Living Women's History: Carol Eimers

In March we're celebrating Women's History Month by talking to strong female leaders within TVA. In this exclusive Q + A, Carol Eimers TVA's general manager for Inspection, Testing, Monitoring & Analysis group in General Construction, talks about stepping out of your comfort zone in order to add value to your personal development and career.

 

What are your thoughts on being female in a largely male profession?

My degree is actually in government and politics—that’s where I started out. I worked in DC on the Hill for four years before moving to Tennessee, where I continued to work in political fundraising and government relations. That’s how I originally came to TVA, and I’ve worked in River Operations, Dam Safety Governance, the Kingston recovery project, Coal Combustion Production group, and now ITMA. I’ve had a lot of different opportunities here at TVA—I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that.

Sounds like you believe women should be flexible in their career goals.

Most definitely. I’ve talked to several young women at TVA interested in possibly doing something else but aren’t sure what. I tell them you have to step out of your comfort zone and take a little bit of an educated risk. Overall, there are three things I always rely on: self-confidence, a healthy dose of humility and a sense of humor!

Mentors are helpful. If you look at potential mentors it really doesn’t matter if they’re a man or a woman, it matters whether they’re interested in helping you be successful. I’ve had a lot of people—men and women—who have been very helpful. Lending an ear, guiding me, pushing me. I could have stayed in government relations; it’s what I knew, what I’d been doing for 20 years. I’m not an engineer. But I think sometimes we get focused on TVA being an “engineering” organization and we don’t think of the whole skillset we bring to the table. It all adds value to TVA and the decisions we make.

How would you advise a woman who wants to change directions?

I think you have to understand your own abilities. Assess yourself. What are your skills—what knowledge and education do you bring to the table that someone can really use? Then figure out, what do you enjoy doing? I may be good at certain things but I don’t necessarily enjoy them! And define it. If you like being around people—what does that mean? Why do you like to do that? Then go to those trusted mentors and say here’s what I’d like to try to do. I may not know the exact fit yet, but here are my skillsets, here’s what I want to learn, and get some guidance.

I’m a big believer in having an individual development plan. You need to own your personal development. That’s all on your shoulders—you can’t pass that monkey off to someone else. That doesn’t mean you should shy away from asking people for help and guidance.

You’ve got to be open to new experiences. For me, when I was in Valley relations, I was interested in the operations side of the house but didn’t see how I could work there because I didn’t think I had the skillset. What could a government relations person do in operations? But don’t put yourself in a box. Otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I was very comfortable in what I was doing—probably too comfortable. It was scary making that first leap. But it wasn’t a totally uneducated leap—I did my homework.

What would you say to a woman looking at going into management?

Again, do your homework. Understand what it means to manage people. Too often, people focus on making more money without thinking, what are the challenges? What are the rewards? It can be rewarding but if you’re not going in with your eyes wide open it can be very discouraging. A lot of new managers go in and say, “I’ve got this figured out, it’s easy.” And it’s not.

The first time you have a challenging discussion with an employee, if you do it on your own it will be harder for you if you don’t seek out advice on the front end. “I’m doing my first performance review—how do I do that?” Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. Too often we think we must act like we already know the job, but you still have much to learn.

People who ask questions will be successful. People with a support system will be successful. Leading is not about going out on your own and doing it all by yourself.

What are the personal challenges you face as a working woman?

In contrast to some others, I don’t have a family so I don’t have to juggle kids and a husband. But I still need work/life balance. As a single person, because you don’t have those other commitments outside work like kids, sometimes you say, well, I’ll work late tonight. And you forget to focus on yourself and have a life outside work. There’s work and then there’s your personal life. You’ve got to be careful not to let work become your sole focus. It’s a piece of your life and will help make you well-rounded, but it shouldn’t become a full-time drain because you’ll be stressed. You’ve got to find an outlet.

When I go on vacation, I love to hike—I’ll pick a hiking trip out west because I know cellphone coverage is very sketchy and you can literally get away! I’m a big believer in totally unplugging when you are on vacation. And don’t take your phone everywhere. Learn to step away from work.