HerStory™: Debra M. Rockey – in her 60s

HerStory™ featuring Debra Rockey, National Senior Consultant, Organization Design & Development and Professor of Change & Organizational Development shares her story on her journey from being a United Forest Service Ranger to the Director of IS Learning & Development to her current role in Organization Design & Development. Continue reading Rockey’s story to learn how you can be your “brilliant self” as a woman!

I am most passionate about . . .

There are a lot of things that I love doing that refresh and energize me. But learning is such a positive growth attribute…you can’t learn something and stay the same. Whenever I get that itch, ‘Who Am I?’ ‘Where Am I Going?’ it encourages me and elevates me to a new place to learn something. As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve applied my love of learning by sharing it with others and using it to illuminate my interactions with them. Encouraging people to think of situations in a different light, or to recall a similar situation and what was learned from it can help to move them forward. This allows me to bring others on the journey of learning, so we all get elevated to the level we want to become, a day in that learning mode! Learning to frame data and information as a learning experience, has become a craft.
My greatest career hurdle has been . . .
Wildlife Biology.

I was an outdoors girl, a Girl Scout, and I camped more than I spent time in my family home. So, it felt natural to me that I would go into a field where I could learn more about nature and harmony and sustainment. When I graduated, much to my surprise, but no one else’s – there were no jobs!

Eventually, I did get a job working for 1 year with the United Forest Service as a Forest Ranger. I knew it was coming to an end and it would be a while until I could get another rotation.

After going back to school, I received a certification in computer programming and suddenly, I had so many interview requests! I felt like I was someone companies now wanted, but I was the same person! Although I took the highest paying job, it was such a tough transition for me. I was wearing a suit, nylon and heels. It took a long time not to feel like I was selling myself short. What was I doing? I had to put on a costume in order to make myself of value. Later, as I stayed in the world of business, I realized that what I gathered from being a Forest Ranger grounded me. I am a systems thinker and understand that business is just an ecosystem. I used that as my vantage point so I could bring in my true self to the work that I did what appeared as a barrier, became something I leveraged to find that value in my work.

My greatest career accomplishment has been . . .
Director of IS Learning & Development.

When I was working in IT as a director, I saw all these people getting hired for our Electronic Medical Record implementation. We quadrupled the amount of people on the team, and I remember saying to the leaders, “What are we going to do with all of these people? Do they know what they need to do, to feel like they belong in this role? In this culture?” I took those questions and that energy and wrote a job description which became the Director of Information Services Learning & Development role. No one had done that before me. It gave me the opportunity to start my function from scratch and figure out what leaders needed to do and needed to be to support their peers. Which, ultimately, resulted in my transition to my current role in Organizational Effectiveness.

I believe the greatest opportunity for future generations of women leaders is . . .
To be your “brilliant self” as a woman.

It takes me back to this story when my daughter and I went fly fishing. We were both really nervous! As we were finished putting on our boots that became pants that became suspenders we were met with our guide, a woman. Which was really interesting to us, to have a woman guide. She walks in, see us and goes, “Oh my gosh! Are you telling me I am taking 2 women fly fishing! Women make the best fisherman because they are patient, intuitive and nurturing. They understand the beauty of giving back…the catch and release.” After that experience and that interaction, I thought a lot about what our guide said. Females bring some definitive traits. Patience, intuition, and that “mothering” element to help them understand the picture of their environment and what we can do to help. There are so many opportunities and I hope women realize the gifts that the already innately have.

The mentor who has the greatest impact on my career has been . . .
Dr. Roland Loup, a wise well-seasoned professor.

He was my mentor, but there was never a conversation around ‘I am your mentor’ and it’ll be this formal experience.

We would just go get food and dish about what was going on and how we were feeling. It made every time we connected, an experience. Because it didn’t feel forced. It didn’t feel like we were meeting on the 2nd Tuesday of every month for 1 hour. It was an intentional, genuine interaction. He would listen and ask deep questions. I hope people who are mentoring recognize that you don’t just ‘work it into the schedule’ but bask in the experience itself.

If I could meet one person who I believe has had the greatest impact on the growth and development of women, it would be . . .
Eleanor Roosevelt.

She was more than just the President’s wife. She was leading people through the war, the depression, she was her husband’s legs and his voice.

People didn’t want to listen to a woman, even though she was the First Lady. But it didn’t stop her in her beliefs and pushing forward with the things she believed in. There are so many good lessons from women in history. We have so many living models today. We have those women today because of the mentoring they’ve had from their elders.  It all accumulates to make us mothers, First Ladies and poets.

To me, inclusivity means . . .

I think a lot of times, when meeting people, or inviting people into spaces they feel as though they have ‘found their tribe.’ But, it’s so much more than receiving that invite in order to feel belonging. We can bring people into the group because they come from different backgrounds, disciplines and will be able to bring their perspectives. But in order to really belong, we need to hold space for them. Holding space for another person to feel safe and like they are in a good space for conversation and action. Taking that time and effort to be intentional about creating a space where people can thrive.

 When I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed at work, my go to, to get to a healthier place is . . Ice cream.
I would be the first to admit, that I make some ‘bad’ choices in some of my coping mechanisms. I’m not perfect!

But, in all seriousness, I wish I had started a contemplative practice earlier on. In these last few years, I’ve been meditating and really starting my day with intentions. I’ve developed it in a sense that it is part of my morning practice. If I get stressed, if I am preparing for a big meeting, I will take 10 minutes and ground myself and breathe. What a difference that has made for me! I am sure that I was doing something before this, but now it’s intentional. I cannot imagine getting through COVID without having a defined focus. It’s gone to a new level for me because of the distribution of work, the isolation, and the reduced number of connections.

The greatest piece of advice I have to give women is…
It’s a combination of knowing yourself and being true to your school.

It’s so important to know where your true feet are planted and where your roots are before you open your mouth. Knowing yourself is the best gift. If you know yourself and you are confident, you will be grounded and planted. It doesn’t mean you won’t be influenced or lean into someone else’s thoughts…but, you are choosing to do so. It makes me recall my time with the theatre. Before our performances, we take off our shoes and socks and ground ourselves to the Earth. It’s so powerful. Just to know that we are getting ready to portray the ‘role of’ someone. But what makes it more successful, is that the gifts you bring to that role…bringing your whole self, to the role, no matter what it is.  And, to know, we all have that same connection.