From mentee to mentor: My journey from new hire to co-founder jayk7

GMarkU co-founder Stephanie Geiger shares what she's learned about the importance of finding mentors and driving your professional growth.

For a new hire in the public sector, there can be a lot you don’t know starting out. This industry is a highly specialized domain that is often confusing for those unfamiliar with it, from learning the proper terminology to how to navigate the space. The last things on your mind are long-term career goals or networking opportunities—at least that was the case for me. It wasn’t until I began developing mentorship-focused relationships that I reflected on what I wanted out of my career.

I’ve had many mentors over the years, and each has served as a valued sounding board at pivotal points in my career. There were times when I thought about leaving the public sector or was just generally frustrated with the direction my work there seemed to be headed; at those times, I was fortunate to have the support of mentors to help guide my decisions. 

One of my most influential mentors has been my Government Marketing University (GMarkU) co-founder, Lou Anne Brossman. Lou Anne is the one who made me realize that not only did I want to stay in the government marketing space, but I wanted to help re-define it. That’s a big part of the reason why I co-founded GMarkU—so that leaders across the industry could come together to share their knowledge and learn from one another’s experiences.  

I’m now in a position where I serve as the mentor and change agent. I have found tremendous purpose in passing on the lessons I’ve learned over the years—especially for young women who are still finding their footing in this industry. The best piece of advice I can share is: Never undervalue yourself, and don’t let anyone else undervalue you, either. Find ways to make your voice heard and believe in the power of what you bring to the team.

One of the defining moments for me early on in my career was when I experienced a literal seat at the table moment - I was at a meeting and there weren’t enough chairs at the conference table. In that moment, I decided to both physically sit at the table and help drive productive and insightful conversation. Women often feel like they need to take the perimeter seat and that they should let other people sit at the table and guide the conversations. I realized my male counterparts didn't feel the same way; they felt or assumed they should have seat at the table and that their opinions should be heard, and I realized “why shouldn’t I?”  

There were times beyond this situation where I didn’t just feel undervalued; I felt disrespected. It’s thanks to my mentors that I found my voice at the times when I wasn’t sure how best to use it. With the help of my support system, I proved the naysayers wrong by demonstrating my knowledge and excelling in the field. And now, I want to go a step further. I encourage any young woman in a situation where she feels undervalued or uncomfortable to call out that behavior. We can’t make change happen by staying quiet. It’s up to us to remind folks that we all have a lot more to offer than simply “sitting still and looking pretty.”

My journey has not been a clear-cut path. It’s been long and winding, and not all the stops made sense at the time. But as it turns out, they all played a critical role in preparing me for where I am today. I’m now able to pursue my passion—transforming the traditional ideas of leadership and embodying the modern approach of inclusivity and empathy in the workplace. With my platform and team of fellow innovators, I am building a community of the leaders of tomorrow.  

That is why I set up a mentorship program five years ago through GMarkU for individuals at every stage of their careers. Here, they can be nurtured and inspired by those who have these shared experiences in the public sector marketplace. The program is constructed in a way that supports group “hot topic” discussion, individual 1:1s and networking. Mentors meet with their mentees virtually with the option to take advantage of in-person networking opportunities. The program is limited to about 20-25 people each year to provide the most value to participants, and while slots for this year’s mentorship program are filled, there are plenty of other opportunities coming up, including our GAIN conferences in June and October. 

Stephanie Geiger is is the co-founder and executive vice president of Government Marketing University. GMarkU and Washington Technology are owned by the same parent company, GovExec.