News | March 23, 2017

Celebrating Trailblazing Women

By Irene Smith DLA Energy Public Affairs

The Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness Kristin French was the guest speaker for the Defense Logistics Agency Women’s History Month celebration in the McNamara Headquarters Complex at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, March 15.

This year’s theme is “Honoring Trailblazing Women Who Have Paved the Way for Future Generations.”

Women’s History Month celebrates the struggles and achievements of women throughout the history of the United States. This year’s celebration honors women who have successfully challenged the role of women in both business and the paid labor force.  

French serves as the principal advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics in the oversight of logistics policies, practices, operations and efficiencies in support of enhanced readiness to the warfighter. Her logistics portfolio includes maintenance, materiel readiness, supply chain integration, transportation policy and program support. She assumed her current position in July 2016.

The event featured a talk show forum moderated by DLA Energy Public Affairs Specialist Liz Stoeckmann.

French’s 30 plus-year career is trailblazing for both her extensive military and government experience. She retired from the U.S. Army in November 2015 as a brigadier general having served 29 years of distinguished service. Married for 30 years to a West Point classmate, French served combat assignments in Western Iraq and Afghanistan. She also completed a deployment to Kuwait in support of Operation Desert Fox and to Croatia in support of Operation Joint Endeavor.

As a working mother, French was asked how she balances work and life demands.

“I learned a lesson early in life, work-life balance is important,” French said. “The reality is, as working men and women, you have to be able to balance your personal life and your professional life. It is a personal decision … and it is not always 50-50.”

The moderator asked French if she ever faced inequalities in the workplace and how did she handle them.

“This is a tough one to answer because we all have inequalities in life, whether it’s racial, gender or religious,” French said. “I would tell you that when you come up to those instances, do what is right and know that you can overcome those inequalities.”

When French received her commission from West Point as a second lieutenant in 1986, women could not join combat arms.

“Faced with a choice between aviation and quartermaster, I wanted to be a leader, be with people and wanted an opportunity to do something anyone could do no matter who they are,” French said. “When I looked into opportunities for women in the ‘80s, they were not there. We would not be able to fly attack helicopters. I chose to be a quartermaster instead of aviation and I have never looked back. I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for those logistics experiences.”

The inequalities 30 years ago are different from the inequalities that exist today, she said.

”There are inequalities today,” French said. “But we are doing so much better than what we were doing 30 years ago. The women in this room have paved the way for our daughters and grandchildren in the future.”

Paving the way for women in a male dominated environment, French explained how taking the hard jobs led to new, unexplored opportunities and success.   

“You join an organization where you can best contribute,” she said. “I decided that being a logistician was the best decision for me and it gave me opportunities I would not have had in other specialty branches in the military.”  

In 2003, French was the first female battalion commander in the Third Armored Calvary Regiment to deploy to a war zone. She was the first U.S. Army female one star general commander to deploy to Afghanistan.

French shared advice for women stepping into male dominant fields.

“You have to rely on your training, your ability and know that you have every right to do the job and prove that you do it by doing the job,” she said. “You got to step in.”

Within DLA Energy, Gabby Earhardt is the first female to hold the deputy director’s position at DLA Energy (acting). Regina Gray is the first African-American female to hold a senior leadership position as the GS-15, DLA Energy Strategic Policy & Programs director. In DLA Energy, female employees hold 42 percent of director-level positions.
French shared a personal story on how quickly women have progressed since she was a young girl.

“When I was in fifth grade, I could not play soccer on a youth team,” French said. “At the time, girls did not have soccer teams. Today, kids are 3-4 years old and kicking a soccer ball around. I started playing soccer in sixth grade when my hometown started a program, and went on to play in high school and college.”

The future still holds challenges for women to overcome.

“The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that on average full-time female workers still earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men,” French said. “They estimate that given the current rate of change, Caucasian women won’t reach pay parity until 2059, a statistic even more troubling for women of color whom rate of change is even slower. African Americans won’t reach pay equity until the year 2124. That’s over a hundred years from now.”

The key to success is to pay it forward and be a mentor to others, French said. She stressed the importance of having a mentor.

“Take the time to talk to people and mentor them,” French said.

Afterwards, Earhart thanked French for her thoughts and comments.

“It is especially inspiring for us to see a woman that once worked here in this building, now sitting in the role of an assistant secretary of defense,” Earhardt said. “Your comments could certainly inspire someone here today in the next generation to follow that path that you have paved for them.”

To view the entire event, click here for a video.