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Benefits of Mentoring for Women Veterans

Posted by YWM on May 7, 2014

Testimony of Dawn Smith, Joining Forces Mentoring Plus mentee, before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business, May 7,2014.

Dawn SmithMr. Chair, Madam Ranking Member, and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to be here today. My name is Dawn Smith. I am the Founder and CEO of Mystic Reme Teas in Greenville, South Carolina, and testifying today on behalf of Business and Professional Women’s Foundation.

As a woman veteran who recently started my own business, I hope my experiences can be helpful to the committee as you examine which government and nonprofit programs can best assist and meet the unique needs of women veterans as they transition back to civilian life.

I am very proud of my military service. I served in the Air Force for eight years and was deployed six times to Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey and Germany. My expertise in the military was logistics, which means I was responsible for making sure that the movement of both troops and cargo got to the right place and were on time. In both Iraq and Afghanistan I was a Terminal Operations Manager responsible for processing and loading more than 7,000 passengers and directing the shipment of hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo. My work was consistently recognized for meeting excellent delivery and departure standards. I also earned my MBA while in the military.

Because of my advanced logistics experience and MBA, I really didn’t think I would have a problem finding a rewarding career when I left the service. But when I returned home to North Carolina to raise my children on my own, I was not even considered for management jobs; instead, I was offered positions like a warehouse worker, which I did not think utilized my skills, education and experience. For a couple of years I took various jobs that did not fit my background including working as a high school teacher and secretary since I needed to feed my children. These jobs offered neither the career I was seeking nor the salary commensurate with my experience.

BPW JFMPlogo.lowWhile working, I continued to look for a more rewarding and financially secure position. I returned to school to begin a master’s program in accounting. But looking for a job while managing the demands of work, school and motherhood, I became discouraged. I knew I needed help, so I turned to the internet to see what career resources might be available for a woman veteran. I was very fortunate to find Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, a non-profit organization that runs a free career mentoring program for women veterans, Joining Forces Mentoring Plus®. What attracted me to their program was that working women volunteers mentor women veterans (like me) to help us navigate a path to successful civilian careers, and even pursue entrepreneurial opportunities. Participants can access a free “high-tech/high-touch” internet community that includes experienced women mentors as coaches, navigators and supporters.

I immediately signed up and was assigned a wonderfully accomplished mentor, Sandy Smith. Sandy worked with me one-on-one and was persistent in offering advice and support on everything from interviewing skills to resume development. She pushed me, checking on how many resumes I sent out each day. She helped me create a new mindset that gave me the courage to apply for positions that previously I wouldn’t have thought possible. In 2012, I was hired as an auditor by the U.S. Defense Contract Audit Agency. I am happy to report that my salary at this job was twice what I had been making previously. After landing the job, Sandy, my mentor, did not leave me on my own but coached me on office etiquette and protocols necessary to successfully navigate the civilian sector workplace. All of Sandy’s mentoring and coaching paid off: I love my job and feel my career is now on very solid ground.

But even though I love my job, I have always dreamed of owning my own business. With Sandy’s encouragement and sustained mentoring last year, I started an online store that sells my own brand of tea. I am very excited that Mystic Reme Teas is currently in the final selection round to appear on Shark Tank. If I am chosen, I will be seeking funding to open my own tea bar.

I truly believe none of this would have happened without the personal mentoring and wide array of career resources offered by BPW Foundation. It was so successful for me because it was designed by and for women. Generic veteran-based employment and career development programs too often miss the unique elements and needs that matter most to women veterans. We need awareness and guidance about available support and employment resources, and programs that support and recognize the multiple roles impacting women veterans and their access to jobs.

I can attest to the fact that women leaving the service often face unique challenges including single motherhood or care giving for family members, including wounded warriors. Also women veterans often do not identify as veterans and don’t know they can access a wide array of benefits. We are frequently looked at differently from our fellow male veterans. Women who served in war zones are often not afforded the same level of prestige as their male counterparts.

Thanks to the generous support of BPW Foundation and its partners such as Alliant Credit Union Foundation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cengage Learning, Citi, CVS Caremark, and others, there is no cost to participate in this mentoring program – it’s absolutely free for the women who participate.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my story and tell you about the resources that helped me begin my successful career and start my business. I hope that other women veterans will benefit from my experience and that the committee will support programs that are tailored for the challenges and needs that our women veterans face as they seek meaningful lives after our time in the military

Click here to read Dawn’s full testimony

Posted in Career Advancement, Joining Forces for Women Veterans, Small Business, Uncategorized, Women Veterans | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

At the crossroads where I am and where you are

Posted by YWM on January 22, 2014

By Jacque Hillman, President BPW/Tennessee

Jacquemug-HillHelenGroupToday, I’m president of Business and Professional Women of Tennessee, an entrepreneur with two companies, and I’m on a mission. But in 1969, at age 21, I took my husband, a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, to board a plane leaving for Vietnam. He became a forward observer calling in artillery strikes.

