GBC Women’s History Month event explores Female Firsts in Maryland

Maryland Chiefs

On March 30, 2021, the GBC hosted a special Newsmaker Speaker Series to commemorate Women’s History Month. History Made – Female Firsts featured a dynamic panel of women leaders who have shattered the glass ceiling:

  • Melissa Hyatt — First woman Baltimore County Police Chief
  • Lisa Myers — First woman and first African-American Howard County Police Chief
  • Linda Singh — First woman and first African-American Adjutant General of the Maryland National Guard (Retired)
  • Trisha Wolford — First woman Anne Arundel County Fire Chief

The panelists shared observations about working in a male-dominated profession, what it was like to be a “first” and career advice for young women.

Some key takeaways from the discussion include:

On being a woman in a male-dominated profession:

Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa HyattChief Hyatt: “A lot is changing when we look around and we see more and more diversity in leadership roles. When we look at the new recruits that we’re hiring, they are more and more diverse. While things are changing, there’s still a lot of traditional mindsets.” She noted that she moves forward by sticking to her goals and not allowing anyone to derail her.

Chief Myers: “It takes embracing your uniqueness. Women communicate differently. Our perspectives can be different. Perseverance. Many of us who were first really have to look for our own mentorship. Having tough skin.”

Dr. Singh: “I’ve been able to find my stride and not have to be one of the guys. I can be tough. But, I can be as feminine as I want to be…Go out and find your own mentors.” Dr. Singh added that a lot of mentors will be male. “It’s helping to teach them how to mentor other women. It’s helping them see how they can be hugely supportive for other women. The guys play a very important role.”

Why choose this profession?

Chief Wolford: “I’m an all-in kind of girl.” Noting that she’s from a public safety family, Chief Wolford said, “It’s something I wanted to do. I’m hands-on. Physical. Nobody ever told me no. My mom said you have to work hard and I felt very compelled to that.”

Dr. Singh: On staying with the Maryland National Guard she noted that, “I did not expect to stay as long as I did. It was about building a better life. In some cases, I was actually surprised that I was the first female. You don’t want to think about yourself as a role model, but it is so extremely important that you highlight that and showcase it for all the little girls coming up behind you.”

Chief Hyatt: “My thoughts were never about breaking barriers, they were about pursuing the things that I really wanted to pursue. I knew I didn’t want to be in the back of the pack because I knew what the narrative would be. I wanted to make sure that I was one of the people that was really excelling in what I was doing with my actual skills.”

Being the first woman in the position:

Dr. Singh: “When I looked at my peers, I started asking myself the question, ‘If it’s not me, then who?’ and am I willing to take a back seat?”

Chief Myers: “I hadn’t really seen the role of Chief in my future. It was really an honor to bring a different perspective to the agency and it has probably been one of the best decisions that I’ve made.”

Anne Arundel County Fire Chief Trisha Wolford Chief Wolford mentioned the burden of being the first versus the honor of being the first: “I knew I had something to give and I knew I loved this community. It truly was a dream.” She said it’s important to ask, “How do we make sure we’re ready when the opportunities present themselves? We got here because we were hungry. We do it with conviction because we’re ready and we want to give back.”

In what ways can men help?

Chief Wolford: “The men are truly crucial to what we do. You can’t discount that their heart and soul is in public safety. We have to teach them to be good mentors and not scared. Let them know this is a safe space.”

Chief Hyatt: “Most of my mentors were men. They encouraged me to believe in me. There is a lot of value in diversity. More flexible, less rigid, newer generation men understand that and have made incredible contributions.”

Chief Myers: “Embracing diversity. Not just having women as a checkbox, but embracing different perspectives that come from having women in the room. Make sure there are leadership opportunities available.”

Dr. Linda SinghDr. Singh: “Don’t treat us any different than you would a man. Don’t make the decision for me. Enter in the arrangement to say, ‘I need to be able to see the talent in this individual.’ It shouldn’t matter whether I’m male or female. Why are you treating me like a female? I’m one of your soldiers, so treat me like a soldier.”

 

Lessons learned and overcoming setbacks:

Chief Hyatt: “Regardless of gender, we’re going to have professional setbacks. I’ve tried to focus on not being distracted.” Chief Hyatt also provided some advice for other women striving to ascend. “They need to focus on the big picture and tuning out some of the noise. They’re going to encounter hurdles…but we can continue to stay true to ourselves. If we can make the path easier for those that are qualified that come after us, that’s a good thing.”

Chief Myers: “I try not to be too hard on myself if I make a mistake. Not taking criticism or being distracted by things along the way. It shouldn’t be about a popularity contest, but doing what is right to build an organization.”

Dr. Singh: “There’s not a set path. Many different people are going to get there via different paths. Setbacks are not necessarily setbacks. I started seeing them as opportunities.”

Diversity in leadership:

Howard County Police Chief Lisa MyersChief Myers: “Provide fair opportunities across the board. Start early on to provide mentoring opportunities throughout the department. Diversity in leadership is important. It is important to have different perspectives on how we can make the agency better and reflect the community we serve.”

Chief Wolford: “You have to be promoting for the right reasons. We are running a business. It takes time. I have to know I’m doing the right thing and at the end of the day, it is competitive.”

Dr. Singh: “I selected three females in my top positions because they were the best, hands down. That’s being intentional. I did it for the organization, but to also give permission to other organizations to dare to be bold enough, to be intentional, to say equity matters. You have to not be afraid to be criticized because you dare to do different.”

Advice and achieving goals:

Chief Myers: “Don’t limit yourself. Dare to take on challenges and introduce something new and different.”

Chief Hyatt: “Tune out things around you. Have goals, lofty goals, and look past whatever the issue is.”

Chief Wolford: “Introduce them to self-awareness. It’s by far one of the strongest leadership traits for man or woman…How far are they willing to push themselves? Be self-aware of what you’re capable of and what you really want and to make sure you’re doing it for all the right reasons. At the end of the day, we strive to be great. We strive to be ourselves. Self-awareness is by far one of the greatest gifts.”

In his closing statements, GBC President and CEO Don Fry said the panelists “are an inspiration to men and women alike. Thank you very much for your service and for everything that you do.”