Houston, Texas, November 2010
Trained as a chemical engineer, professional female role models have been hard to come by for Lyn Greenwood. That hasn’t stopped her from having a successful career at ExxonMobil. But the lack of role models has forced her to pave her own way as a single working mother and later, once she remarried, forced her to build up her own confidence in the kind of mother, worker and friend to others that she wanted to be.
Who were your role models growing up?
My mom was a huge proponent of education, so the emphasis my parents put on education and their early-married life made an impression on me, and instilled the idea that it’s okay to sequence your life. My parents got married in 1972 and didn’t have me for three years after they were married. They had to put up with people telling them they were being unrighteous for not having kids right away but we don’t hear that so much anymore.
How do you think your experiences as a child influenced your family and career choices as an adult?
I decided I wanted to become a chemical engineer when I was sixteen. I talked to my dad about the interests I had and he encouraged me to look into chemical engineering. I never deviated from that path and it’s been 20 years since I made that decision. I guess that this identity as an engineer and a professional has been with me since my youth.
Talk about your time as a female engineering student at BYU.
When I graduated there were about 50 people in our graduating class and five women graduated, so 10% of our graduating class was female, which is pretty low, even lower than the national average. There weren’t a lot of females around, so we all knew each other really well.
Sophomore year was when the curriculum really got started—when we started taking our core classes and the guys were getting off their missions and they were getting serious about our major. We were all getting to know each other that fall semester and after the first set of midterm exams we were comparing scores. One of my friends was sitting next to me, and he turned to me and said, “What score did you get?” So I told him. He said, “Oh, you’re not supposed to do better than me.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Because you’re a girl.” I looked at him and said, “What do you mean?” He kind of laughed it off.
From that moment I knew that I was going to get noticed because I was female and it really made me motivated and determined that if somebody said to me, “You’re getting a good grade because you’re a girl, or you’re getting an award because you’re a girl, or you’re getting this job because you’re a girl” to be able to say to them, “No, I’m getting this because I worked hard and because I deserve it on my own merits, not because I’m a girl.” To this day my friend doesn’t even remember saying that. We’re still friends and we joke about it. But it’s something that has stuck with me. Maybe it’s being in a male-dominated profession or working or whatever, but it spoke to me very early in my female engineering career that I was going to have to stand on my own merits and it wasn’t going to be easy to be a female engineering student at BYU.
When you were in school, did you foresee a time when it would be difficult for you to balance family and work? Were you thinking toward the future when you were in school?
I remember one time I was talking to a professor whose wife also worked in a science-related field. So I asked him, “What did you guys do when your kids came?” He talked about how his wife stopped working, and eventually 20 years later started working again. I said, “Hmm. I’m not sure what I’m going to do.” He looked at me and said, “You know what to do.” I remember thinking, “I do? What am I going to do?” At the time (this might have changed) there weren’t any female chemical engineering faculty members. There wasn’t anybody like me I could talk to and say, “How is this going to work? Am I just going to school for four years to work for a year or two and then stop working to raise my family? How can I manage doing this thing I’ve wanted to do for ten years with a family as well?” There really weren’t good role models while I was there.
Who have been role models since you graduated from BYU and started working at ExxonMobil?
I’ve been at ExxonMobil for twelve years, and in that time, I think the role models probably have fallen into two buckets. One is my good friend Jennifer who’s closer to my age. She’s done very well in her career, and she’s also a great mom. She has two kids, and seeing her balance her work and her kids’ activities and how involved she is in the kids’ activities gives me hope and is a positive example of being able to balance both.
There is also a good network of women at ExxonMobil who have been in their careers for 20 to 30 years who are taking an interest in the younger women, by helping and guiding them and giving them advice. They’re my role models as well. You don’t see that mentoring happening everywhere.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to attend a leadership course for work. As part of the course, I received feedback from my colleagues that I should start thinking about how I could mentor others. Until then, I had always considered myself one of the youngest, least experienced in the room–someone still looking for mentors. It really made me realize that I was hitting a crossroad, that I needed to consciously transition into mentoring others. It’s a little awkward to walk up to somebody and say, “Hey, I’d like to mentor you,” but I’ve definitely changed my mindset when I’m talking to women at work or at church. While I was on maternity leave after the birth of my daughter, I was assigned to visit teach another working mother. She was also on maternity leave and was scheduled to go back to work the next month. Those first couple weeks back at work are so hard, and I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone. The night of her first day back at work, I stopped by her house to drop off a small gift. She wasn’t expecting me, and her husband almost didn’t open the door for me. We talked for a minute and then she turned to her husband and said, “She knows. She’s done this before.” The experience solidified my belief that there is such a need for support of working mothers — especially in LDS culture. I’ve come to realize that it is up to me to be that mentor for the next woman. I might not have had my own LDS mentor, but I can be conscious of how I fill that role for others.
After you were married to your first husband for eight years and had a two-year-old son, you divorced. How did your years as a single mom shape how you see yourself today as both a worker and as a mother?
I married another BYU student at age 20 in 1996, and we eventually divorced in 2003. One thing I decided when I was a single mom was that Thomas, who was two years old then, would never hear me complain about work. I wanted his take on work and having a profession to be a positive thing. I wanted him to perceive the fact that his mom worked as a happy, positive thing. So even though it was sometimes really hard, I tried not to complain or be down on the fact that “Mommy has to go to work.”
Did you feel positive about your work at that time or do you think talking about it that way influenced how you felt?
