The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is commemorating Women’s History Month throughout March. The theme for the month is Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government. In highlighting the women of GSA throughout the month of March, we are sharing their stories every Monday on the GSA blog. Leading the effort is the GSA Administrator herself, Denise Turner Roth.
What was your path to public service?
My journey to civil service was inspired by benefits that my family received when I was growing up. With these, my mom was able to improve our economic situation through a program that consisted of a public private partnership that allowed her to earn her GED, train for a job as a bank teller and receive job placement in a position. That forward thinking, collaborative program changed the trajectory of our family. I went into public service to create the same opportunities for others. It serves as my motivation.
Is there a woman in American History who inspires you?
When I think of inspiring women of history, I often think of Harriet Tubman. I admire that she had a belief and was willing to risk family, freedom and life to correct injustices. So often we are called on to stand up for what we know is the right thing, will we display the same courage as Harriet?
Who has been your mentor(s) throughout your career?
One person in particular, now at the helm of a major American advocacy non profit, gave me the most crucial advice about leadership regarding the value of collaboration:
A zero-sum, confrontational decision-making approach is almost always mutually harmful; but, because of the way power has long been distributed in this country, this can be especially difficult for women to internalize. Because the decks have for so long been stacked against us, seeking access to the halls of power has often required us to be hard charging all the time.
But, more often than not, a calm, measured leadership approach is almost always most productive. Thanks to this mentor, I am a strong advocate of collaboration and compromise, when possible, not so much out of idealism, but because it’s pragmatic.
How do you contribute to the mission of GSA?
I believe GSA plays an essential role in ensuring the success of government. We manage the fundamentals and our commitment to our role ensures the American public receives the support it needs from the federal government. My primary role is evangelizing this message to our internal and external stakeholders. I have a special commitment to ensuring that GSA’s role in helping to spur economic opportunities in communities across the country is recognized and strengthened. With our massive real estate, acquisition, and technology footprints, we are uniquely positioned to create economic opportunities across the country, either through serving as an anchor for development, creating business opportunity or saving money through technology support. We have changed our policies and practices to solidify this direction. I am excited to see how we evolve as an agency as we embrace this vision.
What specific life lessons do you hope to inspire in others while at GSA?
That the only measure of one’s talent and power that matters is one’s own. The challenges we face will endure as long as we strive to excel, and this must never deter us. Approach life as a negotiation in which empowering others will drive our own success. And, finally, there is nothing more satisfying and empowering than to live out these lessons through public service.
What advice would you give girls who want to get into public service?
The advice I always give to young ladies is not to hold yourselves back. So often we are the ones who self-select ourselves out of opportunities because it is difficult to see ourselves in many places. Don’t hold yourself back, don’t be your own barrier. Give yourself a chance to be the best YOU, you can be!