IMCOM leader offers insight, mentoring during Women's History Month
March 25, 2014
SAN ANTONIO (Mar. 20, 2014) -- Demonstrate your true value by focusing on improvement and doing the hard jobs well, Maj. Gen. Camille Nichols, deputy commanding general and chief of staff, U.S. Army Installation Management Command, said during a panel discussion on women's roles in the U.S. Army -- a mentoring opportunity coinciding with National Women's History Month.
Joining four other female Army leaders ranging in rank from sergeant major to colonel in a variety of occupational specialties, Nichols spoke to approximately 30 members of the San Antonio chapter of Rocks, Inc., an officer corps mentoring and professional development organization.
Nichols spoke frankly about her Army career path, shared personal experiences and offered insight into changing attitude and culture regarding women's expanding opportunities in the Army.
Nichols first enlisted in the Army in the 1970s still the Women's Army Corps at the time, seeking a means of funding her college education. Because she asked so many questions, she told the audience, she wasn't a good private. Candidly, she described her unorthodox journey to United States Military Academy West Point and choosing to join the engineering branch.
"It was a different Army in 1981. I wanted a job where I could get dirty," Nichols told her listeners, "so I became an engineer. I was one of two female officers when I arrived at Fort Knox as a brand new second lieutenant. They didn't quite know what to do with me," Nichols said.
Nichols mentioned holding early positions based on her gender and reflective of the more limiting Army policy of the times, like managing the only women's barracks. While many doors closed in her face, unlooked-for opportunities shaped her career path.
"You never know what opportunities are out there - the Army needs agile, innovative, creative people," she said. It's an exciting time to be both a participant and an observer of these changes in the Army, she told the Rocks members. "You can shape the Army," she said.
Today, Nichols is the highest-ranking female of her graduating class.
The audience asked questions of the leaders on a wide variety of topics, including mentorship, work-life balance and handling gender discrimination.
When she encountered gender bias in leadership, Nichols said, she focused on her actions helped her as a female Army leader.
"You're going to have bosses you don't like, people who don't like you," she said. "It's going to happen [referring to a less than perfect evaluation]. Don't chase a rating. If you do, you are in this for the wrong reason. Stay focused on improvement. Seek out the toughest job and do it well. That's how you show your true value."
When confronting a culture of sexism, Nichols said, character development and flexibility go a long way.
"Be true to yourself and do the right thing always," Nichols said. "At other times, if it's not immoral or illegal and it builds the team or makes stronger NCOs, that's the goal. Does it matter who gets credit if the mission is accomplished? You've got to give a little and you'll get a lot. Did I go out and smoke a cigar with the guys in my unit once a month in the combat zone when I still had work to do or meetings to prepare for?" she asked. "Yes. I did. I don't particularly care for cigars, but it was important. I needed to learn the language, break through the barriers."
Adding to comments about career and family, Nichols closed with this thought. "I don't even have a houseplant in my apartment because I'm never there, yet my life is fuller than full. My family -- my six brothers and sisters, my parents -- they're why I joined. Is my path the right one? It is for me. Your definition may be different. So, know yourself, be true to yourself and show by doing."