Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Leadership in a Diverse Environment Training Focuses on Women in Leadership

By Kelley Stirling, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division

WEST BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division held a Leadership in a Diverse Environment (LDE) training event on May 31, 2018, in West Bethesda, Maryland.

The event, though mostly geared toward women either in or seeking leadership positions, was created to provide any employee with knowledge and tools to help understand how diversity in the workforce can help lead to success.

"Research have shown that the top 50 companies are very successful because of their diversity, and they consistently outperform other companies on stock performance." said Dr. Paul Shang, Carderock's acting technical director, during his welcoming remarks.

Capt. Mark Vandroff, commanding officer, connected diversity and inclusion directly to the Naval Sea System Command's (NAVSEA) vision to "Expand the Advantage," and that the advantage in this case is people.

"One of the things we work hard here at Carderock to do is to bring talent, and in order to get the most talent, we have to bring in a diverse group of people, because talent exists everywhere," Vandroff said, adding that attendees should see the LDE training event as an investment in human capital.

Carderock's LDE training event, developed by Carderock Chief of Staff Kathy Stanley, brought together women leaders within the Department of the Navy to talk about their experiences. Guest speakers included Victoria Bowens, director for DON Diversity and Inclusion Office; retired Navy Capt. Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, former Carderock commander and astronaut; and Sarwat Chappell, program director for the Office of Naval Research's Weapons, Power and Energy Office.

Besides stories on how they got where they are, a common theme for all the speakers was how they balance work and life.

"I think everyone agonizes over this," Chappell said. "I gave myself permission to juggle my life and work, and it is OK sometimes to do that."

All of the speakers said they had taken advantage of opportunities throughout their career. Stefanyshyn-Piper said the opportunities can come with risk.

"You have to take risks, there are going to be risks," Stefanyshyn-Piper said. "Don't let your own self-doubt be the thing that holds you back."

Bowens described diversity not only in terms of gender or race, but also generations and culture. She said the only real difference between generations is technology, and other than that, there are just experiences.

"The expectations of men and women have changed. The expectations of the workforce have changed," Bowens said. "Be sensitive to the differences, be sensitive to these cultures."

There were also a couple of panel discussions, one with women in leadership and the other with new professionals. The women in leadership panel included Neaclesa Anderson, division counsel for Carderock; Susan Tomaiko, director for Undersea Systems Contracts Division at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA); Robin White, director for Surface Ship Design and Systems Engineering at NAVSEA; and Steffanie Easter, director, Navy Staff and senior chief of naval operations.

The new professionals' panel consisted of all Carderock employees: Trisha Shields, aerospace engineer for the Sea-Based Aviation and Aeromechanics Branch; Kristine O'Connor, administrative officer for the Ship Signatures Department; Dr. Krista Michalis, program manager for the Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) 219 programs; Charlotte George, program director for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and Outreach programs; and Nancy Adler, branch head for the Performance Evaluation Branch.

Each of the panels was asked the same questions in order to get perspective from both senior and junior leaders in the workforce. One question that had similar answers from both was what, 'was the most challenging thing about becoming a leader?'

"Going from engineer to program management, I think the biggest challenge was I had to stop being a doer and transition to being a leader," Easter said.

There were several pieces of advice from the panelists that they thought made improvements to their career, such as networking with peers and leaders, finding mentors, learning public speaking, being prepared in every assignment, taking advantage of collateral opportunities and stepping out of their comfort zone.

"It's tremendously important to seek out mentors," Adler said. "I have peer mentors and senior mentors. Be open to feedback and take action on direction they are giving you."

The women on the panels were also asked about their work and life balance.

"It's important to recharge as much as possible," Anderson said. "You're able to give your best self to the job when you take the time to recharge."

Easter said she had redefined work and life balance to just knowing what takes priority when and to making one decision at a time and then living with that decision.

Similar to Stefanyshyn-Piper's comment about taking risks, George said she and the other members of the new professionals' panel clearly took risks to get where they are.

"It's obvious that we took risks, and we made our own initiatives," George said. "Not everybody gets that same empowerment from their supervisors. I think Carderock creates the environment to get what they want. The reason I came to Carderock versus private sector was because of the academic environment and that everybody here is smarter than I am and that's what I want to be around."

At the end of the new professionals' panel, Vandroff said he was very impressed with the panel and their level of dedication, insight and maturity.

"I feel really good about Carderock's future. Great stuff about how to be a good employee, about how to be a good supervisor, about how to relate to your colleagues," Vandroff said, adding that he would like to do a similar panel for all employees at Carderock to hear.

The event had a couple of other breakout sessions, including "The Science of Self Defeat," where Carderock's own Emily Grauwiler, head of the Workforce Development Branch, shared insights about getting past subconscious stress and intimidation in order to provide the best efforts and talents to the organization.

Cmdr. Sarah Rice, the naval integrated fire-control test and evaluation lead in Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems 7, led a session about Lean In Circles, which are small peer groups that meet regularly to learn and grow together, sharing experiences and advice on overcoming challenges. The Lean In Circles were initiated by Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer for Facebook. In 2015, the Department of Defense partnered with LeanIn.Org to launch Lean In Circles throughout the department and all military branches.

Combatant Craft Division, a detachment of Carderock located in Norfolk, has started a Lean In Circle, and members have said it's been successful so far.

Rice shared "four A's" that she thought could help people realize success in the workplace: awareness - realizing external and internal biases; acknowledgement - see something is an issue; amplification - see what can be done about it; and advocacy.

"The aim is to help one another and make each other better," Rice said.

During the closing remarks, attendees were challenged to take what they had learned back to their work areas.

"It doesn't stop here. It's really up to each and every one of you to take this back and grow with it and make it bigger than this," Stanley said.

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