Two years later he came home with a Bronze Star for valor and nightmares about incoming rockets. Other than malaria, he was not wounded, except in his soul. My husband wrote about calling in artillery strikes on Viet Cong families in clearings when the men came out from the jungle. He wrote: “If there is a hell, I’m going there.”

We were fortunate that he had a scholarship for Tulane University Law School. I had a degree in English and secondary education and a teacher’s license. So we became civilians. Yet as a former military wife, I looked at everyone with “new” eyes – no time for whiners and complainers.

I heard people complain about the golf course fairways or food in the school cafeteria. I listened to the good church women who wanted to install carpet in the minister’s bathroom and were miffed that his wife thought it was silly. My reaction was “Get real.”
War and military service changes everything – it changes everyone. How can it not? How can you see what you see, hear it, feel it, and not be changed?

My first marriage made it 18 years and died for various reasons – mostly we grew apart. It happens. Today I’m happily married (25 years in May) to an Air Force veteran. My first husband is happily married and has a two-week old baby! Yes, life happens.
Everyone starts over at some point. As we begin 2014, it is time for fresh starts.

Many women military veterans – YOU — are returning home and need jobs. You need help. You come home to people who cannot possibly understand where you’ve been or what you’ve done. You look at them with “new” eyes. You wonder how to begin, where to begin.

As BPW/TN president and a Jackson Area BPW member, I said, “It’s time for a change.”

So my amazing convention team and I have redesigned our convention June 13-15 in Jackson, Tenn., to offer YOU — women veterans — a full day of meetings with representatives of colleges, universities and colleges of applied technology, two days of business session training that will help your resume. We will have veterans’ representatives present from our counties to help you with whatever questions you may have. We have sponsors for our state convention who want to help you find jobs. We’ll teach you how to network, how to write a resume, how to ace an interview and more.

Want to become an entrepreneur? We’ll help you do that. Serving on the Entrepreneur Development Center board in Jackson. I see enterprising people with great ideas get started. That’s what you need, isn’t it? A start?

I’m an alumnus of the Delta Leadership Institute Executive Academy where leaders in eight states learned about just what you face in the Delta Region to get started. It’s hard to get your business started in rural Tennessee if you still have dial up or you can’t get connectivity where you are. Some folks in business assume we all have the same resources. It’s hard to do homework in school if you don’t have a computer. This is real.

I will be writing blogs each week on points that will help you. If you live in Tennessee, we have women who are eager to become your mentors. Check us out at bpwtn.org.

All you have to do is reach out. You see, there are people like me who know where you’ve been. And we just want to get you where you need – and want — to be.

Contact me anytime.

Jacque is a senior partner in The HillHelen Group LLC media services and the owner/designer of Reconfigured Art Jewelry.

Posted in Career Advancement, Military Families, Uncategorized, Veterans | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

CAREER MENTORING FOR WOMEN COPING WITH THE DEATH OF A SERVICE MEMBER

Posted by YWM on January 16, 2014

Surviving spouses, sisters, mothers and other women grieving a loss can get career mentoring

BPW mentoring logo.cThe Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) are partnering to provide career mentoring and resources to military widows, surviving sisters, surviving mothers and other women who have lost a loved one serving in the Armed Forces.

Through BPW Foundation’s Joining Forces Mentoring Plus program , (JFMP) surviving spouses and other female family members will have access to its no-cost national mentoring program. The program uses both one-on-one contact and a sophisticated online platform of resources for this deserving cohort of women. Mentorships and resources extend beyond job attainment to support job retention and career advancement.

“Since January is National Mentoring Month we couldn’t be more excited to announce our partnership with TAPS to support military spouses, daughters, mothers, sisters and fiancées, who have tragically lost a loved one who served our country,” said BPW Foundation CEO Deborah Frett.

“In addition to their grief, these women now face the difficult challenge of rebuilding their lives.  Having the option of a meaningful, sustainable career is often key to this effort.”  Joining Forces Mentoring Plus provides access to free mentoring provided by volunteer working women, Subject Matter Experts for special needs, and a vast number of state-of-the-art career resources through our internet platform.

