INDIAN HEAD, MD – Voices were heard, obstacles and solutions were identified, and a sense of unity and purpose permeated the “Sustaining the Momentum: Women in Leadership for the Next Decade” symposium Tuesday at the College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus.
The symposium was a joint effort between the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division and CSM and featured employees from both organizations, as well as the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Naval Air Systems Command, and Charles County Public Schools. The symposium featured panel discussions focusing on work-life balance, as well as challenges faced by minority women in the workforce. Attendees were also able to attend workshops detailing the importance of visioning, mentoring, learning about unconscious biases, and gender conflict in the workplace.
During the morning keynote address, Lt. Rebecca Shaw – a U.S. Navy Test Pilot and project officer attached to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland – told an interesting story on how she overcame a particular worrisome career barrier, through resilience and a nudge from a mentor. During her stint at flight school at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, her initial instructional flight went poorly and she was relegated to retesting before being allowed back into the curriculum. To prepare, she heeded her mentor’s advice and spent weeks hitting the books, assisting other students and pilots prepare for their next step, and spending countless hours in the flight simulator to stay honed for her next opportunity.
When that time came, she was ready and prepared to rock the test. Panic was not part of her planning, but panic became the barrier between her and a potential career as a naval aviator until her instructor said “Rebecca, you got this. Just relax.”
So Shaw took a deep breath, emptied her mind and did the first thing that came to mind to help her relax: she sang “Tubthumping,” the chart-topping 1997 hit from British band Chumbawamba extolling the virtues of getting knocked down, but getting back up again.
It was apropos and the first of many of Shaw’s insights regarding overcoming barriers, empowerment, mentoring and career advancements.
“I’m at the midpoint of my career and I want to know what my next steps are going to be,” Shaw said. “My advice to you is to build confidence in yourself and find the right path to advance your career. For me, a large part of that was finding the right mentor. The name in my bio is mine, but what is missing are all those key people who helped me along the way.”
During welcoming remarks, CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy applauded the strong relationship the college has had with NSWC IHEODTD over many years. “Indian Head was in fact our very first community partner, and this partnership since the early 1960s continues to be sustained and accelerated in so many ways,” Murphy said. “As we look at opening the Velocity Center at CSM in the Town of Indian Head in the coming months, this inaugural symposium is an example of many of the exciting efforts we will be jointly planning to benefit our workforces and community.”
Amy O’Donnell, NSWC IHEODTD deputy technical director and one of the meeting’s organizers, said the workshop and panel topics allowed attendees a diverse pathway to learn and chart their career path.
“We based this symposium around facing unique challenges to females and minorities in our workforce,” she said. “There is a need right now to empower our next generation of both women and minority leaders and set them on the path toward future success. Establishing a dialog and learning from one another’s experiences was a critical part of this symposium and something we hoped the attendees could take away afterward.”
CSM Professor Dr. Mary Beth Klinger, another of the organizers and a co-presenter on the topic of “Tomorrow’s Leader – Is That Me,” said, “The Women’s Leadership Symposium was a fantastic opportunity for CSM and NSWC IHEODTD to collaborate and work together in our Southern Maryland community. We provided opportunities for networking, skill-building, and professional development and made new friends and established contacts along the way. This was a well-received and very friendly event which we hope to grow and continue for years to come.”
According to NSWC IHEODTD Technical Director Ashley Johnson, the U.S. Navy is seeing an increase in its female workforce, and the focus should be on putting the right tools in place to break the barriers in retention and advancement for those individuals. Johnson, during his morning address to the audience, related a moment from his youth in how looking back helps us move forward.
“I was big fan of the old Star Trek television series growing up,” he said. “That TV show was decades ahead of its time in terms of showcasing and addressing diversity. This event shows the marked progress we have made and will show us how to continue down this important path.”