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Not every job is a cake walk and sometimes it takes both dedication, and a little patience, before the pieces start falling into place.
On this episode of Women of Washington, host Gigi Schumm welcomed Karen Mummaw, acting chief information officer at the State Department. Before taking her current position, Mummaw served in a variety of positions within the State Dept’s Bureau of Information Resource Management, and was a member of the Senior Executive Service.
Her first job out of college? Sales assistant for an airline company based out of Philadelphia. But she already knew she wanted to work with the State Department, so she applied to join the foreign service.
“Anyone who’s gone through that process knows it’s quite laborious, and it took over a year to pass through all those hoops [before I] finally received the offer,” she said. “So in the interim, I worked with Eastern Airlines, which no longer exists.”
Now on the other end of the spectrum, Mummaw said she now understands why it often takes so long. The department has to focus on obtaining security clearances and medical clearances for all those chosen to go abroad. She said one of the most difficult areas for the entire federal workforce is in recruiting IT talent.
“In this area … all the federal agencies are competing for the same pool of IT talent … and then we’re also competing against private industry,” she said said.
Having a diverse background is what really gives you an edge in federal government, she said. But it also helps if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone.
As a member of the foreign service, Mummaw spent time in Moscow, Kabul, Afghanistan and Nairobi, Kenya, among others. Her first assignment in Senegal was the most difficult, because it was in a time before the world was connected with smartphones and wireless internet.
“I picked up my suitcases and moved to West Africa with what little belongings I had. … I also heard that they didn’t necessarily want a woman [or] a new hire, and I was both,” she said. “That was an interesting time for me and I just kept showing up, kept doing the work and relied on my IT training and my background.”
Mummaw said eventually she was able to establish a good relationship with the Senegalese and her colleagues. This thinking became her model ever since: Show up and do the best that you can.
While taking on a role such as Acting CIO may not have been in her list of “dream jobs,” and it has its challenges, she said you have to learn to accept what life hands you and make the most out of it.
“You’ve got to dream big and do not be concerned that you don’t have it all figured out in advance,” she said. “Sometimes, you just fall into the career you were meant to have.”