Joyce Downing is an executive administrative assistant at SAIC and a Pinnacle Awards finalist in the Public Company Executive Assistant of the Year category. Here, Downing shares notable achievements she had in 2018, overcoming the most challenging aspects of being an EA, the biggest professional risk she’s taken, her role models in the GovCon space, proud career moments and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2018?
Smooth transitions. When I stepped in to become EA for our then-CEO Tony Moraco, it was important that the process was seamless, and that he had the help he needed from day one. When Tony announced his retirement and we began transitioning to Nazzic Keene as CEO, it was important for our company that the transition was as smooth as it could be.
And when we acquired Engility, we wanted to make sure that the new admins we brought in felt welcomed and understood how to guide their teams through a period of change and uncertainty. I was the administrative lead on each of these efforts, and I’m proud to say that we succeeded in making these changes as smooth as they could be.
What has made you successful in your current role?
I love working with people, and I believe that is the most important thing for success as an admin. If you enjoy working with people and have the willingness to help them achieve their goals, the rest comes naturally. And if I’m successful, the entire team is successful.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an EA, and how did/do you work to overcome them?
The biggest challenge is prioritizing time. I support executives, but my responsibilities don’t end there. I have an obligation to support my entire team and to the company. Making sure that executive needs are met while also supporting the team is important for our success.
What are the top one or two qualities necessary to be a great EA?
It’s important to enjoy working with other people, and to understand that you are there to support them. Also, knowing how you as an EA can help the company achieve success by working with executive leaders in a supporting role and providing the right support for each manager.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
Taking on the role of EA to the CEO was a major risk. You can’t get any higher than that on the EA chain, and it comes with a lot of pressures and stress. I was comfortable and successful as an EA on the defense team before taking that role, so making the move was not an easy decision.
Fortunately, I was encouraged by mentors and leaders that I looked up to within the company who believed in me. They saw that I could do a great job, so I went for it, and it was a rewarding experience.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
The Future Combat Systems program involved employees coast to coast, supported by dozens of admins across the country. I worked with the program manager to standardize the administrative processes so that you could take an admin from anywhere in the country and move them somewhere else, and they would already know how the system operated and could start work on day one.
Who are your role models/mentors in the GovCon space?
I am inspired by women who have risen to the tops of their professions. When I was in the Air Force, I was always inspired by Vice Adm. Patricia Ann Tracey, who was the first woman to reach the rank of three-star admiral. At SAIC, I’m inspired by our new CEO Nazzic Keene. These women are trailblazers. The career opportunities that women have today stemmed from those women who pursued their goals and became “firsts,” and I’m proud to see more and more women succeeding in the highest ranks.
What’s your best advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Embrace challenges, enjoy what you do and always keep your focus on helping people succeed.
What specifically makes you stand out from your industry counterparts?
My experience in the military prepared me for working with anyone, from executives on down, because I was used to dealing with all ranks. Additionally, I like to take an enterprisewide perspective, and work with others to determine how something will impact every part of the organization. I find that this is the best way to have a positive impact on the company.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
As a black woman, I’ve unfortunately run into challenges through the years with people questioning my abilities because of my gender and my race. That’s the reality of our society. But when I was struggling early in my career, I got some great advice: “Learn your job, and your personality will take you far.”
Both in the military and in industry, I have always taken it upon myself to make sure I know every aspect of my job and perform it to the best of my abilities. Once people get to know me and know how well I can do my job, I never have a problem.