Women's future needs support for change
March 31, 2014
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Sgt. Maj. Mia Walton, Army Surgeon General's senior equal opportunity adviser, explained how women have been breaking barriers in years past, and how they will continue to do so in the future. Her answer: support.
"I was always supported. Support goes a long way because if you're not supported you won't have a foundation," said Walton.
She was the guest speaker for Fort Sill's Women's History Month luncheon sponsored by Reynolds Army Community Hospital March 20 at the Patriot Club.
Col. Jennifer Robison, RACH patient services deputy commander, introduced her as the guest speaker and shared that only .04 percent of women in the Army make it to the rank of sergeant major.
"Today I stand here in front of you proud to be the first black female 68Q pharmacy technician sergeant major. I am living my dream. You can help someone live their dream. You may be the person that that female peer leader, or friend may want to emulate," said Walton. "Let a young woman know she does not have to follow where a path may lead. Instead she can make her own path."
Walton said her journey began in a PT formation. She liked to work out and decided to lead a group of male Soldiers in exercises. That's when she said her male mentor, now-retired Command Sgt. Maj. Adolph Arista recognized her potential.
"He asked me why was I leading PT; why was I the one out front when I was the most junior person there. And I said well I wanted to do it and no one objected so I started doing it. He made me the physical fitness instructor," said Walton.
"He gave me an opportunity. And with every opportunity you get you have to make the best of it because you never know who's next, who's behind. You you never know who's going to be watching what you're doing, so always give your best."
She said by knowing her strengths and focusing on them she moved up the ranks. But there were still moments when others saw her gender as a weakness and something that would hold her from leadership positions.
"You start second guessing yourself. What about me wasn't right? What did I do? Sometimes it's just because you're a female. I've been told that before."
She said her rebuttal to the person was to ask how they could expect women to re-enlist in the military if there were no women leaders to emulate. Even with her frustrations, Walton said her patience paid off.
"I waited. I still supported the person that was selected over me. I gave them encouragement and through that they saw that I was willing to accept the second seat as long as it promoted the efforts of the mission and the efforts of the organization," said Walton.
She said through the support of others who wanted a leader not based on gender she was able to move up.
"If you see a seam of daylight, take it. I saw a seam, something I wanted to do, something I like to do, so I did it. Change comes from wanting to change. Change doesn't just happen by happenstance."
Government paying jobs ensure equal pay to both sexes, but outside of the post gates, civilian jobs lack level pay. Walton shared a statistic that caused the crowd to gasp. As far as how countries rate in gender equality the United States ranks 23rd.
"While women share the same hardships of life with men, it is important to note that they receive little or less compensation than men," said Walton.
Outside of federal employment women on average are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. For African American women the rate is even lower at 64 cents per dollar and for Latina women it is only 55 cents per dollar.
Ceremony host Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, said if it weren't for the military, the United States would be ranked lower.
"The last time I checked the pay scale it didn't have a pay scale for men and for women so it's pretty nice to be a part of that organization," said McDonald.
"The success of our Army is not possible without women. Just point blank," said McDonald. "We've got a lot to be thankful for but as Sergeant Major Walton pointed out we've got some things that we're not there yet."
Paula Creamer, women's pro golfer, was a blunt example of the inequality in pay.
"I looked in the paper Monday afternoon and she's the leading money winner this year over $350,00. Not bad. Sadly the man on the PGA tour, the very last person has made more money than she's made."
Walton said the way to equality was by everyone coming together.
"We have a long roadmarch. Follow me to the start point. ... We're going to pack up our bags, rucksacks, backpacks and get on the road. Open your rucksack, here's some things that you will need for this journey for change:
No. 1: Empowerment. Give a woman a new opportunity.
No. 2: Provide support. Support helps someone believe and achieve.
No. 3: Promote equality. Equality allows both women and men.
As fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles and mentors you never know who the next first female might be. She might very well be your daughter, your sister, your aunt. It very well may be that a little girl from Mount Olive, Miss., proudly representing 800 friendly folks who's lifelong dream was to become the first female Soldier in her family," said Walton.
"By promoting self-determination in everyone, just imagine where we would be," said Walton. "My father, two brothers, husband, seven uncles and male mentor Command Sgt. Maj. retired Arista have always empowered me, supported me and ensured that I was treated with equality."
Walton finished and was met with a standing ovation.
"You embody character, courage and commitment," said McDonald. "And I've got to tell you there's a bunch of people that just watched you and you motivated them and you got them moving and some people have got their backpacks full and they're ready to get on their journey."
Deborah Sampson the first enlisted woman to serve in the Continental Army disguised as a man.
Dr. Mary Walker the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor for her work as a physician on the battlefield and in military hospitals without regard for her own health or safety.
Anna Mae Hays was the first woman in the military to be promoted to a general officer rank.
Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho the first female Army Surgeon General and commanding general of Medical Command.