ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --
The Officer Women Leadership Symposium (OWLS) provides an opportunity for military women to network with like-minded colleagues to attain professional and personal growth through keynote messages, panel discussions and workshops. This year’s “Leadership for a Lifetime” themed 2020 OWLS event was held virtually Nov. 5 and 6. It was hosted in partnership with the University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business.
The Headquarters Air Force Office of Diversity and Inclusion (HAF/ODI) secured 100 OWLS seats for distribution to 17 Major Commands, Field Operating Agencies and Direct Reporting Units. Arnold Engineering Development Complex nominations were submitted under the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), which was slated to fill a total of six seats.
AEDC nominees not only filled the available seating, but also staked claim to two additional seats for the event, sending eight AEDC Women to OWLS: Lindsay Anderson, Dana Henry, Erin Landry, Erika Motlow, Rhonda Ricohermoso, Sara Rozell, Deborah Trice and Debra Westervelt.
AEDC’s OWLS attendees heard from leaders from military, public and private sectors. During the symposium, seasoned professionals from all levels of leadership offered their real-life experiences and personal advice. In addition to hearing from the distinguished speakers, these women were provided book listings and website references to aid in their leadership journeys.
Landry offered her thoughts about what she gained from her experience.
“A large takeaway was the exposure to such impressive and trailblazing women,” she said. “It is both refreshing and energizing to hear the success stories of women in my career field.”
More from the attendees:
Henry shared several positive points she gained from her experience, “Build your professional network up by engaging with those in your career field, seeking mentorship from women who have succeeded in their industries, and actively participating in training and conferences that broaden your leadership skillset.”
“Being female in a male-dominated industry can sometimes make it difficult to be seen, but hard work and dedication are the best ways to get there,” she added. “Empathy is not a weakness, but a strength to share and hopefully you can use or add to your daily life. Even if you’re not in leadership position, know we’re all leaders in our own ways and have the responsibility to show up for the people in our lives.”
Westervelt was moved by the words of Dr. Sharoni Little, “History doesn’t repeat itself; humans repeat history.”
She thought this was so powerful because, “It puts the responsibility on us. We are responsible for not letting history repeat itself.”
Ellen Pawlikowski, a retired U.S. Air Force general said, “Sixty is the new forty.”
“This hit home with me,” Westervelt said. “Remember it’s not where you’re at, it’s what we have built. Leave with the mindset of being a marker. No one is perfect, that’s why pencils have erasers. Be yourself! Everyone else is taken. That proves itself beneficial in women leaders. We are only as good as the people we lead and that requires us to be involved in the workforce through motivation and anticipation of needs.”
When asked her opinion, Motlow said, “Overall, my greatest takeaway was around the discussion on imposter syndrome. I don’t know how many times I have looked around and thought ‘I am not qualified to be in… (this meeting, room, leadership position).’ First, to be able to put a name to what I was feeling was helpful. More importantly, to hear so many women with senior leadership experience, that absolutely had the ability to fill their roles, echo my thoughts, was a great sigh of relief.”
As a highlight from the 2020 OWLS event, several women made remarks about the Third Space Thinking: Building Soft Skills Critical for Leading in Today’s World workshop. This workshop was led by Shellee Smith, executive director, Center for Third Space Thinking, University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Here, five soft skills were uncovered, and the workshop revealed how these could be combined to compliment and extend the two dominant skills to achieve “Third Space Thinking,” which focuses on the traditional strategic approaches that are offered by engineering and business thinking.
These eight AEDC women leaders all found value in the OWLS. Personally, I feel confident this year’s OWLS attendees are now better equipped to further lead positive change at AEDC. Our AEDC attendee’s observations all voiced a renewed understanding of how they could affect leadership.
Aristotle once said, “He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader.”
I encourage everyone to seek a mentor or subject matter expert, and perhaps even thought-leaders and innovators to explore emerging trends in leadership.