“And our unique benefit of Working Women Helping Women Work® provides these female military spouses/family members with a truly understanding helping hand,” Frett added. The program offers tailored mentoring to assist career development.

“We are so grateful to the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation for offering the Joining Forces Mentoring Plus program for free to women grieving the death of a loved one who served in the Armed Forces,” said Bonnie Carroll, military widow and TAPS founder.

Carroll said that career mentoring is often very helpful for women grieving the loss of a loved one who served in the Armed Forces. “Families of our fallen troops often change career courses completely following the death of their loved one. They have to build a new life after the deaths of their loved ones and many have to find a new direction in life. Having such a caring and supportive mentoring program available will be an invaluable resource for the families left behind by our fallen troops.”

If you are a surviving spouse, mother, daughter, sister, or other who has lost a loved one serving in our Armed Forces, you can get involved by visiting www.JoiningForcesMentoringPlus.org or contacting Helpdesk@bpwfoundation.org.

Posted in Career Advancement, Joining Forces for Women Veterans, Mentoring, Military Families, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Benefits of Mentoring Others

Posted by YWM on January 15, 2014

By Lisa Quast

January is National Mentoring Month. While I’ve written about the importance of using mentors throughout your career and ways to find them, in this post I’m focusing on another aspect: mentoring others.Did you know that developing other people can also positively impact your career? According to a 2012 study led by nonprofit organization Catalyst, paying it forward by being a career mentor to others has positive benefits. “It benefits not only proteges but leads to career advancement and compensation growth for those providing the assistance — $25,075 in additional compensation between 2008 and 2010,” the study says.How? “It may be that developing other talent creates more visibility and a following within the organization for the high potentials who are doing the developing, which leads to greater reward and recognition for the extra effort,” state the study authors.Results of the research provided additional information when it comes to mentoring others:

If others have helped you develop during your career, you’re more likely to give back by developing others. About three in five employees who received developmental support (59 percent) did so for others.

Sponsorship counts when it comes to paying it forward. Two-thirds of high potentials who were sponsored (66 percent) — those who had someone with power and influence open doors of opportunity and advocate to help them obtain projects and assignments that enhance their visibility and position — were developing others.

People in higher-level positions are more likely to develop others. Sixty-four percent of high potentials at the senior Mentoringexecutive/CEO level were developing others, compared with 30 percent of those at the individual contributor level.

The study also busted the “queen bee” myth — the belief that women tend not to help other women when it comes to career advancement. The research results demonstrate that not only are high-potential women developing others, but compared with their male counterparts, women were actually more likely to be developing other women.

This year, make it a goal to mentor someone. Use your knowledge, career experience and understanding of your company and industry to develop others. Not only will it help your company build a strong talent pipeline, but your investment in mentoring others will also help your own career — because paying it forward can actually pay you back.

~Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., a career-coaching and business-consulting company

Posted in Career Advancement, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Women of All Ages and Careers Benefit from Mentoring

Posted by sherrysaunders on January 3, 2014

MentoringAs part of National Mentoring Month, Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation announced its continuing commitment to working women helping women work® through mentoring.  With a history dating back to 1919, BPW Foundation has long supported mentoring as a way to build women leaders of all ages and in all careers thereby enhancing and helping women find and grow successful careers and their small businesses.

“Mentors are important for young careerists just starting out and for women who have already embarked on a career but want to grow and advance. Research indicates that mentored individuals perform better on the job, advance more rapidly within an organization, and report more job and career satisfaction,” said BPW Foundation CEO Deborah L. Frett.

One aspect of BPW Foundation’s commitment to mentoring is that, since 1964, BPW local and state organizations have recognized and assisted young women as they start their careers through the BPW Young Careerist program.  In addition, BPW members provide career enhancement tools to women of all ages through locally conducted Individual Development programs.  Across the country, BPW working women are reaching out and helping women work.

“Mentoring is even more important today as workforce demographics have changed dramatically in recent years.  We know that great work experience, a good education, and strong references are traditional keys to building a successful career. But a mentor can guide you along the corporate road map, help you negotiate your salary, focus your attention on reaching your ultimate career goals and nurture your professional life,” Frett added.

As more women are participating in and then transitioning out of military service, BPW Foundation created Joining Forces Mentoring Plus® , a free national program that supports the career goals of women veterans, military/veteran spouses, care givers of wounded warriors, and surviving spouses of the military fallen.  Working women are sharing their experience and expertise to help these deserving women navigate and succeed in their personal development plan — identifying career interests and goals, exploring industry opportunities, translating military experiences and training into civilian work skills, advancing education, networking, preparing quality resumes and job search strategies, and addressing those life challenges that get in the way of career access and success.

