SAN DIEGO, Calif. (NNS) – The Sea Service Leadership Association (SSLA), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the mentorship and development of military leaders, hosted a women’s symposium June 11-12 in San Diego to discuss current issues for women in the military.
The 28th Annual Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium, which welcomed more than 750 attendees – men and women, focused on opportunities for women while exploring options for the future.
Lt. Cmdr. Rosie Goscinski, SSLA’s president, kicked off the two-day event by asking all present members to take a “selfie”. She then took a “groupie” of everybody taking a “selfie”. The audience erupted in laughter.
The theme of the symposium was “Progress and Possibilities: Embrace Our Future Now” and included discussion forums, questions-and-answer panels, interactive workshops, and multiple military and civilian speakers.
The SSLA Chairwoman of the Board of Directors Rear Adm. Cari B. Thomas of the U.S. Coast Guard was the first guest speaker.
“Last year when we were in Norfolk, an E-9 who worked for me, came up to me after the conference and told me that it was the most uncomfortable he has ever felt when he walked into a room full of women,” Thomas said. “When I asked him why he felt like that, he said ‘he had never walked in a room so full of women before.’ And, I said to him ‘now you know what it feels like master chief.'”
Thomas encouraged the audience to take time and to learn from each other’s experiences and struggles and to allow ourselves to be imperfect and supportive of one another.
Chief of the Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Bill Moran followed Thomas as the next guest speaker. He walked on stage and took a selfie with the audience before starting his speech.
“I just want you to know, I am really uncomfortable,” said Moran. “This is a very intimidating crowd.”
Moran shared the intimidation and the overwhelming feeling from the gender minority by asking the men at the symposium to stand up.
The percentage of females in the military is 17.8, said Moran. “You are a such key component in today’s military.”
Moran stressed the importance of diversity in the military — whether gender, race, background or geographic — and the necessity to move forward and become an even more successful military. He encouraged the women to engage in conversation with leaders present at the symposium.
“We need to hear from you,” said Moran. “We can’t solve our challenges, and we can’t look into future without your input.”
Before closing, Moran discussed last year’s conference where women spoke about challenges they had met. He explained that leadership listened to their concerns and are working to implement changes in current policies.
“Our single biggest challenge in today’s Navy, and it is probably the truth with all the services, is that we have powerful, wonderful women joining our service, but then you all leave,” said Moran. “I need your help to understand why.”
According to Moran, lower retention rates of females in the military have led to fewer women in high-ranking positions. He further said that it is time to change so we can have more of women’s perspectives on certain issues.
“Leadership is listening now,” said Moran.
After the military panel, civilian guest speakers shared their experiences and best practices and talked about overcoming the barriers many women may encounter.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, author of two New York Times best-sellers, said people want to know the struggles and the reality of life facing women in the military.
“Woman can be heroes too,” said Lemmon.
During an intermission, women spoke to one another about the symposium and the ideas they would like to share with leadership.
“It is nice to know you are not the only one going through the struggles you face in day-to-day military life,” said Information Systems Technician 1st Class Annette Yap, from Littoral Combat Ship Crew 201.
Yap said it makes her feel good to know that somebody is listening to the problems women in the military encounter and that she appreciates the support from both military and civilian counterparts.
“This symposium lets me interact with women from other branches of the military,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Flor Joseph.
Army Maj. Marie Gutierrez said this was her first time at the symposium and she liked the concept. She also said she knows the hardship of being a woman in the military and the expectation of proving one’s self to her male counterparts.
“Women in the military are expected to do everything as well as men but also backward and in high heels,” said Gutierrez.
Many women who attended the symposium raised concern about equal opportunity and a lack of opportunity to join special operations.
“A lot of people don’t realize our potential,” said Marine Sgt. Victoria Poland. “I would like to see more equal opportunity for females, because we are capable of doing everything that males can do, maybe differently, maybe not the same way, but we are capable of getting the job done.”