WITI Coach: Jovita Jenkins

Fiona Waters and Jovita Jenkins

August 02, 2020

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There are few people in the world who have accomplished as much as Jovita, and even fewer people who can tell their story in a way that inspires others. Jovita has been a graduate student, aerospace engineer, college professor, speaker, writer, and leadership coach among other roles. She graduated from CSULA with BS and MS degrees in Mathematics and an MBA from UCLA. A trailblazer in the aerospace industry (a west coast "Hidden Figure"), she rose through the ranks from entry level engineer at Rockwell International and retired from TRW Inc as a director. "I'm never bored," she admits. Today, she primarily serves as an executive and leadership coach for multiple companies, a conference speaker and facilitator, a board member of Black Women in Technology (BWIT), a member of the leadership team for AnitaB.org, and a mentor for a Toastmaster club. She is the author of Get Out Of Your Own Way: Create The Next Chapter Of Your Life.

What is your position at WITI?
I am a member and coach, but I was an original member of WITI. I met Carolyn while working for TRW. In the early '90s TRW was the premier aerospace company, with a lot of women working in technology. It was a good place to recruit WITI members.

What are three things you can't live without?
The main thing is my family. My daughter is 50 years old, but I still miss her. Due to the COVID pandemic, we don't spend time together like we used to and right now when I see her we can only talk through the screen door.

Second, I would say interesting reading material, and third, my computer! I use my computer much more than I ever use my phone. It lets me get my work done.

What books are you reading right now?
My own, of course! I'm updating Get Out Of Your Own Way to make it more relevant to today's world. I also recommend Expect To Win by Carla A. Harris and How Women Rise by Marshall Goldsmith and Sally Hegelson.

I'm also working on writing a second book that focuses on leadership and women. Many people have also told me I should write a book with stories about the conflicts I faced in the workplace as I advanced in my career. As a pioneering black woman in aerospace, I raised the glass ceiling as high as I could. There are lots of women in executive roles because of my efforts.

What is your writing process like?
I write early in the morning because the ideas I wake up with are gone later in the day. I always keep a pen and paper by my bed so that I can write ideas down as they come to me.

There's a method I use called "Morning Pages." You write three full pages on whatever thoughts are in your head, even if the thought is "I don't know, this is stupid." It gets your brain in a writing mood and makes it so that books come through you, instead of you feeling like you have to write them.

What drew you to majoring in mathematics?
I actually went to college to build robots for Disney! When watching The Wonderful World of Disney TV Show, I saw the Mr. Lincoln robot and asked myself, "What would it be like if I could build robots for Disneyland?" I was 17 and just starting college, so I called Disney to ask what I needed to major in to become an audio-animatronic technician. (Before they were called Disney Imagineers, roboticists at Disney were called audio-animatronic technicians.)

The woman who took my call said there was no such major, but she suggested I pursue math or engineering. She said math first. That's why I majored in math. If she had mentioned engineering first, that would have been my major.

I didn't know I loved math until college. I saw it as a way to become an audio-animatronic technician, but as I started to learn more about it, I loved it.

What was attending CSULA like?
I was attending school from 8 to 12, at work from 1:30 to 9:30 at LA City College, doing my homework when I got home, and also raising my daughter as a single parent. I didn't really have free time. Meditation and self-care weren't popular when I was in college in the late '60s. I had to focus on my end goal, and know that if I persevered, I could make it through, and I would be able to enjoy myself with the job I wanted.

Of course I had a little bit of fun, too. I played the cello in the school orchestra and joined a singing group.

My family helped me out a lot. When I got my job after college, my mother would get anything she wanted. My daughter would spy for me and say, "Grandma and I went to a store today and spent a long time looking at something…" A few days later, my mom would find it on her doorstep.

What was attending UCLA like?
Out of 2,000 applicants, I was one of 120 students who was selected for my Executive MBA program. I was the only black woman in my class. The company I was working for at the time, TRW, helped me pay for my classes and it was senior women mentors there who made that happen.

What was it like being a professor?
Starting right after I received my masters in Math from CSULA, and while climbing the corporate ladder at TRW, I began teaching mathematics at LA Southwest. I wanted to teach students who looked more like me. I taught night classes for ten years, moving from Elementary Algebra to Calculus III and everything in between. I also had an opportunity to teach in UCLA's Technical Management Program for one session. While I hoped to join the faculty, it turns out that I was actually substituting for a professor who was away in China. When he came back, he took back the position.

How did you end up in the aerospace sector?
I graduated with a BS in math just as the space race was beginning. This was just after the Sputnik satellite launched. Space seemed more exciting and interesting than robots at the time, so I joined Rockwell. The first two months I spent there were just full-time training, but it started off a more than 30-year career in aerospace.

What were some of the aerospace projects you worked on?
At Rockwell, I worked on the software for the original B-1 bomber. At TRW, I worked on other projects in the space program, the Hubble space telescope, and a number of other telescopes. There are some projects I worked on that were so secret, I couldn't even tell my husband where I was travelling to when I was assigned to them. I also worked on ARPANET which was the precursor to the Internet.

I moved all the way up the ladder working at TRW for 25 years. I started as a member of the tech staff and left as a senior manager. That position and others leading up to it taught me a lot about managing people and organizations.

How would you define yourself?
I consider myself a west coast "Hidden Figure." My calculations and programming were essential for aeronautic missions in the Los Angeles area to be successful, and the IBM 360 threatened to replace me. That concern has always made me work hard to maintain my relevancy, so I am also a continual learner.

I was surprised when ARPANET became popular and transformed into the Internet for anyone to use, but I also had to adjust to it. The same change happened as computers went from taking up an entire room to fitting in the palm of your hand. If you're standing still in this world, you're moving backwards. It's important to always keep learning and to maintain a healthy fear of obsolescence.

Why did you leave TRW?
Northrop Grumman bought TRW in 2002. I chose not to restart the process of proving my worth to an entirely new set of corporate leaders. I was old enough to retire, so I decided to go out on my own and define what was next for me.

I was surprised to discover Northrop had a coaching center. I supported that center as a contractor for three years as a leadership/career coach. Since then I have been focused on my coaching career and writing career.

What challenges did you face in the male-dominated field of tech?
Having started my career in the '70s, I had hoped things would be different for women today but not much has changed, especially for women in technology. Men get promoted on potential, while women have to prove their worth. Men still get more credit than women for their work and ideas.

When I started, I didn't have any role models. I had to think about how to build strategic alliances, because some people will want to help, and some people will want to get in the way. I had to ask myself questions like, "I wonder what it would be like if I could...?" to keep myself motivated.

From a young age, women are told they can't do certain things. When we were kids, my own brother would tell me things like, "Men won't like you because you're smart." People outside my family weren't much kinder. They thought I was crazy when I would go after something I was interested in.

What do your certifications "PCC" and "ACB" stand for?
PCC stands for Professional Certified Coach from the International Coach Federation (ICF). My next goal is to become a MCC (Master Certified Coach).

ACB is an Advanced Communicator Bronze certification from Toastmasters International. Toastmasters is a great organization for building confidence. I can present new material to a group of members and get feedback. My ultimate Toastmaster goal is to become a DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster).

What do you do as a mentor for a Toastmasters club?
There are corporate clubs for businesses and public clubs. I'm the mentor of a corporate club -- a toy company, so I get to hear about new ideas for products. Now I primarily attend meetings twice a month and moderate the meeting protocol. Last year I was an Area Director responsible for eight Toastmasters clubs.

What are some of your favorite things about executive/leadership coaching?
Most of my clients come through coaching companies. I love the variety of clients I get the opportunity to partner with. Working with these companies, I never have to go out searching for clients. They always come to me. It's a relief that I don't have to think about marketing!

My favorite situations to coach people through are helping clients improve in the areas of executive presence, building strategic networks, and coming up to speed quickly when transitioning to a new role. I particularly like coaching clients who are transitioning from a manager to a director or a director to a VP. There is a big change in the responsibilities for each role, and I'm very familiar with them.

Some of the most common things I see are confidence issues. The women I coach are tired of being talked over and dealing with put-downs in the workplace. I work on making them more visible in the job market and in the office.

I'm also so proud of everyone I've helped since starting coaching. There is nothing like the moment when I see the lights in their eyes because they realized what they can do.

How has COVID-19 affected your coaching?
I like virtual coaching much better. There's no commute, and the clients and I can be instantly connected. It's made me consider opportunities that are different from what I would normally look for. I'm currently preparing for an opportunity to coach a group of senior women. Group coaching is a new area for me and I'm excited to start.

You mentioned your husband earlier. What else can you tell me about him?
We met at a TRW party in Redondo Beach. We both attended UCLA, but we didn't meet there. We got married in a little village in The Gambia, West Africa, even though he was from New Orleans! His job was in international development, primarily in African countries. We've been married for 36 years. We were a "power couple" in the hey-day of our careers. I was an executive in the aerospace industry and he was a world traveler for his business.

He travelled internationally for work a lot. One year, he was going to be in Europe, so we travelled by train from Portugal, through Spain, and ended the trip in Paris. Some of my coworkers at TRW were in Brussels for work, and so we all planned to meet up when my husband and I got to Paris. That day was the day before my birthday! My friends bought me a box of Belgian chocolate that I never opened because the packaging was so beautiful, and my husband ate it all on the plane!

We have a blended family, four girls and two boys. We also have five grandchildren who are all grown and successful in their own right.

How do you define success?
Being around people I love, doing work I love, not being worried about money, and having fun! It's also important that I'm in an environment where I am able to learn and have a positive influence in the lives of others.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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