October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the SEC is spotlighting Joyce Gammelmo, Diversity Council representative for the agency’s Disability Interests Advisory Committee (DIAC) and a former DIAC Chair. She serves as Quantitative Research Analytical Data Support program/project manager for the agency’s Division of Economic and Risk Analysis.
Let’s learn more about Joyce’s story and her insights on honoring the accomplishments of American workers with disabilities.
Q: Before joining the SEC in 2014, you served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years and held a few other interesting roles during your career. Can you share a little more about yourself and what led you to the SEC?
A: I was asked whether I would like to join the SEC by a former colleague from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management who had joined the SEC. He saw a need for my talents, as he was well aware of my capabilities for work, my extracurricular activities and my commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion activities within and outside of the organization. Once I researched and learned more about the SEC and its mission and saw the word ‘inclusion’ in a number of articles, I immediately accepted the challenge of joining such a unique and fascinating organization. After all, several of my previous overseas and stateside jobs included work that was near and dear to my heart — protecting, regulating and interpreting the rule of law and safeguarding people and property. It’s in my DNA.
Q: At the SEC, we emphasize the importance of mentorship, sponsorship, and internship as conduits for creating personal and professional opportunities. Is there a person, experience, or event that was pivotal to helping you get where you are today?
A: I grew up on a small working farm that had your typical farm animals — cows, chickens, guineas, pigs, etc. — as well as a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and berries to harvest. You learn the importance of mentorship, sponsorship, and internship all in one season and at an early age, at least I did. My parents and church instilled in me ethics and certainly emphasized the importance not only of being mentored, but also of mentoring others. I cannot think of a time in my life whether it was on the farm, in the Air Force, working as a contractor with the government, or in any of my previous jobs when I was not either a mentor or simultaneously mentoring or being an ally to others.
Other than my deceased parents, I often think of my late friend Jane Slevin, who helped a very shy kid look beyond the farm life, dream and reach for the stars. Or Joan Blankenbeker, who showed the kid from the farm how to navigate my first years in the military; we are still friends more than 40 years later. Many others throughout my career have been a beacon of light, cheering me on as I accepted challenges and conquered mountains.
I recall the day when I received an invitation to join a team in Iraq. I had to think long and hard about whether I wanted to leave a teenager at home to work in a war-torn country, a life-or-death situation to be exact. I recalled all the advice I received from my mentors, Jane and Joan, and how my life’s experience had led me to that moment of making a critical decision. I raised my daughter to be independent. She had sponsors and mentors and was herself a leader at a young age. She was prepared for me to go and experience the challenges that lay before me. So I did just that, went to work in a war zone and enjoyed the experience despite the loss of life I witnessed.
Many people, experiences and events were pivotal in helping me be who I am today. I would not have accepted work in Iraq, Africa, Europe, the SEC and other places had I not respected the professional advice and kept an emphasis on living a life that allowed for mentoring, sponsoring, and even accepting and providing internships.
When I needed support from trusted sources, I asked. When I needed a confidential ear, I found it. And when I needed spiritual uplifting, I sought out the right person or persons as needed. I accepted my challenges as they came and fought the battles that were required with grace. And when it was time to mentor, I shared those things that made me stronger and wiser.
-Joyce Gammelmo, DIAC Diversity Council Representative
Q: What unique perspectives do you bring to your role as Diversity Council Representative for DIAC and previously DIAC Chair that you may draw upon to help enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion both internally at the agency and externally in the community that we serve? What inspired you to get involved in the employee affinity groups and Diversity Council and in the National Treasury Employees Union Executive Board?
A: While serving with the DIAC, I had the distinct pleasure of serving with former SEC Commissioner Kara Stein and others who supported the DIAC. During my tenure as both chair and then co-chair, I helped sponsor a number of events and invited influential guests to support the DIAC so that the SEC could gain knowledge from the community and be aware of offerings that we were able to provide SEC staff and their families.
I myself am a military veteran. I served 20 years in the Air Force, and I happen to have some disabilities that, for the most part, are not visible to the untrained eyes or are simply not seen. When I first arrived at the SEC, someone asked me why I needed special accommodation, because I did not “appear to be disabled.”
