Breaking into circles dominated by men—and then rising to the top—is something Shonta Greenwood can say she’s done not once, but twice.
In the early 2000s, after her college basketball career ended, Greenwood tried her hand at a new sport, one that she, like most women, had never played—football. With speed as her biggest strength, Greenwood became a standout running back, playing for two Texas teams in the professional women’s league and winning two world championships.
As she made a name for herself on the gridiron, Greenwood was also establishing a professional career in the industrial sector, another traditionally male-dominated environment. She started out as an engineer at the ExxonMobil Baytown Refinery before moving to the company’s former headquarters in Virginia, where she stepped into leadership positions.
By 2015, Greenwood found herself in Louisiana, serving as area manager for ExxonMobil’s pipeline company. Four years later, she’s now head of maintenance at the company’s Baton Rouge refinery, overseeing hundreds of employees and contractors each day supporting all unit maintenance.
Although her glory days on the football field are behind her, Greenwood says her sports career prepared her well for her role in the industrial sector, where female leaders are growing but still few and far between—much like female football players. She learned not only how to overcome such barriers, but to also value the importance of teamwork along the way.
“I was an only child for 16 years. I grew up on my own, so my teammates were my family and friends,” Greenwood says. “They were all different individuals from different backgrounds. It taught me how to work with and lead people that think differently from you to come together for a common goal.”
There was also the competitive spirit—the drive to win—that comes with sports and has also pushed Greenwood to strive for success in her professional career, though not on her own.
“I’m competitive in that I want to win. I try to win through collaboration versus by myself,” she says. “Everyone has something to bring to the table to help you be successful.”
Growing up, Greenwood didn’t exactly see herself in a leadership position with a major corporation, she says. In fact, she had aspirations of playing basketball for the WNBA. But in her role at ExxonMobil, Greenwood has come to find some of the same values she loved about sports: diversity, inclusion and the drive to become better.
Even when confronting challenges, such as working with someone you don’t mesh with, she’s learned both from sports and her profession to look inward and see what changes can be made.
“I learned in hindsight how to work well with that person, rather than think they don’t like me, or it’s because I’m a woman,” Greenwood says. “What can I do differently to make this work? The key to success is to continue to work on building yourself.”