HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Federal Women’s Program at Hill Air Force Base has been running strong for the last several years because of the efforts of its program manager, Deb Finn-Nokes, who will be retiring from the position soon. Finn-Nokes’ first experience with the program was nearly 30 years ago, as a single mom when she began working as a civilian for Hill Air Force Base.
“This program helped people like me when I was a lower-grade employee, helping me meet other women who gave me the picture of the ladder moving forward and how I could improve my position and pay, which was paramount to me as a single mother,” Finn-Nokes said. “I started out as a GS-4, what I called my starving salary. I discovered that almost every secretarial job was about as low as you could get entering the government and that it can be a struggle to climb up.”
Finn-Nokes has since made her way up the salary ladder working as a civilian in the Air Force, and she credits that to her experience with the Federal Women’s Program. Now she wants to help other women working on base get the jobs and salaries they want.
The Federal Women’s Program focus is on helping women gain recognition, education and promotions, goals that coincide with the recent honoring of Women’s History Month. The program works with women in the community and women working on base by offering classes, such as resume building, how to navigate the federal jobs website, how to ace an interview, and giving people exposure to a variety of career fields to broaden their options.
Finn-Nokes says that even men and military personnel looking to end their military career and work on base as a civilian or for contractors attend the classes.
The program also encourages women to finish their education. Finn-Nokes went to college full time later in her life, also while working full time and raising her preschooler, after being told it was critical if she wanted to move up the career ladder.
The program encourages volunteer experiences. “On a federal resume, even your volunteer time and efforts are counted just as much as a paid position,” said Finn-Nokes, who recalled a woman who volunteered for the program doing public affairs. “It enabled her in some small way to break out of the secretarial field she was nailed in.”
One of the most gratifying parts of the program is seeing women get promotions. “I know of several women recently that got promoted a couple of grade levels, and it may not sound like much, but it is substantial and whenever we have someone who has success, we like to tout that — because some women are so beat down that they feel like they have no chance of going any further,” Finn-Nokes said.
Brenda Jaramillo, AIAN Special Emphasis Program Manager, ran into a similar experience when she began working as a data transcriber, a GS-2. “It took me many years to get where I am now, but when you are in a low-paying GS position, you see everybody coming and going, and you have to learn how to be self-assertive without being considered aggressive,” Jaramillo. “This is a man’s world still, and we’ve got to learn how to become a part of that. It should be a people’s world, and we need mentors in higher positions working with and supporting our program.”
Finn-Nokes agreed: “I think one of the things that, culturally, women are not as liable to do is put themselves out there. It’s what someone taught me early on — that I can learn anything — and I think people don’t necessarily get that encouragement as women. You will never get far if you don’t push yourself from a traditional “pink-collar” job.”