This entry is part of our summer blog series on women in the tech sector. We chose women and companies that we find interesting and we asked them about what they’ve learned along the way. Kelly Ralston is the Vice President/ECR Director of Operations at ICF, and has found ways to stand out in the big business sector. She shared some of the strategies she has used along the way, as well as advice about how to balance work and family.
What we asked: What kind of STEM background (if any) do you have?
What she said: I have a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Virginia, with a concentration in Management Information Systems and Marketing. I also have a Masters’ in Business Administration, as well as a Masters’ in International Transactions, from George Mason University.
What we asked: Was there a time when you met with adversity in your career?
What she said: I think the largest adversity I faced in my career, was in determining how to continue to develop professionally, without sacrificing my family or role as a mother. All too often women are faced with limitations in their professional career if they place a premium on work/life balance. With some professions and in some companies, there is little flexibility in the work place to accommodate talented women who are also mothers. Recognizing that limitations may exist and then being deliberate about targeting a career that offers flexibility in this area was a critical success factor for me. For example, I entered the consulting world straight out of college, and then again, following my graduate work. Supporting clients that didn’t require that the work be performed full-time at the client site and working for a company that let me set my own schedule were key to the flexibility I needed to support client and family needs. Understanding what my job priorities were (and that they would likely change over time) was also important. At the beginning of my career, maximizing my earnings potential was a huge driver, but as I became more established in my career and started my family, flexibility in how I worked became more important. With this in mind, I found that my current employer, ICF, offered the best of both worlds and consequently my career has thrived.
What we asked: What’s the hardest lesson you have learned in your career?
What she said: One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn was that my intellectual ability alone was not the primary determinant of my success. Having a solid technical basis for the services being offered is a must, but having strong interpersonal skills is also key. I’ve always placed a premium on hard work, commitment and academic excellence, but throughout my career I have found that clients more often than not buy from people they like. This is particularly true when a client has more than one technically capable solution provider to choose from; in this case, how you connect with people can often serves as the tie breaker.
What we asked: Working for big companies often provides a lot of opportunity but it also means you can get lost. How did you keep from getting lost?
What she said: From the beginning of my career, I worked hard, was a team player, and brought my best to every endeavor I undertook. In addition, each year, I looked for opportunities to get involved in activities where the benefit to me wasn’t immediate, but my support helped advance company initiatives. For example, I volunteered to help manage the performance review cycle, support cost proposals and other business development efforts, assist in the start-up of new contracts, and serve as integration manager for a new corporate acquisition. With each activity, I expanded my network, honed my skills, and enhanced my marketability by learning new aspects of running a successful business. Being proactive and taking the initiative in creating career opportunities was a key component in my professional development and advancement, and over the years, I found that with this strategy, the company soon recognized my capabilities and often sought me out when faced with new challenges and opportunities that furthered my career.
If this post was of interest to you, then check out some of the other posts in this series.