PEO to President How One Woman Built Her Business
Throughout my career I have been told that I should start my own business. I was always flattered by this statement and considered it a compliment. I knew that I would be my own boss someday, but it was just a matter of timing. I am a big believer that things happen for a reason and that timing is everything. Well, there is no better example than when I started DIXON Resources Unlimited in October 2012.
When WIP asked me to share how I started the company and how we compete in this male-dominated industry, I had to think twice. For me it’s not about gender, it’s about the quality and character of the people that I work with.
It’s about the quality and character of the people that
I work with.
Maybe I was fortunate because I was the youngest, and only girl, in a family with three older brothers. While mom tried to raise me with a girly pink room, I grew up in a competitive environment and learned very early to stand up for myself among the boys. I never lacked for confidence because we all received our fair share of grief from each other and had to figure out how to give back just as good as we received.
This was probably the ideal background to prepare me for my introduction to parking enforcement with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department while attending the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). I was the first parking enforcement officer for the Isla Vista Foot Patrol (IVFP), and I was the only female in the facility besides the office manager.
I was handed a parking citation book (yes, old school), a radio, a bicycle and sent out to regulate parking. It was an easy environment because it felt just like my family. I was the youngest, the only girl in the field and I felt like I had a group of big brothers looking out for me.
What was exciting about this opportunity was that there were so many violations, I could truly focus on education and was able to issue plenty of warning notices. I started at a time when community-oriented policing programs were being introduced, and I attended one of the first Verbal Judo training sessions with the IVFP. At that time, parking citations were contested in traffic court, and I had to learn how to represent citations in front of the Traffic Commissioners.
There were plenty of challenges. I was attending classes with the same peer group to which I was writing parking tickets. I was branded “the Parking Nazi” by the school newspaper. It wasn’t easy, but I was lucky to have the support and camaraderie of “my brothers”. I always knew that they were only a radio call away.
We had fun together, a supportive, but ribbing work environment, just like my family. This was one of the coolest jobs that I could have had while I was in college. I will always be grateful for the experiences that I gained as a PEO. Who knew that it would come in handy over 20 years later?
As my career transitioned, I continued to work with law enforcement supporting the implementation of automated enforcement systems (red light cameras). I worked with police departments throughout the country and I was often the only female and usually the youngest. This never bothered me because this is what I have always known.
I have often been asked how I dealt with issues or challenges as a female. I have to be honest, this question has perplexed me because if I didn’t like a situation or appreciate how I was being treated, I addressed it directly with the source. If a matter persisted, I would escalate it until it was addressed. But, this rarely happened to me, because I won’t allow myself to be in an environment that I am not comfortable in or allow someone to treat me as an inferior. We all deserve respect, and I try to give what I receive.
When I reentered the parking industry, I was the only female manager in our operation, and there were very few women working for our clients. I didn’t really think anything of it because I was accustomed to working in male-dominated environments. Parking technology was just starting to advance and because of my experience with automated enforcement, I was already familiar with integrations and interfaces.
Have I been judged or treated differently because I am woman – ABSOLUTELY! But it’s just another challenge. I enjoy when I am underestimated, it gives me the chance to prove to those critics what a mistake it was to critique someone just because of their gender.
The last decade has been a career whirlwind. I have never declined an opportunity to learn or be introduced to a new idea. When I started DIXON Resources Unlimited, the timing was right. Coming up with a company name was fun, but it was my oldest brother who added the “Unlimited”. He asked, “There’s no limit to what you will do for a customer, right?” and he was correct. Sometimes it is tough having your name in the title. Criticisms and critiques can sometimes feel personal because that’s me, that’s my name.
I love my job and making a difference helping our customers address their parking needs. It’s flattering being sought out by colleagues for feedback and career advice, especially those just getting started. The best lessons learned, though, are those that you gain from personal experience.
I tend to overshare my experience, but I hope that this can provide some guidance for how to deal with tough situations that someone may face during their career. I don’t want to tell someone how they should handle a problem because everyone is different, I can just tell you how I have addressed a similar challenge. I’ve learned from my mistakes because there have been plenty.
When we celebrated DIXON’s five-year anniversary, the same brother who helped name the company offered a celebratory toast that had many of our peers coming up to me afterwards telling me “that explains everything”.
I had never thought about it before, but when my brother shared that we grew up in a very competitive family and, in our household, “second place is the first loser”, it was at that moment that I had the realization that this was how I have succeeded to this point. It doesn’t matter whether I work with men, women, jerks or fools, I don’t let critics bring me down because ultimately, I will work to achieve my goals. It’s worked so far!
JULIE DIXON is President, Founder and Principle Consultant for Dixon Resources Unlimited. You can reach her at Julie@DixonResourcesUnlimited.com.