News: Minnesota National Guard promotes career development for females
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Blair Heusdens
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota National Guard’s top female enlisted leaders held a seminar March 8, 2014, for career development focused on addressing barriers that may prevent females from rising to the organization’s highest ranks. Fostering a diverse workforce and ensuring the right mix of people is one of the top priorities of the Minnesota National Guard leadership.
“The data is pretty conclusive,” said Brig. Gen. Neal Loidolt, commander of the 34th Infantry Division. “As diverse a work group as you can create will out-perform a homogeneous workgroup every time. Now I find myself doing what I can related to mentoring great female leaders or adjusting our business processes to better support that system because I know we’ll be better organizationally.”
The seminar was led by the organization’s four female sergeant majors with a combined military experience of nearly 100 years: Command Sgt. Maj. Cynthia Kallberg, Minnesota National Guard senior enlisted adviser; Sgt. Maj. Tiffany Mills, manpower and personnel directorate sergeant major; Sgt. Maj. Lynne Nelson, logistics directorate sergeant major and Sgt. Maj. Raeline Davis, operations sergeant major for the 347th Regional Support Group.
As more and more positions in the military become open to both genders, the Minnesota National Guard is preparing females to be successful in these future positions. Females currently represent 16 percent of the Minnesota Army National Guard, but only eight of 100 management positions in the organization are filled by women. Recent recruiting efforts have been successful in increasing the racial and gender diversity in the Minnesota National Guard. Over time and through dedicated mentorship efforts, the organization hopes to grow these diverse individuals into future leaders.
“We have to recognize that if we want more female leaders represented in the ranks of our leadership that this is hard and we have to do this consciously,” Loidolt said. “What we’re doing relative to events like this and others, is trying to beat down the barriers so that we can actually identify who the competent leaders are. Because we’re not selecting incompetent people from the ranks of female leaders; we’re selecting equally qualified, equally competent people. Our system just doesn’t allow us to find them.”
Confidence, adaptability and teamwork were some of the main points of discussion throughout the seminar. One challenge many females identified with was a lack of confidence to step up and demand a seat at the table.
“Taking the initiative pays off,” Kallberg said. “Don’t wait for someone to come and put their hand on you and say, ‘Hey, I’d like you to do this.’ That might happen, but it might not. If you’re waiting for that to happen, you may be sadly disappointed in where you get.”
Flexibility and agility are also key to career advancement, especially as the military force draws down. Broadening experiences and taking challenging assignments help to set individuals apart from their peers when it comes to competing for promotions.
“The environment is changing so much,” Kallberg said. “The atmosphere that we’re working in, the threat out there, what we’re being asked to do, how we’re being asked to do it – is so complex, that if you can only do one thing, we can’t use you. You have to be adaptable.”
In addition to pursuing more challenging assignments, it might be necessary to move to another position of the same grade or take a position a grade lower in order to eventually move up the ladder.
“Unfortunately at some point in your career – in everybody’s career – you’re hanging out here on a rung and you look up and there’s somebody who’s not going anywhere fast,” Nelson said. “So you may have to take a step to the side and look at a different way of getting past that point and moving up.”
The seminar addressed many perceptions that exist about female leaders in the workplace. For instance, many women view other women in the workplace as threats, rather than peers.
“Women need to stick together,” said Davis. “They need to perceive each other as non-threats, they need to quit bullying each other in the workplace and they need to form a team.”
Another challenge many women face in the workplace is balancing work and family commitments. In an organization like the military where promotions might mean extended work hours and responsibility, require a move across the state or deployment to another country, professional decisions are often personally-driven.
“You may think that you’re giving things up,” said Mills. “But you don’t necessarily realize what you’re giving to them by serving and sitting at that table and showing them how being a strong role model and going through your career actually teaches those kids.”
As three of the four women prepare to retire in the next year, the seminar was a chance to impart wisdom and knowledge on the next generation of female soldiers and noncommissioned officers.
“You can do whatever you want to do in your life – there are no limits,” Kallberg said. “But you can’t necessarily do them all at the same time. Life is about sequencing … but you can eventually do all the things you want to do.”