I think talking about it influenced how I felt. There were times that it was really, really hard. I’d get Thomas up, get him to daycare and me to work. Then it was six o’clock and we’d drive home for an hour, be up for an hour and then go to bed. There was about a year when I was doing a global job, when I’d have teleconferences starting at eight pm at least once or twice a week. A lot of times Thomas wasn’t asleep and I was having teleconferences while Thomas was jumping on the couch. When I got transferred out of that division and sent the goodbye email, the comments from Asia were, “Oh, we’re going to miss you, and tell Thomas goodbye too” because they were so used to having him in the background. When I was a single working mom there really wasn’t a whole lot of time for much other than work and Thomas.
What are some of the challenges you face today as a working mom?
As a working mom, it’s making conscious decisions about what you’re going to spend your time and energy on. Time really becomes a premium, so you decide if you’re going to go to book club and girls’ night out or if you’re going to hang out with your kids or go running. Sometimes I’m good at making conscious decisions about where I’m spending my time and sometimes I’m not so good. And my family lets me know.
Childcare has also been a challenge, and we’re lucky to have a great situation right now. After Thomas was born, he was at a daycare center that was right by my office. I would drive to work with him in the morning, and then I’d spend my lunch hour with him every day. For a while I was nursing and would go over at lunch and nurse him. I don’t think I appreciated how great that community day care center was and what a family it was. He stayed there until he was four years old and I remarried in 2006. Then my new husband and I picked a new day care center close to our house. Good quality childcare is one of the conditions of both of us working.
After your second child, Kate, was born in 2008, you took a leave of absence and stayed home with her for almost a year. What are some of the challenges you faced as a stay-at-home mom?
I think that for me a lot of the hard part of being a stay-at-home mom was coming to terms with what direction my life was going to take. I felt like my life was really at a crossroad and I was deciding where I was going to go. I also felt isolated. I had gone from an environment with people around me constantly, to really having to seek out time with other people. I think a lot of it was coming to peace with who I was and trying to be at peace with who other people were. I was all angsty about who I was, so it wasn’t easy for me. I didn’t like who I was very much. I felt like I was picking fights all the time.
There were other smaller challenges, too. Obviously my wardrobe needed to change. I wasn’t going to be wearing suits around the house. So I rearranged my closet so my pantsuits and my skirt suits were no longer front and center in the closet. I made room for the T-shirts and the jeans and pushed the suits to the back because I wasn’t wearing them very often. It was very bittersweet. I really missed the suits and missed dressing up and I think it represented, for that time at least, putting away that other identity that I had and moving into the stay-at-home mom role for a while.
Part of the struggle for me while I was home was that I had all these high expectations. For years, I had been told that staying home and raising my family was my role in life, that that was what I was supposed to do. I felt like I was supposed to immediately embrace and be totally satisfied with and totally fulfilled in this role. It was really frustrating for me that when I was home it didn’t come easy to me. I felt guilty for feeling sad over losing my role as a professional woman. That was really hard, because I felt that I wasn’t supposed to be sad, and I wasn’t supposed to be having these feelings of guilt, and I wasn’t supposed to be missing my career the way I was.
Where was “the supposed to be” coming from?
It was probably wanting to be good, and my perception of what I thought I was supposed to be. I read through old journals of my Young Women days. And when I was a young woman, those are the kind of lessons that were being taught. That’s what had been, for six years, drilled into me. I don’t know if it was doctrinal as much as cultural, and my internalization of what I thought the culture and my religion expected of me.
Did you feel you had anybody within the Church or at work who understood both sides of the coin for you?
I remember talking a lot with my friend Alexis (who is a part-time physician and a mom of four kids) about work and sacrifice. She said to me one time, “I think you’re much more ambitious than I ever was.” So even though I had Alexis to talk to, I’ve still been looking for other forums where I can find LDS women who are trying to balance being ambitious and having strong careers and still being good mothers who are engaged and faithful. They don’t need to be mutually exclusive.
You seem happy now. Talk about how you reached the decisions you’ve made and how you feel about them know.
It wasn’t easy. Nine months after I had Kate, I called work and told them I was going to take another nine months off. One of my mentors called and had a frank conversation with me about why I felt like needed more leave and asked if I would be interested in working part time. We started a dialogue and she started looking for a part-time position for me. My husband said, “After you had that conversation you were giddy.” It was night and day, knowing that I was going to be able to have that part of me that had been important for such a long time, that I wasn’t going to have to give that up.
I wish I could say that I was the one who came to this revelation that I would be happier working, but I think it came from other people mentoring me and talking to me, sometimes knowing me or being interested in what I could contribute better than I knew. For me, I wanted so badly to be the perfect stay-at-home Mormon woman that I couldn’t see that I could be an example of a Mormon woman and eventually be a mentor to someone else.
What has this experience helped you realize about your relationship with the Church?
My friend Alexis would say that each person has to prayerfully decide with Heavenly Father what’s best for them. She’s said that the Church should give counsel on how things can work, but that each of us has to come to our own conclusion and work it out with the Lord. I really didn’t believe that. But I’ve come along this journey to now believe that it really is up to the individual and the Lord.
At A Glance
Location: Houston, TX
Marital status: Married to Virgil since 2006
Children: Andrew (stepson), 15; Thomas, 9; Kate, 2
Occupation: Planning & Business Development Advisor, ExxonMobil Chemical
Schools Attended: BYU
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Favorite Hymn: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”