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Spotlight on Commerce: Deborah Stempowski, Chief, Decennial Census Management Division, U.S. Census Bureau

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees during Women’s History Month.

Guest blog post by Deborah Stempowski, Chief, Decennial Census Management Division, U.S. Census Bureau

I am the chief of the Decennial Census Management Division at the U.S. Census Bureau, and have served in this capacity since May of 2016. In this role, I lead the centralized management organization responsible for the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the 2020 Census Program. This includes carrying responsibility for budget, schedule, and scope at both the program and project levels.  The decennial census is the largest peacetime mobilization and operation conducted by the United States and requires years of research, planning, and development of methods, systems, and infrastructure to ensure an accurate and complete count. Through this work, I can honestly say that what energizes me most as a leader is collaborating across the organizations at the Census Bureau, and working with the fantastic partners that make up our 2020 Census Program team. From the administrative assistants, to the branch chiefs, to the assistant division chiefs, to the senior executives: I’ve been enriched by engaging with them. 

As a female executive who came up through the ranks at the Census Bureau, I am honored to have the opportunity to reflect on Women’s History Month, and what it means to me. Even with my busy day-to-day schedule, Women’s History Month is an important reminder for me to step back and reflect on where I have been and where I am going. My first thought is that I was lucky to be in the midst of so many leaders who were eager and generous in providing me with guidance over the years. I had and still have the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of tremendous mentors, both women and men, who provided me with feedback, support, and challenges throughout the course of my career. My second thought is that it was important that I was willing to listen and accept their challenges. Sometimes this meant embracing opportunities that were not visible to me, and other times it meant accepting challenges that seemed quite daunting. 

I cannot stress enough the importance of being open to and cultivating mentoring relationships with seasoned managers. They can point you to great opportunities that might not be a part of your own charted career development plan. One thing that is certain with a career in government, is that things are always changing. Reflecting upon my career and all of the opportunities I have been fortunate to embrace, I can see that it’s always been about the journey and not the destination. With the help of mentors, I’ve been challenged and supported to take on the unknown. Career development has to be agile, changing with the environment, the organization, and of course yourself, because after all it is about the journey. In addition to learning from leaders, a great lesson for me in my leadership journey is to listen to and benefit from all of the talented Census Bureau people around me, no matter what their level in the organization.

Before becoming part of the Senior Executive Service (SES) in April 2012, I was fortunate enough to be a candidate in the Department of Commerce’s SES Candidate Development Program. The program pushed me outside of my comfort zone, sharpening both my leadership and management skills and providing me the opportunity to work on a 5-month detail at the Office of Management and Budget. This was a tremendous gift that helped me gain government wide perspective that I use in my work as Chief of the Decennial Census Management Division. 

Prior to joining the 2020 Census Program in my current position, I served as the chief of the American Community Survey Office and previous to that as the chief of the Economic Management Division. Moving around the Census Bureau in several division chief positions taught me important skills about how to run a large organization, whatever the specific mission may be, as well as how the operations of our Census Bureau programs are more similar than sometimes they seem. It also provided me the opportunity to work with every area of the Census Bureau and establish the critical relationships that are so important to my role today. In any position I have held, good working relationships make it possible to overcome many challenges. The changes in my roles, while challenging, were always supported and embraced by my mentors. 

I encourage women wherever they might be in their careers, to take chances to move beyond their comfort zones, to look for mentors who are both formal and informal, and to use the guidance of those mentors to embrace challenges. The Census Bureau remains an organization full of opportunity to those who agree to seek support and step up to lead. Leaders throughout the ages here have made sure that remains the case. I welcome women in our organization to reach out, connect, and lead.  

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