Lt. Gen. Mary Legere (ret.) spent 34 years in the U.S. Army, including serving as the service’s senior intelligence officer. Joining the Army in 1982, women made up only 12% of those on active duty, and restrictions were in place limiting the assignments available to women.
Speaking to the 2017 Veterans in Global Leadership fellows at the Women’s Initiative Lunch last month, Legere reflected on her time in the Army, shared her insights on leadership, and rising through the ranks in an environment dominated by men.
Seven years into her career, Legere was on a 20-hour bus ride to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., when a junior officer—a man—told her she would not have as complete or a successful career than him. Being male meant the ability to serve in direct combat units, such as infantry battalions. Experience gained at tactical levels is invaluable for a soldier’s career, especially when being considered for positions at higher echelons.
The idea she could be denied anything in her career due to her gender gave her reason to pause.
She had 20 hours to think about those comments. “ I came into the Army with these grand ideas that we are here, as an institution, to be a place where all people, genders, sexual orientations, and religions can contribute,” said Legere. “Yet, there is discrimination based on job opportunities.”
Her future with the Army quickly became uncertain. “It was a crisis for a little bit for me,” continued Legere. “I wasn’t sure if this was going to drive me out of the military.”
She decided to stay.
“If this is warfare, and warfare is not linear, then we need to make sure that men and women are trained as well as they can to make sure if they are surrounded, that they have every capability to accomplish the mission,” said Legere.
“I wanted to learn everything I can, since I won’t be able to serve in particular jobs.” She began to train on the weekends on equipment, and tactics with colleagues willing to teach her. She was also invited to field problems, where she honed and tested her craft.
Her commitment, energy, and passion led her to become the top intelligence officer in the U.S. Army.
In her current role at Accenture Federal Services, Legere is the managing director for national and defense intelligence business. “I’m still trying to figure out how to be the best leader possible,” said Legere.
Paying attention to how she is led, she still asks herself “Am I being inspired, or do I feel rejected? Do I feel empowered, am I part of the team? What is that leader doing, is that something I want to emulate?”
“Experiences like this are exactly why we created the Women’s Initiative at Veteran in Global Leadership—although Lt. Gen. Legere started her career years before our Fellows started theirs, the challenges she overcame and the lessons she’s shared still apply today,” said Melis Tusiray, co-director of the Veterans in Global Leadership Women’s Initiative.
“By talking openly about the challenges of achieving equality and diversity in professional and social communities, the Veterans in Global Leadership Women’s Initiative gives fellows the opportunity to learn and grow, both personally in their own careers, and as allies for others.”