Last week, The Wylie News highlighted a woman making an impact in the Texas Legislature. This week, the focus shifts to the city of Wylie, which has a number of important women in senior leadership positions, including the animal services manager and its engineering project manager.
Shelia Patton, animal services manager in Wylie, is making the most of her second career in a field that does not have many long-tenured employees — 70% don’t make it past five years while 10% work more than 11 years, according to 2021 data. Patton grew up wanting to be a teacher but decided to pursue a start-up position after working for a school district. After 14 years as a contract negotiator with a Plano-based company, Patton said she wanted to pursue a career where she had a passion for the work she was doing, which initially led her into animal services in Wylie as a temporary employee.
“I realized I enjoyed the fast-paced new environment.,” Patton said. “I believe in the police department and animal service division goals. I have now been working in Wylie for over sixteen years.”
Over the years, Patton said advice instilled by her grandmother, mother and English teacher, Mrs. Williams has helped shape the person she is today.
“These women presented and instilled in me the values of ethics and integrity,” Patton said. “Understanding that my personal and business success has to begin with a foundation of trust.”
Additionally, she says it is important to recognize mentors, whether they are men or women, as individuals and not a person of position because it grants access to people of many different backgrounds.
Throughout her career, Patton said she has faced challenges many women around her age have, notably being a working mother and being more than just enough for others. Despite the challenges, advice from her mentors helped her continue as a working mom.
“In my early years being a working mom, I most often received scrutiny for ‘leaving my children,’ ‘putting financial desire first,’ and ‘avoiding responsibilities,’” Patton said. “These comments did not affect me or my path due to the foundation laid by the fantastic women mentors I had.”
She added that she is currently working at 48 years old with twin 2-year-olds at home.
Beyond being a woman in the workforce, Patton said it is important to recognize generations who came before and the solid foundation her mentors gave her.
“It is essential to continue to recognize women in leadership roles today. A long list of women paved the foundation for gender diversity in the workplace and society,” Patton said. “If I had not had the women mentors I had, perhaps, I would have allowed the scrutiny received as a woman with a new family 30 years ago to change my path. My mentors likely had positive mentors.”
During the Tuesday, March 14, council meeting, several notable women working for the city of Wylie were recognized, including Jenneen Elkhalid, engineering project manager.
Similar to Patton, Elkhalid did not go straight into engineering. She was an ESL and cultural cooking teacher to women from around the world before she began a full-time engineering career.
“It was a unique and beautiful experience to sit with women from every continent, as we shared, discussed and learned together,” Elkhalid said.
Once she got into the engineering field as a project engineer, she focused on roadway design and transportation engineering before joining the city of Wylie.
Elkhalid has strong ties to the area having lived in Wylie since she was 4 years old. She added that she chose a career in engineering out of a desire to do something “challenging and meaningful.”
“It may sound cliché, but I have always aspired to help others,” Elkhalid said. “We live in a world that can be so divisive, and my hope is that my work and inclusivity can somehow encourage people to look beyond stereotypes and get to know others for who they really are.”
Her family, including her mother, maternal grandmother, Grandmama, her mother’s godmother, Granny Sue, and paternal grandmother, Tatya, are among the many role models Elkhalid said she has, adding that they have experienced the hardship of being refugees and challenges of immigrating and pursuing a higher education.
One saying, Alhamdullilah, means “thanks be to God,” said Elkhalid, adding that “we hold onto this saying, even when life is hard.”
“When I remember my grandmama, or even when I simply look at my Tayta, I am reminded of the hardships endured and the sacrifices they made to help provide a better life for their families,” Elkhalid said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be the person that I’ve become.”
Her father, Baba, was an engineer as well and has worked with project management too, she added. His key advice has always been to “focus on the task at hand,” said Elkhalid.
“My baba has been a constant source of support and encouragement to me, and continues to provide tips about
management as well as improving processes and procedures,” Elkhalid said.
Renae Ollie has also been a mentor as a city employee including providing a key piece of advice: “as good as I am, I can’t control that,” referring to negative opinions others may choose to form. Elkhalid said she has also tried to continue being who she is whenever someone dismisses her for being a female in the engineering or construction industry.
“I do not treat others any differently — I do my job, I treat others with respect, but I also make it clear through my actions that I will not be pushed aside simply because this is a male dominant field,” Elkhalid said.
LaShawna Rich, a building inspections permit technician for the city, said Elkhalid has been a positive mentor in her career.
“She builds lasting rapport, and she is transparent, but respects confidentiality,” Rich said. “She is a mentor simply by engaging in professional relationships and encouraging women in their career growth and advancement.”
When it comes to recognizing women this month, Elkhalid said that is important too.
“It is important to recognize, support, and encourage women not just in March, but throughout the year, because historically women have not been afforded equal opportunities,” Elkhalid said. “It is important to recognize female achievements and build on the accomplishments of the women that came before us that helped pave the way for generations to come.”
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