ARLINGTON, Va. -- As the Army’s race for talent sprints on, investing in women to fill leadership roles in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, is critical to mission readiness, leaders said Thursday during a webinar.
Maj. Gen. Maria Barrett, head of the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, believes the Army cannot leave any talent on the table.
“The race for talent is real,” Barrett said during the event hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army. The service needs to “bring people in and engage them in a way that encourages them to participate.”
Like many of her female peers, Barrett said she has dedicated her career by not wanting others to focus on the fact she is a woman in the technology ranks, but rather on her merits as a Soldier.
Instead of being viewed as women, “we put our heads down and strive to be the best signal officers, the best leaders we can be and in the end contribute to the team in a meaningful way,” she said.
Army leaders have to view the next generation of Soldiers in a similar way. “As a leader, I think you have to look at the full lifecycle spectrum of your workforce and understand where you might have a gap or a weak area … and get after it quickly and consistently,” Barrett said.
In exchange for recruiting and keeping women leaders in Army STEM careers, the investment may change the face of technology in the ranks. “Once you have a woman in a role, it’s not unusual to see another woman in that role -- and that’s a big deal,” Barrett said.
This approach starts at the local level.
If the Army shows young women leadership possibilities in its STEM careers, they may see how attainable those opportunities are for them, said Nancy Kreidler, director of cybersecurity and information assurance for the Army deputy chief of staff, G-6.
After showing young women those prospects in their communities, it can energize their participation in STEM from advanced placement math courses to coding groups at the high school level, Barrett said.
More women will then likely intern for programs, move into entry-level positions and gain the exposure needed for jobs offered by the Army. But once they fill those technology roles in the Army, Barrett said navigating their careers is best done with a mentor.
“Find a mentor. Find someone you can talk to; reach out and don’t go it alone,” Kreidler said. “If you are in a bad situation, don’t wait around to think it’s going to get better when it’s not. Leave. Go find where you’re valued.”
Barrett knows this from personal experience. During the first half of her career, she hardly had any female mentors to turn to. Because of this, “it was men who understood leadership, men who understood mentorship, [and] were the most valuable asset to me,” she said.
While men helped her along the way, she hopes the next generation of female leaders will mentor young Soldiers, too. “There is a role for female role models and mentorship in this equation,” she added.
Kreidler, an Army civilian for nearly four decades, said she had even fewer women role models in her early days. The career public servant was usually “the only woman in the room,” she said, and was often passed for promotion because, as a woman, she was considered too aggressive.
One of the takeaways from the panel was not to single out mentors based on their gender. Instead, Barrett hoped young Soldiers will find mentors from all walks of life.
“If your whole mentorship circle is females, I’m going to say you’re missing out on a perspective that would be very useful,” she said, regarding men and women. “It works best when it’s balanced. Because you get that perspective, you also get comfortable dealing with each other.”
The representation of qualified talent, like with women leading in areas where they never led before, will lead to more qualified talent. For instance, this year Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth became the first woman to fill that role.
The fact she is in that role means “it can happen again,” Kreidler said. “[These] are groundbreaking times.”