While Jennifer Childs Sheehy has spent most of her life in Washington DC, it was not until several years after graduate school that she decided to take a position with the city’s largest employer – the federal government. Jennifer attended school in DC and was active in sports including skiing, sailing, and competitive swimming. She cites her high school swim coach, Skip Grant, as an early positive influence who helped her avoid making too many teenage indiscretions.
Developing Business Skills
After high school, Jenn headed to Cornell to double major in Psychology and English. Following college, she honed her customer service skills in retail where she got a taste of running a business. This led to positions in hospitality where her strong communications skills and attention to detail helped her to become a successful event planner. While Jennifer enjoyed hospitality, she decided she wanted to broaden her business skills, and pursue an MBA. She opted to stay local and attend Georgetown.
Jennifer did very well during her first year and was a marketing intern with Anheuser-Busch. Unfortunately, that summer she had a terrible accident, sustaining a broken neck and a badly damaged spinal cord. She went through a long and difficult rehabilitation, with courage and determination. She returned to Georgetown to take classes again with her fellow members of the class of ‘95. I asked what compelled her to return to the classroom, she said that she was motivated by her B-school classmates who were so supportive of her recovery. While many people in her world had difficulty dealing with her accident and the fact that she now used a wheelchair, her grad school friends generally treated her the same.
Bridging the Gap
Prior to her accident, Jennifer was very competitive for top internships and prospective jobs. Upon returning to school, she felt that that was no longer the case. It was more difficult to compete and “be taken seriously” by prospective employers. This experience helped her decide that she would put her talents towards “bridging the gap between candidates and employers”. During school and then upon graduation, Jenn started working for the National Organization on Disability (NOD). She quickly advanced in NOD and made a name for herself, receiving significant recognition and awards for her contributions. While working for NOD she met Becky Ogle, a government executive on a White House task force. Becky became an important mentor to Jenn and convinced her to join the federal government.
Jennifer has now been a government executive for over 20 years working for the White House, the Department of Education (DoE), and the Department of Labor (DoL). She currently leads DoL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. I asked Jenn about the transition from the private sector and not-for-profit to policy maker. She responded that in her experience “…policy is the mechanism to scale the best practices to the largest group of people.” Jennifer is dedicated to ensuring maximum exposure to and providing opportunities in the workforce.
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Leading as a Fed
Over her two decades in federal service, Jenn has learned to navigate the various agencies and government entities with similar goals. She has established a strong network of colleagues while establishing herself in the government ranks. As a leader, she admits to being very hands on. Her philosophy is to focus on development of her staff particularly in the area of training. Jenn looks to hire innovative thinkers and those with a customer service orientation. Additionally, a big part of her leadership style is her transparency and encouraging others to be open about disabilities, to include mental health. She believes progress can result in discussions about our differences.
Regarding her future, Jenn still finds government service challenging and rewarding. She will likely stay on until retirement although her focus may be on other issues. Post government, Jenn plans to spend time on her other interests such as supporting animal shelters or, if she gets really adventurous, perhaps starting a bakery / floral business with her sister — “Buns and Roses”. For now, I am confident Jenn will continue to be an inspiration and a great role model for others both in and out of the government.