Jean Savage: Biggest challenge facing women is ‘self-imposed’

To celebrate Women’s History Month and the women of the Dallas Region business community, the Dallas Regional Chamber caught up with Jean Savage, CEO and President of Trinity Industries, to get her perspective on challenges facing women in business and the things she wants them to know.

Jean Savage, CEO & President

Savage is one of the few women CEOs in the Fortune 1000 and an accomplished leader with international experience establishing and directing global teams on complex, technical product development programs. She is a member of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Board of Directors.

What female figures have had the biggest influence on your life? Why do you look up to them?

My mother had the biggest influence on my life. From a young age, she encouraged me to play sports and work hard in school. She supported me by always being there for me and being my biggest cheerleader. Outside of my family, Sandra Day O’Conner and Madeleine Albright were women I looked up to. Sandra and Madeleine broke through the glass ceiling and became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court and the first female secretary of state, respectively.  Both had a profound impact on our country and the world.

What are the biggest challenges facing women today, and what can employers do to help their female leaders excel professionally?

The biggest challenge facing women today, I believe, is many times self-imposed. Many women are not confident in their abilities and not willing to take risks, take on a larger opportunity, or even change industries for new opportunities. I believe we need to ensure we recognize what women are accomplishing and encourage them to seize opportunities that come before them.

What is one piece of advice you wish you received before you started your career? Do you use this advice in mentoring others?

Change is inevitable. Don’t fight the change—learn and adapt.

The pace of change continues to accelerate, which causes changes in organizations. Those who can adapt by drawing on their past experiences, and modifying them to meet the current demands, will be successful.

I do use this when I mentor others. I encourage them to be change agents and to help others also adapt.

If you could write an autobiography, what would its title be and why?

“The Uncommon Path.” Looking back at my life, my path was not straightforward or one that I expected. I was fortunate to come from a family where hard work and dedication were instilled, and where I was encouraged to find a way forward. My choices were sometimes uncommon; for example, joining the Ohio National Guard to not only serve but also to be able to afford to continue my formal education and get my engineering degree. The military experience not only gave me confidence in my ability to survive but to excel, which led to me taking more risks in my professional roles. People along the way, my mentors, have also been instrumental in pointing out what my strengths and weaknesses were, to allow me to continue to develop.