Women leaders participate in panel discussion at McNamara Headquarters Complex

By Chris Erbe

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A panel presentation honoring Women’s History Month in the McNamara Headquarters Complex March 16 was attended by more than 300 employees.

"Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government" was hosted by the HQC Special Emphasis Program Committee.

The panel consisted of four women who have achieved high levels of success in their careers: Shari Durand, executive director, Defense Threat Reduction Agency; Army Maj. Gen. Julie Bentz, vice director, Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency; Clothilda Taylor, principal deputy director, administration, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense; and retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Helen Noel.


Moderator Air Force Master Sgt. LaShasta Davis posed questions to the panelists to answer individually. about their experiences as leaders, their paths to success and the people who influenced their lives and careers.

Bentz functions as the primary assistant to the director and the chief operating officer of JIDA, DoD’s agency to counter improvised threats and provide operational intelligence and analysis on threat networks. Her background also includes assignments in nuclear defense, homeland security, health physics and environmental sciences.

“I love the military culture,” Bentz said when asked why she joined the military and why she still serves. “It’s a values-based organization. I spent five years on active duty and then went into the Reserves,” she said.

“After grad work, I went into the National Guard for 10 years. I was called back onto active duty and have been there ever since. It was nice to come back to this values-based organization that I call home."

The panel responded with strong comments to the question, “What challenges have you experienced as a woman in leadership, and how did you overcome those challenges?”

When speaking about her early years as a young female government employee, Taylor said she often felt overlooked in meetings.

“I was taught to use my manners,” she said. “But I learned that you have to go outside of your comfort zone and speak up! If you don’t, you’ll be ignored.”

Taylor is a member of the Senior Executive Service and the principal deputy director of administration in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense. Having worked in the federal government for 23 years, she has worked and led in the areas of strategic planning, human capital management, business process improvement and administrative management.

Noel spoke of her mother when asked about the most influential person in her life.

“I came from a family of 10 kids, and my mother and father separated when I was seven,” she said. “My mother dropped out of high school to raise her kids. She was determined not to rely on public assistance, so she went to work. I watched her come home exhausted, and I saw her pain. When I joined the military, she was my No. 1 cheerleader. She was always there, always supportive.”

After 24 years in the Air Force, Noel retired as a chief master sergeant in 2009. She now spends her time writing books and serving as a motivational speaker on the topic of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Her first novel, “7 Days in the Fire,” was published in 2008, and she is working on several other books. In 2015, she devised a PTSD resiliency presentation for DoD personnel and has shared it on military installations to rave reviews.

Durand credited becoming a mother in her 40s as the life experience that most influenced her leadership style.

“Before I had my one and only child, it was all about my career,” she said. “I tried to empathize with those who had families, but I had no clue. It wasn’t until I had my own child when I realized what it was like to have such a wonderful and enormous pull on my life that helped give me balance. I have greater appreciation for employees who are struggling with family issues, because I go through a lot of the same things myself.”

Durand is also a member of the Senior Executive Service. As executive director of DTRA, she oversees daily operations, strategic management, budgetary requirements, business planning and execution and communications for the agency. During her career, she has also held several leadership positions with the Marine Corps and the Navy.

During the program, the panelists delivered thought-provoking responses to questions regarding time management, characteristics of leadership and sacrifices they have made along their road to success. Their answers provided poignancy, inspiration, insight and even a few laughs. Following the program, the panelists spent time conversing with audience members in the lobby.