Joining Forces Mentoring Plus® mentor Sandy Smith agrees.  “The reason highly trained women in this program have trouble translating their talents into civilian jobs is due to a cultural shift.  In the military, self-promotion is frowned upon; yet knowing how to market yourself is exactly what you need in the private sector. Helping my mentee own her skill set has been some of the most important work I’ve done in my life.”

BPW Foundation Chair and small business owner, Roslyn Ridgeway said, “We know that mentoring works.  Study after study has shown the benefits of mentoring including more career satisfaction, higher earnings and better productivity. But it is not just the mentee who benefits from a mentoring program.  The mentors also benefit with more positive feelings about themselves as well as learning new skills and ways of looking at problems.”

“And not surprisingly, since both the mentee and mentor benefit, so do businesses that promote mentoring programs.  Not only do many of the top companies have mentoring programs but they benefit from more satisfied employees and demonstrate an extraordinary Return on Investment,” Ridgeway concluded.

Posted in Career Advancement, Joining Forces for Women Veterans, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

BPW FOUNDATION RECEIVES GRANT FROM NEWMAN’S OWN FOUNDATION

Posted by YWM on December 10, 2013

BPWFoundationlogocolorBusiness and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation has been awarded a $35,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation, the independent foundation created by the late actor and philanthropist, Paul Newman.

Newman’s Own Foundation generated seven grants totaling $300,000 as part of its “Honoring Women Who Serve” campaign to support career development for female veterans. Through BPW Foundation’s Joining Forces Mentoring Plus program, women veterans receive unlimited free online career development tools, resources, and confidential guidance from volunteer working women mentors to help them identify and pursue civilian career paths.

“It is indeed an honor that Joining Forces Mentoring Plus has been selected by Newman’s Own Foundation to receive this grant.  These grant dollars will directly impact and support women veterans as they make the often challenging transition from military to civilian careers,” said Roslyn Ridgeway, BPW Foundation Board Chair and JFMP mentor .

Joining Forces Mentoring Plus™ is a FREE, “High-Tech High-Touch” national mentoring program using both one-on-one contact and a sophisticated on-line platform of resources for women veterans. Joining Forces Mentoring Plus™ is based on a career development model that can be used by women of all ranks, eras, and skill levels. Mentorships and resources extend beyond job attainment to support job retention and career advancement.

 “There is no greater sacrifice than serving and defending our country,” said Robert Forrester, Newman’s Own Foundation President and CEO. “We aim to provide for the ongoing needs of military personnel and their families, both during deployment and after their return. We are pleased to award this grant to BPW Foundation as they endeavor to make a difference in the lives of female veterans.”

The six other nonprofits receiving grants are: Every Woman Works; Swords to Plowshares; Veterans, Inc.; Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania; Women’s Business Development Center; and Women, Food and Agriculture Network.

Overall, Newman’s Own Foundation is awarding $7 million in grants over three years, 2012-2014, to more than 50 organizations across the country that deal with veterans’ issues such as health, housing, education, career development, and family support.

Paul Newman, the actor and philanthropist who founded Newman’s Own, passed away on September 26, 2008. Now, five years later, his legacy continues as Newman’s Own continues to give away 100% of the profits and royalties from the sale of its food products to charity. Since the company’s founding in 1982, over $380 million has been donated to thousands of organizations, with $125 million having been donated in the past five years alone.

Posted in Career Advancement, Joining Forces, Joining Forces for Women Veterans, Uncategorized, Women Veterans | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Recognizing where you are and where you want to be!

Posted by YWM on September 25, 2013

By Kelly McCarthy

During my 25 years in the beauty industry, I never would have thought that I would become the Leader I am today. This industry has provided me with the life skills needed to be a better person, daughter, sister, employee, leader and mentor.

My role as a mentor began naturally as I began leadership early in my career. I displayed qualities of leadership that others saw in me. I didn’t see them however. I was thrust into many decision making positions and I did my best based on “common sense”. However I found that my “common sense” and another individuals “common sense” are very different and my experience began as a “Trial by Error” leader. Then I found my mentor!

