Maintaining a balance: agencies celebrate Women’s Equality Day

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

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The Defense Technical Information Center, along with other McNamara Headquarters Complex tenant organizations, hosted a panel discussion in commemoration of Women’s Equality Day, Aug. 22 in the HQC’s Kabeiseman Center.

Nearly 45 years ago, Congress approved a resolution designating August 26 as Women's Equality Day to honor the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote.

The HQC event featured three panelists: Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering Kristen Baldwin, Employee Assistance Program Consultant Cynthia Clark, and Lt. Col. (select) Michelle Taylor, M.D., residency training flight surgeon in the Tennessee Air National Guard.

Panelists fielded questions about career challenges, biases, balancing work and family and the importance of mentors.

Baldwin said though women make up 50 percent of the total workforce, the percentage drops to just 27 percent for those who work specifically in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“I think [the most] important observation is that this ratio has remained constant since 2009,” she said. “Everything that we do in events like these to raise awareness of the opportunities for women and equality for women remain warranted.”

Baldwin also charged the audience members not to remain complacent in their careers, but to take on new projects and developmental opportunities.

Panelists were asked if they’d ever felt disrespected because of their gender, and how they handled the situation.

Taylor said early in her career as a physician, people mistook her for a nurse, or even a custodial worker.

“I always found it comical, because … if you think I’m a nurse — thank you, I’m flattered,” she said. “If you think I’m the housekeeper, once again, I’m flattered. Both my grandmothers were housekeepers … and that is the hardest job.”

Although Taylor said she was not offended, the perception meant people were putting her down for her gender or my race, or a combination of the two.

“I’ve experienced that in my career, but it hasn’t stopped me,” she said. “It’s just made me appreciate where I come from, who I come from and what kind of work [I’m able] to do.”

“I think in general as women, we do have to prove ourselves,” Baldwin said. “We have to let our work and our capabilities speak for themselves.”

Baldwin said she recalled her high school guidance counselor discouraging her ambition to become an engineer. She set out to disprove the counselor’s opinion.

“This notion of challenging myself stayed with me through college when I wasn’t represented [in the engineering field].”

Early in her career, Baldwin said she also experienced gender bias when someone asked if she was the “booth babe,” while attending a work-related conference.

Despite these incidents, she said she’s been treated with “an amazing amount of respect” as a female civilian employee.

“I am proud to be alongside strong women, just like myself. We are increasing in numbers, and I think that’s fantastic,” she said. “We must continue to … chart that path for the women behind us — and enjoy the challenge.”

Clark said an early lesson in advocating for herself came in her early 20s, when she received a performance appraisal that was one point shy of “exceptional,” the highest rating. She decided to speak with her supervisor about it. Doing research for that meeting brought to mind an important piece of advice, Clark said.

“Keep a record, keep a log of everything that you do,” she said. “Every committee that I participated in, every award that I received, every achievement, every certification … became a running tally of things [I did throughout the year].”

As it turned out, Clark’s supervisor said the meeting wasn’t necessary and changed her performance rating to exceptional, based on his assessment of her work. Clark said she was proud that she challenged the appraisal, advising the audience, “Your voice is your strength.”

Clark also addressed the question of work/life balance. As a licensed clinical social worker, she said it’s the crux of her job to advise others how to achieve the balance and “gain control of what’s out of control.”

“I heard the statistic that about 50 percent of women are in the workforce and 75 percent of those … are working full time, so balance is really important for all of us working mothers,” she said. “Some days we meet every challenge, some days we don’t — and [we need to] be okay with that.”

All panelists agreed that a key to success both at work and home is maintaining a reliable support system, whether it’s family members and spouses, or mentors and supervisors.

“I don’t see how people do it alone,” Taylor said. “I would say, most people don’t. If you don’t appreciate the support system around you, shame on you.”

Baldwin stressed the need to prioritize, but said she still sacrifices time to focus on herself.

“It’s a tough balance to manage a career, to be caretakers of our families … and worrying all the time about the kids,” she said. “I would not proclaim that I’ve mastered work/life balance.”

“I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help; to depend on neighbors and friends and allow them to depend on you and — maybe it does take a village,” Baldwin said.

Clark noted that time devoted to many priorities evolves as circumstances change.

“As my children get older, I have found I can create more time for self-care,” she said. “Even our jobs may change; some are more demanding than others … some are more flexible. But it is a struggle for all of us – we may sometimes go to bed feeling like some things were just not completed.”

Another point all panelists agreed is important — finding a good mentor.

“It’s important throughout your entire career,” Baldwin said. She said most of her best mentors have supervisors or people in her chain of command who have formed mentorships that resulted in mutual success for the mentors and the protégés. “The best people are going to go away, and you have to let them go — that reflects well on us as leaders. It’s something I try to do with my own staff.”

DTIC Deputy Administrator Yvette Jacks presented the panelists with certificates of appreciation.

Other senior leaders in attendance included Defense Logistics Agency Chief of Staff Kristin French, Defense Threat Reduction Agency Vice Director for Mission Integration Michael Bruhn, and Defense Contract Audit Agency Assistant Director, Human Capital and Resource Management Maureen Higgins.