CHARLESTON, S.C. -- It was a beautiful crisp fall morning for a photoshoot aboard the USS Yorktown in Charleston. The focus of the shoot? The upcoming Veterans Day issue of Charleston Women Magazine highlighting our very own senior civilian, Lisa Metheney.
Alongside Metheney, stood three female commanders from the Charleston area: U.S. Air Force Col. Rebecca Elliot, agency head, 628th Medical Group; U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer Summer Levert, port operations officer, Joint Base Charleston; and U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Cara Lowry, logistics department head, commanding officer of enlisted personnel, and budget officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Charleston.
The four were honored because they all have something in common: female leaders representing four of the five military services. And for the Veterans Day issue of Charleston Women Magazine, there was no better group to put on the cover.
In the article, Metheney spoke about her journey and how each piece of it led her to where she is today.
“I was finishing up my first year of graduate school,” Metheney explained, “and the tuition waiver I had for the university didn’t cover summer school, so I needed a summer job. One of my economics professors told me that they were looking for economist interns at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and told me to go down and apply. I applied, and lo and behold, they hired me!”
Metheney has always had a passion for public service and serving the nation. Her family includes a long line of public servants and she wanted to carry on that tradition. By working for USACE, she is doing just that.
“My entire family is very big on public service. While I fell into this particular job, I always knew I’d be doing something in the public service realm,” said Metheney.
Metheney serves the nation as a federal civilian. She does not serve in the Army as an active military member does. She does, however, take the same oath of office that military service members take.
Her role is to oversee the roughly 250 civilians that make up the Charleston District and ensure they have all the tools they need to successfully execute the mission.
“We have about 250 people in the district, and on average — some years it’s more, some years it’s less — we execute about $350 million of work per year,” said Metheney. “That’s everything from dredging in the harbor, to planning studies, to the construction of facilities at Fort Jackson. The part of my job that I take most seriously is making sure that all our people are taken care of, that we provide them the resources they need to do their jobs and help them grow professionally.”
When Metheney began her career for USACE, it was a much different environment than it is today. She was one of few women in her position as an economist and often one of the only women in the room.
“Early on in my career, oftentimes I was, the only female economist in a meeting and certainly one of the youngest females working on a project,” Metheney said.
Being the only female made no difference to her though. Metheney knew she was just as qualified to do what her male counterparts did, and she was going to excel at any project given to her. Thanks to many wonderful mentors, she was able to rise through the ranks and break barriers in a traditionally male-dominated field.
“My experience as a woman in USACE has been very positive,” Metheney said. “Now, I would be remiss if I did not point out that there were women that came before me that made the path easier. I was not the first female to work in the Charleston District, but I am, however, the first female senior civilian. I’m not the only female deputy civilian across USACE, but I’m one of a small group.”
There are roughly eleven female senior civilians serving USACE across the country.
While Metheney was the first female in this leadership role for Charleston District, she knows she will certainly not be the last. As a new generation of female leaders are rising through the ranks, Lisa cannot help but be excited. The diversity that women bring to the workplace is incredibly valuable, and she says that future female leaders should leverage that.
“My advice to future female leaders is to make full use of all of your skills, including the ‘soft skills’ like facilitation and communication,” Metheney said. “And if you are ‘the only one’ or ‘one of only a few’ women in your field or office, own that. You are bringing diversity to the fight and it’s been proven diversity leads to better teams and better solutions.”
Metheney looks forward to continuing her work at the district and was incredibly happy to share her story with those at Charleston Women Magazine.
Standing at the end of the USS Yorktown’s flight deck, looking over the city she loves, Metheney was surrounded by strong female leaders like herself. She could not help but think about her journey to this moment, but more importantly, how excited she was for the next generation of female commanders.
Note: You can see the issue at online at chswomeninbusiness.com.