I have since learned to manage my intentions and focus on what I want or need my end result to be. As I began to learn new tools in communication and networking, I began to grow and shine. I have helped lead many companies down a path of success but more importantly I was able to do that one person at a time. I have had the pleasure of leading teams as large a 100+ and as small as 14. My network of incredible people that I have helped and have helped me has grown to numbers I cannot count, however I never take it for granted nor do I feel like I have reached my peak!! There is much more I can do for myself and for others and much more I have to learn!
About 7 years ago I made a decision to begin the search to find a position within the beauty industry that allows me to accomplish personal and professional goals while supporting and mentoring others. I found the perfect match 5 years ago when I decided to become a Dean of Paul Mitchell the School, a cosmetology school.

I now provide support and guidance to hairdressers in training as well as my amazing staff of educators and administrators. We don’t only focus on the technical skills involved to become a hairdresser or salon owner, we also provide life skills, social emotional learning, community awareness, networking and professional development skills that allow a person, no matter how old, find their calling. This is where I love to be.

When looking for an organization to volunteer my time to, I found the search very difficult! I have been searching for almost 2 years and then I realized what I needed to do! Inspired by my brother, a veteran of the Marines, who is struggling with PTSD, my decision was made. He has challenged himself to transition back to a “new normal” and I have watched his accomplishments and his setbacks. That is when Joining Forces Mentoring Plus popped up on my internet search!

So you can say it was meant to be! I look forward to beginning a path of giving back to all that have gave so much. If my professional and personal skills that I have learned and developed through my years as a female professional can assist another woman in accomplishing their personal and professional career goals, I’m in!

I specialize in positive thinking, understanding thoughts and how to manage intentions as well as recognizing where you currently are and how to establish solid goals. Then I can assist in helping you take the first step toward achieving them! Understanding what you value in life and then recognizing whether or not you current routine of behaviors actually are supporting one another!

I have much to give yet much to learn from any mentee and look forward to building healthy relationships!

Posted in Career Advancement, Joining Forces for Women Veterans, Mentoring, Uncategorized, Women Veterans | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

You are NOT your paycheck

Posted by ptanji on August 2, 2013

By Patty Tanji

money_signLet’s get this straight. A salary is the price you charge your employer in exchange for your skills and experience. A fee is the price you charge your customer for your product or service in exchange for the benefit derived from use of that product.

Contrary to popular belief your salary and fees are NOT a reflection of your value as a human being on this planet. You are NOT your paycheck!

Hard to believe that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are NOT more valuable than you.  Yup, its true. Neither is Lady Gaga or Madonna or Meryl Streep. Fame does not grant anyone the status of “more than.” And, neither does position in a company organizational chart.

In the U.S. where we are obsessed with our positions in the social and economic hierarchy, it is very easy to get wrapped up in the whole nonsense around fame and fortune as the American way. What am I saying! The name of my blog is “How To Ask For A Pay Raise and Get It!” and I’ve been advocating for women’s higher pay for over a decade! What I mean is there is a difference between taking responsibility for your earnings, paying bills on time, having a prudent reserve in the bank, and paying off credit cards debt versus feeling like crap because we’ve placed some false sense of monetary value on our worth as human beings.

And, this false sense of value can stop us from asking for more, asking for what we want, or asking for what we’ve earned. The little voice inside us is repeating over and over that we are not as famous, as smart, as rich, as powerful, as talented as [fill-in-the-blank], so we could not possibly get what we want.

Okay now that we are clear that your product and service price is NOT the value of you as a human being, here are three ideas you must embrace in order to increase your price so you can live responsibly and with freedom:

  1. You are not a commodity! Your expertise, your years of service, the books you’ve written, your college degree, that research paper you wrote, your certification, the program you developed, the number of clients you brought in. All lumped together, these transformational events are worth paying more for. These unique experiences have increased your ability to do more therefore charge more.
  2. Facting not bragging!  Sometimes we just don’t believe in our own greatness. If you can’t say or see how your skills make you stand out from the crowd, its time to look at the facts. My daughter, who is 16 years old, can’t understand why I encourage her to ask for a pay raise. After coaching for one year, she doesn’t believe her national competitions, her medals, or her 8 years of gymnastics experience are enough to earn more. How about you? Are you denying your brilliance? Time for memory jarring! Bring out the photos, the news articles, the letters of recommendation, etc. to remind yourself of your greatness.
  3. What you stand for. There are no two people on the planet that believe, act, or are passionate about exactly the same causes at the same level of commitment. For example, there are a lot of people who believe in living ‘green’ and reducing their carbon footprint. However, your level of commitment to your cause is how you will set yourself apart from others. Living a life trash free is noteworthy. Choosing paper instead of plastic at the grocery store is the equivalent to lip service to living green. When differentiating yourself show the world what you stand for. You will attract others who would rather do business with or hire you because of that one thing that drives your passion and your enthusiasm for your work.

