Annual women’s symposium brings military, civilian leaders together

By Master Sgt. Josephine PrideJuly 3, 2024

Annual Women’s Symposium Brings Military and Civilian Leaders Together
U.S. Army service members pose for a group photo at the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., June 27, 2024. The symposium provided service women with professional development through networking, education and mentorship. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph Martin) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON — The 35th annual Joint Women's Leadership Symposium, hosted by the Sea Services Leadership Association, brought over 1,300 service members and civilian professionals to the Hyatt Regency Crystal City Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, from June 25-28, 2024.

This year's theme, "Strength Through Service," consisted of several panels and breakout sessions, during which registrants attended professional development sessions and informational forums.

Following the welcoming ceremonies on the first day of the symposium, registrants could choose to attend multiple joint panels that discussed various topics such as intrusive leadership, serving in and out of uniform, navigating military family challenges and overcoming career setbacks.

The remainder of the afternoon focused on service-specific sessions where members of each branch gathered with their respective services for panels, mentoring sessions, and small group discussions.

Dr. Michelle Zbylut, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for equity and inclusion, welcomed everyone with opening remarks during the Army's leadership forum.

Annual Women’s Symposium Brings Military and Civilian Leaders Together
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army service members and civilians participate in mentoring sessions during the Army forum at the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., June 27, 2024. The symposium provided service women with professional development through networking, education and mentorship. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph Martin) VIEW ORIGINAL
Annual Women’s Symposium Brings Military and Civilian Leaders Together
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – From left to right, Lt. Col. Kristina Clark, executive officer, Directorate of Military Personnel Management, Maj. Gen. Hope Rampy, director, Military Personnel Management, Brig. Gen. Christine Rummel, Mobilization Assistant to the Commanding General, U.S. Army Cyber Command, and Ms. Megan Dake, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Procurement), Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) speak during the Women Who Lead: Challenges in Career Progression/Overcoming Setbacks panel during the Army forum at the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., June 26, 2024. The symposium provided service women with professional development through networking, education and mentorship. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph Martin) VIEW ORIGINAL

In conjunction with the conference theme, Dr. Zbylut spoke about finding strength through perseverance, embracing change and taking risks for personal growth.

"Nothing that really matters in life comes easily and nothing that really matters in this life comes without resistance," said Zbylut. "So often, the things that are most meaningful are also the most daunting to accomplish. They were the things you thought were insurmountable and you managed to overcome."

Following Dr. Zbylut, Ms. Denise Council-Ross, principal deputy general counsel for the U.S. Army, took the stage as the keynote speaker during the Army's leadership forum. She spoke about the long history of women who have served and how today's service members are the stepping stones for tomorrow's leaders.

"Since the Revolutionary War, women have served the U.S. Army by providing support to troops, collecting intelligence, and courageously and voluntarily placing themselves in direct combat," said Council-Ross. "Whether it was acknowledged or not, we were there."

During her remarks, Council-Ross shared some of the recent initiatives the Army established to improve the lives of female service members and their families, including the Women's Initiatives Team and the ongoing work to develop a broad range of recommendations for policies regarding women and their military service.

Annual Women’s Symposium Brings Military and Civilian Leaders Together
Ms. Denise Council Ross, Ms. Denise Council-Ross, Principal Deputy General Counsel for the U.S. Army, provides remarks as the keynote speaker during the Army forum at the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., June 26 and 27, 2024. The symposium provided service women with professional development through networking, education and mentorship. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph Martin) VIEW ORIGINAL

"The Secretary of the Army issued an Army directive for parenthood, pregnancy and postpartum and this directive made great strides in protecting the health and well-being of mothers and their families," said Council-Ross. "Now instead of having only 180 days in the Army to make height and weight after you have a child, you now have 365 days."

She went on to share her experience as the second African American woman to reach the rank of major in the Judge Advocate General's Corps and how vital mentorship can be in improving retention.

"There weren't a lot of people ahead of me that could understand what I was going through," said Council-Ross. "We will all go through trials, we will all go through struggles, and it's so much better when you are not going through it alone. So please take the time and not just miss the obvious and think about your fellow service member and think of how you can help them get to where you are, where you're going, or where they need to go."

Following Council-Ross's remarks, the Army forum hosted its first panel to discuss women who lead and challenges in career progression while overcoming setbacks. The rest of the afternoon included mentoring sessions, where participants could discuss various topics with senior leaders and receive feedback and guidance.

Annual Women’s Symposium Brings Military and Civilian Leaders Together
From left to right, Master Sgt. Josephine Pride, public affairs specialist, Assistant Secretary of the Army, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Sgt. Maj. Kenyatta Gaskins, senior enlisted leader, ASA (M&RA), Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Ruby Murray, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Instructor, South View Highschool, Hope Mills, North Carolina, Sgt. Maj. Beverly Walker, Military Equal Opportunity program manager, III Corps, Fort Cavazos, Texas, and 1st Sgt. Akeiko Fukuda, U.S. Army Dental Activity, Fort Meade, Maryland, speak during the Leading with Compassion: Taking care of each other while accomplishing the mission panel during the Army forum at Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., June 27, 2024. The symposium provided service women with professional development through networking, education and mentorship. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph Martin) VIEW ORIGINAL

For Sgt. Kellie Restrepo, an aircraft structural repairer with the 224 Military Intelligence Battalion, 116th Military Intelligence Brigade, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, attending the Joint Women's Leadership Symposium was an excellent opportunity for her to get different perspectives to get an idea of what to do next in her Army career.

"I have two more years left on my contract, I have no idea what I want to do after this, but I know I want to do something I am passionate about," said Restrepo. "Just having that moment and being honest and vulnerable with the people around me, I got so much advice. I have contacts now and my mind now is more focused and I have an idea of my next steps."

The second day of the symposium continued with service-specific activities. The Army continued to host additional panels, during which senior leaders discussed leading with compassion, transition programs and becoming an Army civilian.

The annual symposium is the largest gathering of military women in the nation. It hosts all U.S. and international uniformed services to provide professional development through networking, education and mentorship. The symposium provides attendees with an opportunity to focus on leadership development while also highlighting the achievements of women leaders who are making a difference across the globe.

Soldiers and civilians of all ranks and grades can email to be included in symposium news and updates and to participate in or attend next year's symposium.