Most trailblazers think they are late.
In her own words, Allie B. Latimer isn’t an exception—although her subsequent work for gender equality during the last 50+ years has been exceptional.
Latimer helped established the first meeting of Federally Employed Women (FEW) in 1968 based on new learnings and experiences. She watched women make strides during World War II, only to fall behind again in peaceful times. While the Civil Rights movement took shape in the 1960s, the reality of gender discrimination showed itself to her.
“We were so busy with discrimination based on race, gender wasn’t thought of,” said Latimer, whose mother was an “EEO mama” where boys and girls did the same chores. “I was a late-comer to gender discrimination.”
Despite the challenges, Latimer learned how to advance her career. In 1977, she became the first Black American woman to serve as general counsel of a major federal agency. She also became the first Black American and first women to attain the GS-18 salary level at the General Services Administration, Veteran Feminists.
So how did she do it?
In a recent interview, Latimer revealed the “building blocks” that she used to climb the ladder. (It’s not a coincidence that FEW, the organization she started, offers the same opportunities to its members who make the decision to use the group as a tool for advancement.)
Here is the list of the tools that she used to reach new heights:
Find the Right Mentor
During her college days at then-Hampton Institute, Latimer found a mentor that told her the things she needed to hear, as opposed to the things she wanted to hear. Her mentor told her that she needed more experiences before she could realize her full potential. And he recommended that she take a special exam that would position herself for a federal job. “Why would I need to take the exam,” the younger Latimer said to her mentor. “I don’t have any plans of working for the federal government.”
- Federally Employed Women (FEW) has launched a mentoring program to support the professional development of emerging leaders, as well as expand their networks and skills. Mentoring is a mutually beneficial experience where valuable knowledge, invaluable experience and astute insight is shared. It offers growth opportunities on professional and personal levels.
Practice Servant Leadership
After college, Latimer volunteered for the American Friends Service Committee when she worked in prisons and mental institutions. Ultimately, she participated in a campaign to desegregate the New Jersey State Hospital in Vineland, New Jersey and integrate a suburban community outside Philadelphia.
Latimer said her volunteer work gave her the experiences that she was missing: “It helped me learn what it meant to be a human being. I learned a lot about life itself.”
- Throughout the year, FEW provides countless community outreach opportunities on the chapter, regional and nationals level that give back to communities, sparking fellowship among members. Community outreach projects are a win-win opportunity for all members, who are able to help other people while helping themselves create new opportunities by meeting other members.
Put Knowledge To Work
Latimer earned her Juris Doctor from Howard University School of Law in 1953. She also earned a Master of Legal Letters degree from The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law as well as a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Howard University School of Divinity.
But not all her knowledge came from books. When NASA tried to open its recruitment to a more diverse talent pool in the 1960s, it became clear to her that it wasn’t working. At the time, the agency was taking ads out in publications that were mainly read by white men. The project’s administrator asked Latimer to get involved, when the team couldn’t say how many job applicants were women or minorities.
“It was making me aware how women were being overlooked,” she said.
Latimer said this type of knowledge lead her to found FEW. She said acquiring information, training and knowledge is paramount.
“A lot of the times, we are not aware of the pieces that you have to put together to advance,” she added. “Sometimes, you have to leave your current job and go up another ladder where there is opportunity for you. Just being a human being isn’t good enough. People use knowledge as power. You have to have the knowledge.”
Latimer suggested that federally employed women should read the federal government’s annual Green Book, which offers insight on the long-term plans for each agency in terms of funding and initiatives.
- FEW will host its third year of virtual training July 18 – 22, 2022, with no per diem or lodging cost required. Once again, FEW will explore the vast options available through an interactive platform to connect you with our trainers, sponsors, and colleagues. FEW will provide a catalog of courses (100+ specialized courses) on various topics, including Human Resources, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), Information Technology (IT), Project Management, Management, and Leadership professionals. All courses align with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Executive Core Competencies (Leading People, Leading Change, Business Acumen, Result Driven, and Building Coalitions). If that is not enough, FEW will hold several after-hour networking events.
Find Your Community
Around the time she discovered sex discrimination was just as pervasive as racial discrimination, Latimer came to a stark realization: “Being a woman was as bad as being Black.” And she checked both boxes.
But Latimer knew that you can’t beat someone who never quits.
When asked why she never gave up despite the challenges, she said: “My background in the home, school, community and church. They were our mentors. They told us what life was about, and how we should respond.”
She remembers coming home after school and changing into her play clothes while her grandmother was helping a lot of people in the community who were sick.
“People took care of each other,” said Latimer who was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Alabama.
- Members who provide serve the community of FEW are eligible for special recognition, which includes the Allie Latimer Award that recognizes a FEW member whose action and leadership resulted in service to FEW at chapter and/or region level. When members give their time and talent to advance FEW’s mission, they are doing more than helping the community. They are helping themselves by building their reputation and creating new relationships by working side by side with other members on a local, regional and national level.
When FEW launched in 1968, women made 58.2% of what men made in terms of annual salary ($32,389 vs. $18,836). In 2019, women had cut the pay gap to 82% ($57,456 vs. $47,299). Although that’s a clear sign of progress for women, proper context makes the difference more sobering. In 2015, the Institute for Women’s Police Research estimated that women won’t receive equal pay until 2059.
Latimer acknowledges that the struggle continues: “Women have made a lot of gains, but they still have a way to go.”
FEW’s membership needs to continue the charge. To be part of something bigger than yourself, join the movement.