Stand out from the crowd so you can earn more. Know that you are not a commodity, that facting is not bragging, and know what you stand for.  Ready to explore? Set up a time to chat with Patty Tanji to Discover Your Hidden Gifts . This blog post was originally posted at www.howtoaskforapayraiseandgetit.com/blog

Posted in Career Advancement | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Summit at West Point

Posted by Joan Grey on April 17, 2013

Sue Fulton photo

Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton
Board Member, OutServe-SLDN

This article was first posted on the Huffington Post.

As West Point conferences go, it was a great event at the United States Military Academy this past weekend. Graduates from many different walks of life attended; a 2002 grad, currently leading the Illinois Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs, talked about how Army and Academy experience informed support for veterans. A cadet panel impressed the “Old Grads” with their tales of tough field training and international adventures — one combat-arms-destined senior joked about being nicknamed “Ranger Roger” by other cadets.

In a panel about healing, a survivor of severe spinal cord injury from a parachute accident (not the only grad in the room with that experience) joined a cancer survivor to talk about their work helping others with more serious problems. A two-star general spoke movingly of eleven soldiers lost on deployment in Iraq, while another general nodded mutely; another senior officer talked about realizing that a third deployment had triggered PTSD symptoms.

The head of the Academy’s Psychology curriculum talked about “resiliency training,” preparing troops to survive the emotional challenges of battle. A Navy Captain talked about flying combat aircraft.

The dinner speaker, whose remarkable resume included for-profit and nonprofit leadership, an award-winning book and a run for Congress inspired and entertained the audience with the story of making a bid to compete as a bobsledder in the 2002 Winter Olympics, and coaching young volleyball players.

Most moving was the memorial. The reading of names of those lost: on the battlefield, to cancer, some tragically to suicide. The Chaplain — yet another West Point grad — reminding us of the business we’re in, and how the reminder of death can keep us living life, every second, in support of our values and our personal missions. The playing of taps. And the sound of voices raised, many tear-filled, singing the verses of the Alma Mater.

In particular, that last — the raised voices — was stunning. Because all the voices were female.

This was the West Point Women’s Summit, and each of those mentioned above (except Navy Captain Michelle Guidry) was a woman graduate (or cadet) of the Academy: Erica Borggren ’02, Cadet Sara Roger ’13, Nancy Hogan ’95, Joan Grey ’80, Lil Pfluke ’80, MG Heidi Brown ’81, BG (ret) Anne McDonald ’80, COL Donna Brazil ’83, Donna McAleer ’87, Cynthia Lindenmeyer ’90.

The class of ’80 — the first class to include women — was well-represented, as 17 of those 62 graduates attended. Perhaps the ’80 women are particularly fearless, but they were not the only ones raising their voices during raucous panels to correct a fact or challenge a position.

A panel about combat roles for women included three male combat vets talking about why including women in these roles was important for the Army, and they were joined by the aforementioned Navy pilot, a blunt and commanding woman who pointed out tersely that “it’s all about performance. Period.” They were joined on the panel by a somewhat-overmatched Colonel sent by the Army G-1 staff (a woman, perhaps not coincidentally) who had the thankless task of explaining why it would take three years of study to implement the Secretary of Defense’s lifting of the ban this year.

In response to a question, the G-1 Colonel said, “We would love to have your input, but with current funding levels, we can’t afford to bring people in for these discussions…”

“Everybody in this room,” interrupted Capt. Guidry, “who would travel anywhere, any time, on your own dime, to provide input on this issue, raise your hands.” Almost every hand went up as she sat back in her chair.

In a briefing about the current status of the Cadet Corps, attendees sharply challenged the gender composition, currently at 16%, “to match the percentage of women in the Army.”

“Why would you match the current composition, when it’s clearly going to rise?” argued one. “We need to lead on this, not follow!” The point that matching the Army’s current percentage in a new class of plebes doesn’t even match the Army’s subsequent requirement for lieutenants four years later, much less senior officers for the Army of 2025 and beyond, who seemed not to have been considered.

Another: “Just because the Army’s at 16% doesn’t make it right, or good for the Army! There’s no real effort to attract talented women.”

Another: “We know there are issues of culture at West Point. Women think that a male mentor is better than a woman mentor — a direct consequence of keeping them at an arbitrary low number.”

Another: “Data shows that at levels below 20%, any group will have a minority mindset, and that’s why you have some of these issues. You need 30-35% women here to have a healthy culture.”

