Recognized annually on March 8, International Women’s Day is a global initiative that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. To recognize the importance of this day, we spoke with Jenny Housley, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer and Qiana Thomason, Vice President of Community Health, to discuss their career journeys, role models and words of advice for aspiring female leaders.
Growing into Leaders
Both Housley and Thomason pursued paths that led them to healthcare and eventually Blue KC, where they work hard to support the health and well-being of the Kansas City community.
“I was enrolled in law school and my soon-to-be first boss promised to pay for my tuition if I didn’t love the benefits consulting business,” Housley said of the career path that she would continue on for more than 20 years. “Transitioning to a completely new role at Blue KC was one of the hardest things I have done, but also one of the most rewarding. I am still learning new things almost every day.”
Thomason, a social worker trained in both clinical and systems intervention, was drawn to the variety of options that a career in healthcare offers.
“From grassroots mental health advocacy to health policy in the U.S. Senate, to serving as a clinician and administrator in community behavioral health, to population health in the insurance space, this journey has afforded me unique expertise across the healthcare ecosystem,” Thomason said. “I enjoy using my gifts and expertise nimbly, and it’s work I’m passionate about. When you get to improve people’s lives doing what you love, it doesn’t get better than that.”
The Value of Role Models
To these Blue KC leaders, their role models are not historical or influential figures in society – but rather, it starts with their parents.
“My parents are the two hardest working people I know. They never stop and have incredible work ethic,” Housley said. “I’m also fortunate to have had numerous executives both in past roles and at Blue KC that have taught me the power of relationships.”
Thomason looks up to her mother, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and became the CEO of a successful non-profit while raising three children as a single mother.
“The fortitude she possesses is unparalleled,” Thomason said of her mother, Twana. “This woman is undaunted by adversity. She’s a stroke survivor and refers to it as her ‘stroke of blessings.’ She even started a vlog to encourage others in her position. If I can fill half her shoes, I’ve done something big.”
Advice for Aspiring Leaders
When it comes to professional growth, both Housley and Thomason have compelling advice for aspiring leaders. This advice starts with putting yourself first – managing your own work life balance and being in control of your own success.
According to Housley, it’s important to spend quality time outside of work. “Go home and be with your family – the work will always be there,” she said. “I still have to remind myself of this every day!” Housley also notes the importance of slowing down and enjoying the experience.
“My first boss used to tell me to think of life as a ‘nine-inning game’ because I was so eager to grow,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to fail and remember to appreciate every opportunity you’re given. Create a small circle of personal and professional advisors with whom you can share challenges and opportunities and, most importantly, so you can laugh and keep things in perspective.”
Thomason has a similar point of view, noting the importance of seeking out mentors and taking feedback in stride.
“Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and make friends with an individual who is where you’re aiming to be,” Thomason said. “Seek out a sponsor or mentor who will tell you the truth. All feedback is a gift – even when it’s difficult to hear. We are all works in progress.”
Given the opportunity, Thomason said she would love to instill some wisdom into her younger self.
“Don’t undervalue the position you currently occupy. Each position in your career is a building block for the next opportunity,” Thomason said. “Master all the knowledge, skills and connects at your current level, as they will be valuable at the next level and will help to differentiate you.”