March 23, 2022
Mary Boyd networked to expand her horizon. Beth English soaked up education and training. Lisa Dodson cultivated relationships and mastered system change in the evolving Next Generation 911 platform. They each joined the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and volunteered on committees and boards.
No matter the avenue they chose, individually or collectively, each focused on the skills they believed necessary to move along the squares and maneuver from the public sector PSAP to private industry.
“For me, it wasn’t an easy decision,” said Dodson, 9-1-1 Next Generation Core Services (NGCS) Project Management Consultant, Motorola Solutions, and, for 22 years, with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (Houston, Texas, USA) communication center. “I had deep reservations about leaving. The PSAP was my home away from home.”
Dodson, Boyd, and English were not abandoning the 911 profession. They held leadership positions in government 911 operations but, for the most part, they had topped out in the pay and benefit scale. There was little room for professional growth. They wanted to advance and accept more responsibility and did not see clear paths to do so in their current environments.
While the potential loss of accrued benefits—and their second family—was an issue in transition, an overriding concern was limiting themselves by staying put. “As type-A personalities, we want to storm the gates, and the only way I was going to move up was to move out,” said English, who was communications director in Hailey, Idaho (USA), and then, Rowlett, Texas (USA), before accepting training and QA/QI management position with Commercial Electronics Corp.
“There was always the possibility of failing,” Boyd said. “I accepted the risk.”
English took the plunge. “No one helped me get ready, so I did the same as when I swim. I plugged my nose and jumped in.”
The eventual changes in course challenged their combined 60+ years of government work. The private sector offered similarities in so far as the imbalance of women to men outside of administrative roles, and as former leaders, they were no longer in control. Dodson refined her perspective. “The change was significant. I had to learn how to have a conversation from the other perspective.”
Getting a foothold established was tough, said Boyd, vice president of Regulatory Policy and External Affairs at Intrado, and Texas PSAP veteran. “I was one of two women attending a NENA conference,” which, at that time [the early 1980s], reflected the norm of supervisory and management positions in emergency dispatch despite the dominance of women in a PSAP. “For the longest time, I felt like I was always in the position of proving myself,” Boyd said. “It was learning in a school of hard knocks.”
Obstacles in adopting to the private sector defined their introductions. The transition took the ability to negotiate and gain confidence in marketing their worth. The woman who recruited Dodson “flipped the script” on her ability to take the lead in projects. “She helped me realize what I had done was project management,” she said. “I could do this.”
Positions they accepted changed from the initial offering. English was hired to train; sales was an unanticipated addition. “I could not persuade someone to buy water from a stand in the desert,” she said. “It forced me to tap into skills I never knew I had.”
Boyd said her head still spins from all the technology involved. “I was a sponge of the expertise surrounding me and still am.”
Their tenacity prevailed. They stayed and did better than survive. English said she got what she wanted, and that is a good thing. “It’s not always about what you know, but who you know, and so many people were willing to help,” she said.
For Boyd, the transition proved a game-changer. Boyd was recruited and, at first, believed she was brought because of her name (a 911 known). “I got over that,” said Boyd, who coaches women considering the same move (from public to the private sector). “It was about my experience and what I could bring in launching a project.”
To women contemplating a similar move, Dodson said to look at the options and what the companies offer. “Make sure there is a fit.”
Boyd recommends doing your homework. “Look at travel. Do you want to live out of a suitcase? Look at the company’s integrity. Remember, you are attaching your name and your word to what they represent.”
English said talk to people. “Find out how things work. Take the time. Find a mentor. Listen and learn.”
Boyd said emergency communications is still her heart and soul. Private industry does not equate to leaving the profession. Her advocacy hinges on what’s best for the individual. “What you’re in today is golden,” she said speaking to emergency dispatchers during the NENA-sponsored “Women in 911” webinar (aired on Dec. 9, 2021). “I am blessed for where I was and where I am now.”