There was as much laughter as contention throughout the weekend, as many old-grad stories were trotted out, but the gathering was infused with a reverence and respect for the young officers currently fighting our battles. Toward the end, the conference was interrupted with the news that the husband of an attendee — herself a company commander — had been shot in Afghanistan. We gathered around her in prayer.

This is the business we’re in. And we never forget it. Those of us who no longer wear the uniform never forget our debt. The one thing we share was articulated by dinner speaker Donna McAleer ’87, as she was honored for her own service: “Our oath to our country, to the Constitution, our commitment to serve, has no expiration date.”

33 years after women first graduated West Point, we know what women can do. If the Army is ever to “be all that we can be,” we need to stop marginalizing women.

West Point Women @ Summit, April 2013

West Point Women @ Summit, April 2013

Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton is a 1980 West Point graduate, part of the first class to admit women. She was commissioned in the Army, served as a platoon leader and company commander in Germany, and was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain. She currently serves on the board of OutServe-SLDN, and was appointed by President Obama as the first openly gay member of the West Point Board of Visitors. Fulton lives in Asbury Park, NJ, with her wife Penny Gnesin.

Posted in Career Advancement, Feminism, Joining Forces for Women Veterans, Military, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Military Women Know How to ‘Lean In’

Posted by YWM on April 5, 2013

kayla_head_shot_normalKayla Williams
Author, Truman National Security Project Fellow
This article was first posted on the Huffington Post.

There have been dozens of op-eds and blogs circulating recently in response to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and I’ve been devouring them in my limited free time. As a member of one of the key demographics her book targets — a working woman with small children — that means I’ve peered at many of them on the tiny screen of my smartphone in spare moments on the train or while my kids nap. The cross-talk about structural changes is, of course, valuable as we lobby for necessary systemic shifts.

While reading all the opinions, I realized that the Army already taught me how to lean in on a personal level. Serving in the military taught me a number of skills that have been essential to my success since I reentered the civilian world — and contain valuable lessons for other women:

1. Presentation Matters

How you present yourself in the military is often governed by regulation: the wear of the uniform, acceptable haircuts or hairstyles, even authorized shades of eyeshadow or nail polish are laid out. Part of this is for uniformity — but the degree to which you choose to obey the regulations in given circumstances and how much care you put into your appearance sends other signals as well. Showing up to a promotion board in a wrinkled uniform and unpolished boots would be noted unfavorably by those rating your readiness to rise in the ranks. In the early stages of my Army career, my male colleagues often ignored me because I didn’t communicate with confidence — what is known as ‘command voice’ in the military.

This carries over in the civilian world. Though dress codes are not laid out in regulation, the informal rules about appropriate attire can be just as important. People consider women wearing some — but not too much — makeup more competent. The evidence shows that women have plenty of experience listening to “mansplaining”: research has shown that men tend to lecture women even when women have more expertise on a given topic. The unfortunate habit of ending sentences on a questioning ‘up-note’ may add to that by making some women sound unsure of themselves. Posture is another key part of self-presentation: I can often recognize my fellow veterans by that alone. Those who have served in the military tend to stand up straight. When we lean in, it is not with slumped shoulders. And it matters: not only are others more likely to respect those with expansive posture, it also makes you feel more powerful and be more likely to take action.

2. Emotional Control

I got fired from my second job out of college partly because I couldn’t control my emotions in the office. My new boss and I did not get along, and she was a yeller. Several times after she publicly yelled at me for perceived failings, I cried in front of my colleagues. This experience indirectly led to my enlistment: when weighing my options, I clearly remember thinking “I bet in basic training I’ll learn to get screamed at without bursting into tears.” And I was right: I developed the ability to push down anger, frustration, humiliation and grief until the time was more appropriate.

This skill was particularly important as a woman: We are automatically assumed to be more emotional. Men who tear up after tragedies are seen as compassionate; women who do the same as weak. I may find this ridiculous and work to change that misperception, but in the meantime, I also know that I have to work harder to overcome that stereotype. In the civilian world, my ability to remain calm, cool and collected while men around me lost their tempers has given me tremendous credibility — and when I do show a flash of genuine anger, it is taken more seriously for being rare. Emotional control is a tremendous asset.