It was that turning point, I purposely sought out a way to have a voice for people like me, and it was a meeting conducted by the DIAC that drew me in. Daniel Leslie introduced me to the DIAC, convinced me to run for office, and later nominated me to replace him on the Diversity Council with the support of former Commissioner Stein and others. I bring a perspective of a recipient who has been mistreated, misunderstood, and unbelieved to need help as a person with disabilities. I joined the DIAC and then the Diversity Council to be a difference-maker in this niche of the world in which I suddenly found myself after being injured while serving in the military and as a government contractor and no less as a federal government employee having to continue living with the consequences.
Q: What barriers have you encountered on your career path, and what advice might you give to help others overcome similar barriers?
A: That word ‘barrier’ stirs up some good and bad memories, but it also helps keep me grounded in reality as my career has progressed from industry to industry. When I initially joined the Air Force, I was pretty naïve and innocent of the prejudiced vibes the world offered and that there were such restrictions for women on what others thought I could or could not do or achieve. As a previous general manager (GM) of a predominantly male company and serving as a minority, I was often mistreated by other GMs when attending fancy dinners and outings, and pursuing business deals was not always easy. I recall having to attend meetings with congressmen, police chiefs from around the world, government leaders and others in the early 2000s. It was not always pleasant when they questioned whether I belonged or deserved to be in the position I held.
It was a hard pill to swallow or accept when I dressed in a fine suit to attend a prestigious event, and someone asked me to take out the trash from the government-provided living quarters, where I stayed next door to the person in question — we were both on government travel, attending the same conference, and I was one of the guest speakers. There were no pictures on the program, just names, and I suppose my last name does not suggest my race. Needless to say, when I took the podium to speak, I asked if the person located the cleaning staff to take out the trash. True story!
I grew up under the assumption that I could do all things because of my religious beliefs and upbringing, training and knowledge base, so some situations called for me to seek an ally, mentor or sponsor to achieve what I wanted to accomplish. The assignments I was honored to serve in were mainly male-oriented positions, and very few, if any, minorities were assigned. It was an uphill battle to compete, much less to just do my job at times. However, I achieved success and won a tremendous number of awards and accolades in the process not so much by fighting the daily battles, but by performing at a high level, maintaining high standards and setting the bar higher for those who came after me. When I needed support from trusted sources, I asked. When I needed a confidential ear, I found it. And when I needed spiritual uplifting, I sought out the right person or persons as needed. I accepted my challenges as they came and fought the battles that were required with grace. And when it was time to mentor, I shared those things that made me stronger and wiser. In other words, I turned the ugliness into rightness and try to share the best with whomever I have an opportunity to protect, mentor, sponsor or provide with an internship.
Q: How has your service in the Air Force prepared you to handle life’s challenges?
A: I have to say that I can answer this question in a number of different ways. My service in the Air Force prepared me for the real world, where people can be very cruel or kind. The Air Force helped open my eyes to the world, as prior to joining the Air Force, I had not traveled farther than from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., on very few occasions. Farm life is sometimes limited to the farm as you care for the animals and produce. While in the Air Force, I had the opportunity to travel, work, and play in England, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Greece and so many other countries. The Air Force further opened my heart, ears and eyes to continue helping others no matter what the cause or reason. If the TV show ‘The Pretender’ (with Michael T. Weiss as Jarod) was still showing today, I would be that ideal prodigy child that could do all things — save lives, put out fires, journey into space, etc.
However, it was not just the Air Force that prepared me to handle life’s challenges. It was my upbringing that got me started — the farm, church, family and teachers (my mentors). Although my dad was the typical male — girls do girl things — he never stopped me from watching him and my brothers build race cars, process the animals for market or home use, build homes or anything else. An important lesson I would like to teach is not to discount the opportunity to observe things that you are unfamiliar with because it may pay off further down the road.
Q: What is a fun fact about you?
A: I like traveling to other countries to enjoy the food, people and atmosphere. However, COVID has halted this passion of mine for now. I’m a DJ, mixing and playing only for myself these days at home when time permits. I love the thrill of speed, so I drive a Can-Am Spyder RT Limited for its modern look, six-speed transmission, and that get-up-and-go power! Oh yes, I can cook, too!
Modified: April 6, 2023