Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport’s (DTW) Jannetta Sewell has risen from entry level screener in 2002 to her present role as Deputy Assistant Federal Security Director, all while serving at her home airport.
Her satisfaction with her TSA career progression says as much about Sewell’s progressive airport culture as it does about her talent and determination.
“I had the skill and ability,” Sewell recalled, thinking about her younger self. “I was pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration and had a passion for the job.”
As a duty manager for Argenbright Security at DTW prior to 9/11, Sewell joined TSA in 2002 with the expectation of a leadership position. By the time she on boarded, the only vacancy available was as a TSA officer.
“While this was disappointing, I accepted the entry level position because I loved the work I did so much.”
In those early years, an insightful DTW leadership group, who recognized her flair for the mission and supported her career aspirations, encouraged her to reach higher.
“I was fearful of applying for a higher level because I was a female in my early 20s,” said Sewell. “The majority of the leaders at that time were male and in their mid-30s. It was quite scary to think I would be the youngest female leader.”
Bolstered by positive mentorship and a strong work ethic, Sewell became a leader who pays it forward at DTW.
March is Women’s History Month. Recognizing her positive experience in a month set aside for acknowledging the contributions of women in the workplace is important, because historically, not every TSA woman has benefited from such affirming mentorship.
“I would say that having someone believe in you and encourage you is powerful,” said Sewell.
That’s not to suggest doors flew open at every turn for Sewell. In fact, a denied scheduling accommodation almost ended her TSA career.
As she got deeper into her college business curriculum, her class meeting times collided with her work schedule. When confronted with a choice of her diploma or her supervisory TSA job, Sewell chose her education and was preparing to resign when she confided in a colleague.
“Before resigning I shared my challenge with a peer and was advised to speak with another member of leadership,” said Sewell. “That leader approved my request, and I was granted a scheduling accommodation.”
On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest, Sewell valued her education as “10” and her job at “10a.” The negotiated outcome turned out to pay dividends to the student and DTW.
“I obtained my bachelor’s degree in management in 2005 and several months later, I was promoted to Transportation Security Manager,” said Sewell.
Feedback — the evergreen gift
Sewell has molded her professional style by intentionally seeking out and willingly receiving unvarnished, frank advice from others. Now that she’s leading, she sees it as one of her primary responsibilities to her team.
“I have been the recipient of feedback and coaching and I make a conscious effort to give back in this area daily,” said Sewell. “It is so fulfilling to see those that you’ve assisted along the way achieve their career goals.”
The leader who advocated for her early in her TSA career created an opportunity for Sewell. During Women’s History Month, it’s fitting to reflect on how care for our people strengthens our mission by providing opportunity.
“Behind every face is a story of victory,” said Sewell. “TSA women have set the perspective on female history. Woman’s rights produce equality and structure essential in the society.”
What I do matters
During my time as a screener [before federalization], I developed friendships with flight crews. I specifically recall a conversation with one of those individuals a few days after 9/11. He was inconsolable. He was so fearful of getting on another aircraft that he ultimately decided to change careers. I’m a results driven person and joined TSA to make a difference for all who felt as helpless as that person did.
At work I am accountable to my team. I don’t want to let them down and as a result I work hard for them. I’ve always led by example and held myself to a higher standard.
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs