Forum teaches women to seize opportunities

Close to 100 women — and a few men — attended the second annual Women’s Leadership Forum March 25, hosted by the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Equal Employment Opportunity Office, and held at the Swabian Special Event Center on Patch Barracks.

Participation increased from last year by 30 percent, said Yasmin Rosa, EEO Special Emphasis Program manager.

The theme of the 2010 forum, held in conjunction with Women’s History Month,  was “Cultivating Leaders Through Mentorship.”

“Mentorship is something interesting and attractive to a lot of people, especially in junior-level [positions],” Rosa said.

The forum focused on how women can make the most of their career, while balancing family and breaking through societal barriers.

“We have to look out for each other,” Rosa said. “If you want to get ahead, you need to seek the opportunities and not wait for them to come to you.”

Maj. Gen. Michael A. Snodgrass, U.S. Africa Command chief of staff, opened the forum.

He encouraged participants to select and mentor others based on their accomplishments, not their appearance.

“People need to be judged based on what they bring to the table,” he said.
Keynote speaker Katherine Canavan, U.S. European Command civilian deputy to the commander and foreign policy advisor, added her own recommendation.

“Go up and ask advice of people you admire,” she said. “You don’t only have to have a woman [as a] mentor; most of my mentors have been male.”

The second keynote speaker, Col. Cheryl Harris, AFRICOM assistant chief of staff, provided the perspective of a female military leader.

She spoke on the importance of not only building relationships with leaders, but observing them at work.

“Open your aperture,” she said. “Take in everything. Naturally, you will filter out those things that work for you and those that don’t.”

Harris added that women need to help each other achieve their goals. “As we move forward as women, we remember to pass a helping hand to women,” she said.
After the speeches, the attendees rotated through four small-group discussions, led by the panelists.

Col. Elizabeth Bierden, Defense Information Systems Agency Europe commander, led the “Overcoming Barriers” session.

She encouraged women not to let go of their femininity in order to succeed. “You don’t have to be a tough woman [who] looks like you want to be a man,” she said. “I don’t want to be a man. I’d like to do the kinds of things that they do.
 “The best strategy for overcoming barriers is women networking together,” she added.

Women at the conference had the chance to network, following the group sessions. They also learned how to network during the “Mentoring and Networking: Tools for Career Development” session, led by Janice Downey, USAG Stuttgart Army Community Service deputy director.

Another session included “Balancing Act: Family and Career,” hosted by Master Sgt. Cecilia Brandt, EUCOM Electronic Joint Manpower and Personnel Systems manager.
The subject was a personal one for Brandt, who paused her active duty Air Force career and joined the Army Reserve when she and her husband began raising a family.

 “Life’s a trade-off,” she said. “The decisions we make — at the end of the day, we have to say, ‘I can live with that.’”

Hearing from other women during this session was encouraging for Sandy Leshinsky, a military spouse.

“I’m happy with the interaction and with other women and the empathy that’s here,” Leshinsky said. “They support and understand a lot of the same issues I’m going through.”

The fourth session focused on the difficulty women from different generations have in joining the work force.

During the “Educational Opportunities, Past and Present” session, Susan Page, Patch High School principal and event panelist, said that today’s students have less prejudice based on sex than ever before.

“Is there really a glass ceiling for our daughters?” Page asked participants. “I don’t think that there is anymore.”

Neither did Danielle Dean, 15, one of several PHS students at the forum.
“I want to be a doctor … a pediatrician,” Dean said, following Page’s presentation.

“I think I can do it.”