That Girl Meets; Sharon McDougleAug 11, 2020
Hey Female CEO's,
Welcome to 2020! If you don’t know me by now, I’m your favourite Stateside girl, actually, I am That Girl! I’m excited to kick this year off with sharing with you one of the most influential women in the United States. She is a History Maker, Modern Day Hidden Figure, Award winning NASA employee and the absolute epitome of The Female CEO and without any doubt, she is THAT GIRL! Without further ado (I’m so excited!), please meet Mrs Sharon McDougle.
Graduating from high school and beginning her career in the United States Air Force, Sharon served proudly in the Strategic Air Command as an Aerospace Physiology Specialist and a member of the Physiological Support Division. Responsible for suiting up and strapping in the SR-71 and U-2/TR-1 reconnaissance aircraft pilots before they performed high altitude operations. Sharon spent much of her enlistment on temporary duty traveling widely to Greece, Korea, Japan, and England, as well as stateside locations.
It was when she joined the NASA family however that she found her true calling and passion. Working as a suit technician, she was responsible for processing the famous orange launch Entry Suit we still see today worn by all space shuttle astronauts. The only African American CEE technician and one of only two female suit technicians she was blazing trails both in and out of the stratosphere! It was just two years later that she made history suiting up Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel into space.
Later promoted to Crew Chief made her the first woman and first African American Crew Chief in CEE history, responsible leading teams of technicians to suit up astronaut crews. No stranger to the Kennedy Space Centre, she often worked in support of Space Shuttle launches including leading the first and only all-female suit tech crew.
Never one to stand still, Sharon went on to become the only female and only African American promoted to the position of manager of the CEE department. Managing and responsible for a team of 25+ employees processing the Advanced Crew Escape Suit. They would assist astronauts in donning/doffing the suit, testing equipment, strapping the astronauts into the space shuttle before launch, and recovering the crew upon landing. She held this position up until the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011. She continued working until the following year to help close-out the program, ending an illustrious and trailblazing 22 year career.
During her career Sharon was recognised with the Astronaut “Silver Snoopy” Award, Space Flight Awareness Honouree Award, USA Employee of the Month Teamwork Award, USA Employee of the Month Community Service Award, and the coveted Women of Colour in Flight Award from Dr. Mae Jemison recognising her career as the first and only African American woman suit tech/crew chief in her field.
I had the honour and privilege to interview Sharon on making her mark in history. Here’s what she had to say;
Sharon, what is your greatest aspiration in life?
I aspire to keep challenging myself to try new things and to never get complacent and lazy - to never sit still. I also aspire to always give back, which I truly enjoy. But, my greatest life aspiration is to write my autobiography and a children’s book based on my life and/or career.
What advice do you have for girls and women who are looking to make their mark in history?
Strive to be the best at whatever you choose to do. Be prepared – stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. Be open to change and to feeling a little uncomfortable – growth is key. And please know that you cannot do it all alone. Accept challenges and opportunities that may come along to help set you up to become the history maker you were meant to be. But, sometimes it can happen without you even pursuing it. My personal example is a friend from my Air Force days contacting me to inform me of an immediate job opening with the space program. If he didn’t think I was one of the best in my field I may not have ever received the call that changed my life forever and led to me making my own mark in history.
What does it mean to be first? (i.e first at being mom, first at being a wife, first at making history, first to achieve a goal) How should people approach their responsibility if they're ever first to accomplish a goal or to receive a weighty responsibility in life? How should they approach the task?
Being first means opening the door for others who may come after you, creating that pathway and space for the second, third, and so on. Being first also means accepting the responsibility to coach/mentor others, share your knowledge to prepare others to succeed. Be available to answer questions, spend quality time helping those who may want to follow in your footsteps. Continually pulling up another so they can keep the cycle going and hopefully make it easier for the next.
How would you describe supporting and celebrating women?
Supporting and celebrating women is being there for one another – whether it’s physically, in spirit, financially, etc. It means doing whatever you can, when you can, to help other women. It means being that cheerleader, sending that note of encouragement, being a shoulder to cry on, just being an ear when she needs to vent. It means applauding the loudest whether it’s your best friend, family member or just another amazing woman. Supporting and celebrating each other has to be genuine, from the heart, without expecting something in return.
What are you hoping to achieve as your role as That Girl Hidden Figure Ambassador?
I am hoping to broaden my reach and inspire others with my story as well as be inspired by all of the amazing people I will meet during my tenure as the That Girl Hidden Figure Ambassador. If I only touch one person, help one person, make that light come on for one person, then it will all have been worthwhile. I am also hoping to learn from the experience and grow as a person, mother, wife, friend and become an even better version of my current self.
What is your favourite quote?
“If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.”~ Maya Angelou
I also love this one
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”~ Les Brown
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell my younger self that you are amazing. Do not compare yourself to others – you are good enough - be your own authentic self. Don’t be discouraged by the things going on in your life right now because things are going to get better. I would give my younger self a long hug and say “I know it doesn’t look like it right now, but you are going to have an amazing life”.
What are the biggest challenges that you have faced as a woman?
My biggest challenge was me trying to be superwoman. As with most women, I was trying to balance everything from taking care of the household (paying bills, cooking, cleaning, etc.), spending quality time with my husband and kids, attending events, volunteer work, and my career. Fortunately, I have an amazing husband who helped out and shared the load.
How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
I am motivated by reminding myself of where I came from, and what I’ve gone through to get to where I am today. I’m also motivated by being my best, not only for myself but for my children and others who may look to me as a role model.
What do you think is unique about you?
The unique thing about me is I was the first black woman to work in the Space Shuttle Crew Escape Equipment (CEE) Department; the first woman and first Black Crew Chief in CEE; and the first and only woman and Black person to become the manager of CEE. And I also suited up the first Black woman to go into space.
How do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
In the next 5 years, I see myself as a published author - holding booking signing events and appearing on national news/talk shows. I also see myself being a fabulous 60-year-old Queenager and still being That Girl!!
Natasha Lee is a visionary, entrepreneur and advocate for all things SHE led. She has built businesses, raised a family and worked alongside some of the most inspirational women globally.
Her #ThatGirl brand is all about strong female leadership, and she wears what she preaches! Have you seen the red lipstick cute T-shirts?! From an early age (She was an 8-year-old DIVA) to the present day, she worked toward her dreams. Natasha doesn't allow anything to hold her back. You can read all about her journey to becoming That Girl here and if you want to ask her any questions drop into The Community
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