Been a while! Maybe I keep waiting to top the last entry where I went flying with the Blue Angels. That might mean the end of a mediocre blog.
The past five months have found me establishing footing in my new squadron and, recently, trying to decide what I want out of the next nine years; i.e. my second shot at an active duty Navy career. Not an easy question to answer. (We'll revisit this.)
I'm just going to dive right in here, since it's been on my mind and, holy smokes!, there are a lot of women in my squadron. Here we go:
Women. In my work place.
I've been a little bit of a coward regarding this subject for a long, long time (16 years!). And never have I broached it on social media. So chances are, by the time you're reading this, I will have proofread it about 20 times (which is a lot for me; I usually just hit "Publish" on a sassy end-note) to make sure that the words I write are really what I mean to say.
I've started going to the meetings.
You know, "Female Aviator Career Training Symposium." "Women in Aviation." "Pumping Breast Milk in between Flights" (just kidding).
Hey, want to be original? Be the 100th white, middle-class male who points out, "They don't have MEN in Aviation meetings." Hey Waldo, the Navy has ZERO trouble retaining your demographic. See ya!
So, that's why I'm attending. I left the Navy (the Active part). I came back. With my husband, two kids, and a whole lot of passion for this business and what we do here. How did the Navy retain me?
... I think a good place to start at these pow-wows is to learn what's being put out, and offer myself up for questions. I feel that's my duty at a minimum. If I have one insightful conversation with one other woman on a promising career path, it's worth the time.
My whole career it's been, Keep up with the guys. Fit in with the guys. Be cool with the guys. Prove myself to the guys. ... Then sometime in the past year I looked around and realized, "None of these guys can do what I do." None of them have to.
No pity party here, I chose this. But that's what it is, isn't it? We can Focus-Group this topic until we're blue in the face but at the end of the day, the Mommy is the still the Mommy, and if the Mommy wants to work, then she takes on two full-time jobs. There are few women willing to sign up for that pain! And even fewer female leaders at the top who lead a life of balance that the rest of us want to emulate.
(It is prudent before continuing that this be clear: My husband is amazing and none of this would be possible without him. Please reread that.)
So how do we entice our strong female leaders to make that choice? Retention is the word here. (Oppression is an old word. Unfortunately it still rears its ugly head, but in places of the work force and our military that I have yet to see.) I don't think I need to go in to the importance of diversity and what different cultures and genders bring to the table in any gathering of professionals, but just how much do we need to change our war fighting spirit to retain the "softer" sex?
A space for breastfeeding at work? Definitely.
An appealing paid maternity leave package? Bravo, Secretary of the Navy!
Allowances to co-locate near a military spouse? Fair request.
... Crying in the cockpit? Give me a break.
I took a student flying about two years ago, VMI grad, 100-lb little fireball of a girl, and she was having a rough day. Gently critique, "Let's take it around again." Gently critique, "Let's take it around again." The cycle repeating itself while she got more and more quiet and her flying got worse and worse. Sitting on deck I took the controls, told her to flip up her visor and look at me, and there they were: Tears of frustration streaming down her face.
"We're done here," I said. "You're not in trouble, but I'm incompleting the flight, you can get yourself together and try again tomorrow." And I didn't tell anyone.
A month later the squadron was calling me at home 800 miles away (I was commuting to fly students as a reservist during that time). The only female instructor on staff, they didn't know who else to ask about the "rash of crying incidents" that had been occurring in my absence. Say, what??
I mean, I get it. I've cried at work. But no one has ever seen me do it, because I keep it together long enough to make the Locker Room Dive and subsequently lose it in private. Why do these young girls not know how to do this??
The point at which I'm arriving is this: Our greatest retention obstacle is lack of mentorship. And I don't just mean a mentor that knows how to deal with a blubbery student in the cockpit. This vacuum also applies to mentors who take an active interest in retaining talent, and are willing to use creative means to capitalize on diversity.
On my own career "path" it's assumed that each of us want to be the commander of a helicopter squadron. While it has its appeal, I have turned away from this path on multiple occasions only find myself repeatedly encouraged to follow it. I can see up the slope of this fierce pyramid of personnel roulette, and it spells out a painful journey for my family. I know what my other options are and they aren't bad. But the other options are never advertised. No wonder we keep losing people who think they have to be "all in" or completely out. It's a story that's getting old fast.
I recently learned of a woman named Steve Shirley (on a TED Radio Hour podcast). Check this lady out: She started a software company in the 1960s, changed her name from Stephanie to Steve so that her peers would start responding to her letters, and built a multi-billion dollar enterprise composed entirely of female employees. She sought out those who had hit a "glass ceiling" when they got married or had kids, invited them back in to the work force, and pretty much pioneered the concept of flex time. She's made several of them millionaires.
Three things occurred to me as I learned about her:
1- We are STILL discussing this?? The "glass ceiling" is still an issue after five decades of progress?
2- Steve Shirley actively mentored and sought out her talented workers, providing them other options that looked different from a typical career. Hmm.
3- Steve Shirley does not have a family of her own.
So where does that leave me and this big debate?
- I need to seek out my own mentors and actively mentor the talent I think the Navy needs to retain. How blessed am I that I have had a string of great leadership along the way? Those handful of men are the reason I am still wearing the uniform and flying the helicopter.
- I need to be an example of balance that these types of women may want to emulate. I have room for improvement, and I don't take this challenge lightly.
- Be a damn professional. Always meet or exceed the standard. Demand a standard. Confess when I'm falling short and need help. Don't settle for mediocrity.
- Buck up. I don't make excuses for my obligations at home, but I don't use them as an excuse either.
I don't complain about paying a babysitter to come over at 6 a.m. so I can get to work on time.
I find time to study even if it has to wait until my house quiets down.
I don't let myself go just because I'm over age 30 and have a couple of kids.
Oh, my beloved peers, who make work worth showing up for! How much did you
stress over that night flight, or the last nanny search, or what to do
when your kid had to stay home from school? Do you truly appreciate the spouse you drag from one duty station to the next, watching his angst over job searches and
his heartache each time he has to quit? Do you know the bottomless
gratitude and simultaneous guilt of saying "Thank you" when he offers to
take a break from his own passions to be the one at home?
Oh, you guys I tried so hard to keep up with ... You have no
clue what it is to be the Mommy when I'm not here, then bring my game
face, and the remnants of my energy, to you. To our team. To work hard, stay
alert, stay informed, be a leader and a professional when every hormone
in my body wants to shoot fire out of my eyeballs. You don't know because I won't tell you unless you ask. That's my warfighting spirit.
"... No no one will tell you this, but you can't be a man.
Don't even try. Be a woman. Powerful business when done correctly." ~ Mad Men