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Delving Into Public Sector: Breaking Barriers

Updated: Feb 25

Every industry has female pioneers they can point to who have paved the way for those that came after. I’ve had the opportunity to interview one of those for Delve, Lisa Merder, and now I have the pleasure of introducing you to another trail-blazing woman in public sector that has paved the way for many - Maxine Gordon-Williams. Maxine had an incredible career in the commercial furniture industry. Recently she took a leap and joined the team at OMNIA partners. I reached out to her to share her inspiring story with you.


Maxine has been in sales her entire career, but her first job in the commercial furniture industry was with Boise Cascade. She did not start her career working in federal government with Boise, but it eventually led to that. She was the first HON federal government rep hired when they started their federal program. She tried her hand at national accounts for a short time and then agreed to lead the federal government team for HON. She eventually transitioned to Gunlocke and then Allsteel before retiring about 3 years ago. 


Michelle: Before we jump into the interview questions, tell me what has brought you back into the world of public sector after being gone for a couple of years?


Maxine: So, it's really great because I'm with OMNIA Partners which as you know is adjacent to a lot of things that I like.  There are certainly furniture manufacturers on OMNIA Partners and so I can speak to that particular category, and I understand it but there's so many other industries that have contracts in place. I'm learning about other industries as well. I like rules-bound things to do, contracts, government spending and all that sort of stuff. I know some people aren't into it, but it was always good for me in terms of my personality. I'm an individual contributor, which is all I wanted to do at this stage in my career. With a company that I enjoy being with and I like being back in public sector. I just feel as though I've always been able to make connections with people in this space and you know, I enjoy it. I've always enjoyed it so yeah this makes sense.


Michelle: Well, my colleagues and I were very happy to see the LinkedIn post announcing you were back in with us and at OMNIA partners! You have had a great career in public sector and are continuing it now with OMNIA partners, what were the contributing factors that led you to a career in public sector?


Maxine: I started my sales career in the Washington, DC region and it’s hard not to fall into selling something to the federal government. I spent a lot of time in this space which I actually loved and thought it would be an interesting area to focus my energies and really work to become a subject matter expert in this space.  I liked order and rules-based selling; at the time I thought selling to the government allowed for more focus on this type of structure. 


Michelle: Being in the DC area it makes sense that you would have an opportunity to sell to the Federal Government, but when did you know you were in public sector as a career vs a job?


Maxine: I think when I realized most of my peers and clients were in this space and were starting to look to me as a subject matter expert in this space.  I started to realize I could add value to clients and my company by learning and understanding as much as I could in public sector. 


Michelle: I think there is still such a need for subject matter experts in this space in our industry and especially women. Thank you for recognizing the need, your ability to fill the gap and your yes to do so!  You are seen as a successful woman in public sector, what are the key influential people or factors that supported your success?


Maxine: Honestly other women in this vertical were the most helpful in guiding my continued interest.  Some of the leadership in the companies I worked for gave me opportunities to move into leadership which empowered me to be creative and exposed me to more people in this space, but I was really interested in public sector and kept learning and growing my understanding which helped build my professional career. 


Michelle: I am very passionate about mentoring in our industry and empowering women specifically. I get so excited when I hear stories like yours where this was a key part to you embracing your public sector career.  When you look at public sector as a whole it appears it is favorable to women. How do you see the opportunity for women in public sector?


Maxine: I think public sector is like any segment which is that women do well and excel in any industry we decide to enter.  Early on, I had a manager who hired me in part because I looked like a lot of procurement professionals in the federal government. An African American woman calling on other African American women was thought to be a recipe for success. At the end of the day, I was able to build relationships across multiple and diverse buyers. 


Michelle: While I do agree there are sometimes better matches than others when it comes to specific people, I agree that it all comes down to relationships. I think a great salesperson can build relationships across multiple and diverse buyers like you did. For those who are coming behind you in this industry and the federal vertical, what is one piece of advice you have for women wanting to develop a career in Public Sector? 


Maxine: Make sure you build a network. As I mentioned, rather than look at other women in this space as competitors, work to build relationships built on a common goal to lift up women generally, but also to have a sounding board about topics that benefit you professionally. 


Michelle: I could not agree with you more. I jokingly say I am a serial networker. I love to meet people and see if I can connect them which has built a great network of my own, but definitely love to work with other women to help in any way I can. I am also very passionate about educating myself to make myself better.  What one book would you recommend for a woman who is pursuing a career in Public Sector? 


Maxine: The Power of Presence by Kristi Hedges. It really helped me increase my ability to influence and communicate in a way that was more inspiring and motivating.  As an introvert, it was important for me to build my skills around leadership and genuine relationship building. Building our presence allows us to build confidence and avoid imposter syndrome. 


Michelle: Okay so definitely putting that book in my queue!! Do you listen to podcasts? If so, is there one podcast you would recommend?


Maxine:  I listen to a lot of podcasts around financial empowerment and money management skills so for any woman that’s building a career make sure you develop or increase your financial literacy and understand your relationship with money. 


Michelle: Great advice for everyone reading this article for sure! Thank you so much for spending time with us. As I said before it is great to have you back in our sphere and we wish you the best in your career with OMNIA partners!!


I saw a phrase that has impacted me greatly in the past couple of years “Empowered Women, Empower Women.” If you know of a woman in public sector in our industry, we should be talking to that exemplifies this for you, please reach out and let me know!!


ABOUT MICHELLE WARREN

Founder, President - Catalyst Consulting Group  


Michelle Warren is President of Catalyst Consulting Group, a firm specializing in providing strategic solutions to the commercial furniture industry to enhance their sales, positioning, and distribution. With 25 years of industry experience on the dealer and manufacturer side of the industry, Michelle has been recognized as an innovator in selling to the Federal Government, State/ Local Government, Higher Education and Cooperative Purchasing. Her expertise includes: sales strategies, strategic planning, 3-5 year road mapping, targeted marketing plans, distribution development, hiring reps, and training for reps and/or dealers. Michelle is known as a “serial networker” in the furniture industry and enjoys meeting people and making connections happen.


If you’re interested in connecting - reach out at: [email protected], connect on LinkedIn or visit www.strategic-catalyst.com to learn more about her work.


As seen in Delve | December 2023 V.45

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