Women In Defense Panel 'Leaning In' on Risk-Taking and Career Development

Story Number: NNS130523-36Release Date: 5/23/2013 11:21:00 PM
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By Tina C. Stillions, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- The idea that many career barriers are ones women construct themselves resonated through much of the dialogue at the Woman in Defense (WID) leadership panel on "Taking More Risk" May 22.

Panelists from industry and government shared thoughts about personal experiences and made recommendations based on their lessons learned while touching on some key topics from the current bestseller "Lean In," written by Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. The book highlights some of the ways women are held back-and hold themselves back-in their struggle to achieve their goals, find balance and strive for career success.

"My daughter's opportunities come from the role models she sees in the business community," said Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) Commander Rear Adm. Patrick Brady as he kicked off the event and shared some of the risk-taking challenges he has faced while advancing in his career.

Brady discussed the importance of honesty, intensity and time management in risk-taking.

"You need to decide if an opportunity is really what you want to do, such as losing weight or applying for a new job," said Brady. "As you go to work on that piece, you need to reach out to people and find a support network, then make a detailed plan for success and follow through with it."

Barbette Lowndes, director of SPAWAR's Total Force Management, a retired Navy captain and member of the first U.S. Naval Academy class that included females, moderated the panel that included Carmela Keeney, executive director, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific); Kimberly Kesler, director, SPAWAR Corporate Operations/Command Information Office; Karen O'Connor, Commander Naval Surface Forces U.S. Pacific Fleet staff and the command's first female force master chief; Capt. Joe Beel, commanding officer SSC Pacific; and Lea Sutton, NBC 7 San Diego's military reporter and a former Navy fighter pilot.

The panel members touched on a range of topics, including the importance of mentorship, seizing opportunities, overcoming fear and finding balance.

"I didn't plan on being in a senior leadership position," said Keeney, recalling her advancement into the Senior Executive Service and some of the trade-offs she has had to make throughout her career. "People would tell me I needed to take that opportunity and I would still question myself. You may think you're not ready, but if an opportunity presents itself you really need to take it."

According to Keeney, women can lean in and have a successful career but are often seen as less aggressive than men and, therefore, less ambitious.

"We have more men in general in leadership positions at SPAWAR," said Keeney, describing the challenge of trying to even some of the disparity throughout her organization. "Saying women are not as aggressive is not an acceptable answer to me. I tell my team that sometimes you need to tap potential women leaders and then bring them in that way."

Kesler discussed her role as a mother and the impact it has had on the development of her leadership style throughout her long and successful career.

"I tend to be a nurturer and want to grow my employees so that they have an opportunity to shine," said Kesler, who is a mother of three, including twins. "I think I'm a better mother because I work and I think I'm a better leader because I am a mother. I may sometimes struggle because there are a lot of things to balance, but I believe you can do it all and do it well."

Panel members agreed that it is possible to have a career, be successful and raise a family. But according to Beel, the key is to try and not compromise on those special family events.

"Whenever possible, don't miss those important events with your family," said Beel when recounting some of the advice he heeded while climbing the career ladder. "It meant a lot to have someone point that out to me early in my career."

Other recommendations included seizing opportunities, building a network, developing self-awareness, setting goals and not letting fear hold you back.

"Don't be scared or stubborn. You need to persevere no matter what," said panel moderator Lowndes. "Find that goal and passion. Find something that keeps driving you."

Keeney also suggested thinking two levels above your current position.

"Go for it and lean in; speak up, come with solutions and accept feedback," said Keeney. "Build successors who can do your job so that when an opportunity presents itself you can seize it."

All agreed on the value and importance of having a mentor.

"Don't stay in a stovepipe. Get more diversified experience," said Kesler, who after many years left her leadership role as director of the Base Realignment and Closure Program Management Office for her current position at SPAWAR. "You need to seek out and find a mentor. Once you do, you will experience the tremendous opportunities that come from having one."

As the Navy's Information Dominance Systems Command, SPAWAR leadership participates regularly in community events, including networking and mentoring programs such as those sponsored by WID. With more than 8,900 active duty military and civil service professionals located around the world and close to the fleet, the women and men of SPAWAR are at the forefront of research, engineering, acquisition and support services that provide vital decision superiority for the warfighter.

For more information, visit www.navy.mil, www.facebook.com/usnavy, or www.twitter.com/usnavy.

For more news from Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/spawar/.

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