3. Prioritization, Planning and Decisiveness.

When I was in Iraq, I was promoted to sergeant and put in charge of a team. As the team lead, I was responsible for accomplishing missions while also ensuring my team had all necessary equipment and supplies. We had a limited amount of space to carry our technical equipment, food, water, clothing and other personal supplies, weapons, fuel and more. As the leader, you can solicit input — but when it comes down to the moment, you must be decisive — and possibly ruthless in choosing priorities. The military teaches a process called “backwards planning” that is inherently logical: You take the desired end state and figure out what interim tasks need to be accomplished in order for that to be reached. I use this constantly both at work and at home: If a report is due on the last day of March, I sit down and count out exactly how many days it takes to go through the publications process and review to determine when a final draft must be complete, count back from there to determine when a rough draft is due, and so forth.

My husband and I both have full-time jobs, and we have two small children. Each day is a careful dance: if we leave the house fifteen minutes late, worsening traffic means we’ll actually be half an hour late to work. We’ve decided to prioritize eating home-cooked dinners together as a family, and making that happen requires careful menu planning, grocery shopping, timing and communication. I value sleep more than cleaning — so the house gets messy, and we pay a cleaning service to come every two weeks. If we want to go on a date, we have to arrange for a babysitter weeks in advance. Personally and professionally, I constantly rank priorities, backwards plan to accomplish goals and make swift decisions when necessary. Too many people hem and haw on decisions until it is too late and their preferred option is no longer available or are unable to backwards plan and end up delivering projects late; managers seem to genuinely believe they can tell subordinates that “everything is top priority.”

4. Perspective

On my wedding day, the organizer repeatedly told me I was the calmest bride she’d ever seen. This baffled me — it was a happy day, a celebration of love. What was there to worry about? My sister, who had my dress, had gotten lost and was running a bit late. I wasn’t worried — the event would not start without me! The same thing happens when I give speeches or appear on television; people are surprised that I am calm. “What’s the worst possible outcome?” I ask, then answer: “I’d be temporarily embarrassed if I say something stupid. No one is shooting at me.” That sense of perspective may be the most important lesson I brought back from Iraq: if no one is going to die, it probably isn’t worth a high degree of panic.

5. Strength

I didn’t know if I could make it in the military when I enlisted. The Army invests a great deal of resources training troops — by the time we went to war, in addition to training on how to speak Arabic and do my job, I’d spent hours drilling on how to use my weapon, work with my team, perform first aid and more, not to mention the daily physical fitness training. After years of vaguely feeling that my body was just something men looked at, it was something of a surprise for me to learn that with practice, it could run 7 miles, carry a 35-lb rucksack 12 miles in under 4 hours, do 55 pushups in two minutes, and more. (After my daughter was born, I had a similarly-startling realization that my breasts are not just ornamental, they can make food for another human being.)

When I was called to translate as we provided first aid for three injured civilians, it was tremendously calming and affirming to feel that training kick in: Knowing where in the medical supply kit to find what supplies was practically muscle memory. I could see the infantry troops naturally take up a defensive perimeter and scan their sectors of fire: It was a fluid, practiced event. For hours, I did what I had to do, forgetting to eat or drink. It wasn’t until we got in the Humvee to head back that the emotional side hit me — along with hunger and thirst. I hadn’t fallen apart or freaked out. I had done my job. Being prepared was an important part of that, as was not having to do it alone: I was powerfully aware of being part of a team.

Today, that knowledge of my own strength and competence stays with me like a talisman. It gives me pride and confidence to know that if I see a car accident on the way home, I can stop and provide emergency first aid until professional assistance arrives — I won’t faint or panic at the sight of blood or gore. When things are rough, I tell myself, “If I could handle a year in Iraq, I can handle this.” I’m not special –but humans are tough. But numerous studies have shown that women underestimate their abilities. Find ways to recognize your own strength.

The military is not right for everyone, and it can be a tremendously difficult place for women. Women in the military face promotion gaps at some ranks in some services, are less likely to reenlist and disproportionately face sexual harassment and assault. But military women get equal pay for equal work: base pay is calculated from time in grade and time in service. We also have access to the same health care, family support and education benefits that have made military service attractive to so many.

The internal benefits, however, have been most important to me. My time in the military taught me how to present myself effectively; control my emotions; prioritize, plan and be decisive; maintain perspective; and know my strength. Some women may gain those abilities in other settings, but college and work alone had not developed them in me. These skills have been both professionally and personally valuable: today, I’m a published author and recognized advocate who balances full-time work, motherhood and an active public role. The Army taught me to lean in — and to stand up straight and use my command voice while I do. I’m grateful.

Posted in Career Advancement, Equal Pay, Joining Forces for Women Veterans, Military, Uncategorized, Women Veterans | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »