Professional network seeks to empower, educate women
November 15, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Meetings of Fort Jackson's Professional Mentorship Network are not as formal as you might imagine.
That doesn't mean the group's goals are any less lofty, said Elizabeth Maher, Army Community Services outreach coordinator. Generally, these kinds of activities are designed to provide structured counseling sessions for "professional development." The Professional Mentorship Network just prefers to keep things casual.
The goal of the program is to build a network of women who are inspired to successfully navigate through the Army community by fostering relationships with future leaders. It might seem like an obvious strategy, given that most Soldiers rise through the ranks using these very same principles.
But, most Soldiers are men. Women account for less than a quarter of those in uniform, which makes networking much more complicated. It's not unusual for a female Soldier to spend years in uniform before meeting a professional role model.
"I feel like the Army needs this," said Capt. Tracy Ariza, of the United States Army Chaplain Center and School. Ariza has been attending Professional Mentorship Network meetings since the group launched several months ago.
"I've been in the military for 19 years," Ariza said. "I came up through the ranks, and started off as a private first class. No one was there to mentor me, give me guidance or talk to me about my personal goals for my career. No one was there to teach me how to deal with males on a day-to-day basis in a male dominated occupation."
"The focus in on building confidence and building relationships, empowering us, learning from each other," Maher said. "The mission statement is 'to empower, educate, and mentor female service members and DA civilians.'
"Mentoring is helping each other out," she said.
The Professional Mentorship Network conducts two meetings each month. The first meeting is about membership development, Maher said.
"We have a panel and discussion about a topic," she said. "Each table will have some discussion and, at the end of the meeting, we'll share our thoughts on the topic of conversation."
Maher said the program aims to reach all active duty female Soldiers and DA employees.
"Sometimes we're mentoring without even knowing that we're mentoring," she said. "Sometimes it doesn't mean that you're assigned a mentor that you formally meet with. This isn't like that."
The second meeting of each month involves a guest speaker. The concept is to bring female professionals to the post to speak with members about their careers.
"The strength of the program is giving women on the installation, both military and civilian, the opportunity to come together in fellowship and learn about different topics that pertain to women in service," said Command Sgt. Maj. Chantel Sena-Diaz, of the United States Army Chaplain Center and School.
Sena-Diaz is also the program manager for the Professional Mentorship Network.
"I've heard a lot of positive comments from women, some of whom have said it was their first time to even meet some women (working on) the installation," she said. "It's a great networking opportunity."
The group is open to any woman working on post, from Soldiers to civilians, but is not open to Soldiers in training status. Participation numbers have fluctuated in recent months, possibly because its goals are misunderstood.
"I'd like to see the post support it a little more," Ariza said. "People might think it's just a lot of females getting together and 'male bashing,' which isn't the truth. We're just coming together, coordinating, understanding and getting a better picture of what it is, as a female in the military, that we should be doing and where we should be going."
The Professional Mentorship Network meets the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. The next meeting is scheduled to begin 11:30 a.m., Nov. 26, at the NCO Club. The event's guest speaker is creativity coach, writer and poet Cassie Premo Steele. For more information and to register, email tracy.d.ariza.mil@ mail.mil.