his frustration and anger toward Shannon.

She reflected, “And I guess had let him feel like that was an okay thing to do. And in that moment, it clicked for me that that [would] be the last time that anybody ever speaks to me in that manner.”

He wisely recognized the change and strength in Shannon. This was a pivotal moment, she said where “I'm no longer going to try to make [him] feel better [...] you will spend the rest of the time we work together making sure that you feel comfortable around me.”

Read those important words again.

It is not our responsibility to make others feel comfortable around us.

Finding and using your voice to speak up for yourself is one of the hardest things to do. Shannon shows us it is not only possible, but necessary.

3. Do things your way.

I’ve begun to observe a generational shift in women’s leadership style in the resilience field. Shifting from a more traditional masculine style - outspoken, openly assertive and loud approach to a more measured and sometimes quiet or subtle leadership style. This approach is just as powerful, and I would argue more effective in today’s professional environment.

Shannon and I discussed her style in meetings and giving feedback to colleagues or her team. She says, “I think silence is powerful. [...] I've actually had people tell me several times because I don't have something to say on every single point that when I do speak, people listen. Because I'm not trying to convince you I know what I'm talking about. It's, I have something poignant to say, and I'm gonna let that breathe.”

Shannon’s style is similar to mine. Ninety percent of the time in meetings, I am quiet, focusing on understanding the disconnects and where we need to bridge gaps or seize opportunities.

I replied. “I love that you call out that quiet is ok. [...] People pay attention and I think that's a unique style. [...] And I love that. This is how I like to do things. I don't need to be the loudest. I don't need to be the one talking all the time and saying every point. I'll throw it in when it matters and when it's really important.”

Most of us have been in those meetings where someone is talking for the sake of talking, using buzzwords or repeating what someone just said like its a new thought.

If your natural style is quieter or more subtle, lean into it. There are times when you may need to dominate a conversation more, but the game is changing, and the loudest, frequent talkers are no longer the gold standard.

You can be visible, respected, and a strong leader, just as you are.

4. Build and practice confidence regularly.

The resilience field is unlike any other profession. It's more of an art than a science. Classes, training, and exercises will only take you so far. Crises don’t care about principles or theories like business or economics. Every crisis or disruption is different.

Building confidence in this profession can take years or decades because this field will humble you, again and again.

Confidence is a necessary skill to build and maintain in order to move through hard situations. Shannon reflects on her time at the US Capitol Police and developing the Covid-19 response on the fly, “I definitely don't go in as like, Superwoman. I know I'm not here to save the day. [...] Knowing that I can pivot and adjust, even in something as brand new to me as public health, was a great feeling. I feel really confident in the work that I do now. And I feel I believe that that confidence has led my bosses and my leadership to have confidence in me.”

Shannon's advice to women, “you have to be confident in what you're saying. Don't backtrack it by saying, ‘what do you guys think’ or ‘this is just my opinion’ or ‘hear me out, this might work.’ Be confident in what you're going to say. Know what you have to say is important and it's going to make sense.”

Specific events can build or boost confidence, but daily actions, like speaking up or presenting new ideas, can strengthen and maintain your confidence over time.

5. Mentor women in your field.

The importance of having a network of like-minded women in any profession cannot be overstated. Shannon's dedication to paving the way for more women in business resilience demonstrates the power of lifting each other up and creating a community of support and mentorship.

Shannon works with an amazing team of women and men. Her direct leadership are women.

"It is fantastic and phenomenal, such a breath of fresh air to have women leadership that know what they're talking about [and] are confident in what they do and can bring you alongside.”

Women supporting women is one of the most powerful strategies in a male dominated field like the resilience profession. Shannon describes the shift she’s seen, “I have seen so many more people in general enter this field 10 years ago. [...] resilience and [business] continuity and crisis management - they are all not only viable jobs, but they are coveted jobs.”

Whether you are starting your career or several years in, the support of mentors and your peers, can not only open opportunities, but completely shift the paradigm of an entire field.

To hear more of my conversation with Shannon, visit Everyday, Your life, Your way.

Inspiring women to design - your life, your way - by transforming real stories & advice into action.



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