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Attitude equals altitude: Opening the doors for discussion at the Joint Women Leadership Symposium

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Arielle Vasquez
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Before joining the military, I never put much thought into what it means to be a leader.

As an Airman still new to the Air Force, I now realize that strong leadership is at the center of mission success and strive to learn what it takes to influence and support others effectively.

I therefore was eager to attend the Guam Joint Women Leadership Symposium March 24, which allowed me to gain a new perspective on how to grow as an Airman. The symposium, held on Guam for the second time, focused on how to empower and educate individuals on the issues women face in the military and on sharing the tools needed to become a well-rounded and capable leader.

Before the symposium, I had many questions of what to expect as this was my first time attending an event of this kind. Looking around the room I grew apprehensive, as I noticed officers and senior NCOs from all different branches, which was initially intimidating for me because I was one of the lowest ranking service members present.

However, it didn’t take long until I came to find that despite all this, many of the people I spoke with made me feel comfortable to express myself as I listened to their stories. Hearing the accounts of speakers’ personal experience and comments on equality issues in the workplace were interesting and provided me with new insight. Discussions included women's issues and experiences, and provided tools to improve the future of equal opportunity in our armed forces. Once the day came to a close, I felt more inspired than before and internalized the advice of others there.

One of the stories that resonated with me was that of Coast Guard Master Chief Petty Officer Leilani Cale-Jones, who spoke about issues she faced in her own career. A comment from a male co-worker about her ability to lead as a woman forced her to work harder than others. She said she didn’t feel like she had to prove herself to him, but to her fleet. By having the right attitude and determination, it made her rise above her obstacles and continue to succeed. Her story told me that it doesn't matter what rank is on your sleeve, your gender, or ethnicity. What matters is what you bring to the fight every day.

The symposium was not only tailored for women. Quite a few men attended and served as mentors and speakers.

One of the male speakers, Capt. Alfred Anderson, Naval Base Guam commanding officer, spoke about what he faced in his career. As an African American, Anderson also felt he had to prove himself and refused to quit when his fellow sailors did not believe in him or support him during his time at rescue swimming school. Facing racial discrimination from those around him only made him fight harder to get where he needed to be. While being hospitalized during his training, he returned to it with a stronger sense of purpose and only had the end goal of completing it in mind.

Something I appreciated hearing from his speech was that there will always be “ism's” such as sexism and racism, but the only one that matters is professionalism.

Hearing his story made me feel motivated to pursue my goals no matter what obstacle I may face. Something I learned from his speech is that what happens to you, whatever the situation may be, is not as important as how you react to them.

While my experience may be limited, being relatively new to the military, I have witnessed some of the issues the speakers discussed including gender inequality. Comments I have heard as well as stories fellow Airmen shared with me have shown me that we have a lot of work left to do.

There is no doubt there are equality issues we still face today. However, I believe every time somebody addresses the subject openly, it opens the door for further discussion and allows us to become more aware of what is being ignored by so many.

I learned from these leaders that having the right mindset to be able to tackle daily challenges is essential – because we all will face difficulties or conflict at some point in our careers. Attitude, however, can make all the difference and it will take you to the next level. If you truly want to be successful, attitude equals altitude, as Anderson said.

I also learned that leadership is about influencing positive change that helps your organization and its people grow and evolve. You have to set yourself up to climb the ladder of success regardless of the challenges that may be put before you.

Being a leader isn’t an easy task. It’s not only about guiding others and giving advice, but supporting them in every aspect. Especially if there is an issue in the workplace, it is vital for them to know the facts and make it a priority to handle it effectively for the well-being of everyone involved.

With more than 300 attendees present, the symposium made me feel inspired and provided many networking opportunities. Not only did I find it to be educational, but uplifting and motivational, giving me a renewed outlook on a military career. I gained motivation to constantly push myself to my highest potential and to never give up on the goals I have set for myself such as pursuing a college degree and furthering my career.

Every speaker and panel demanded my full attention with words of encouragement, wisdom, support and funny stories. I felt comfortable getting to know some of the higher ranking individuals around me who took me under their wing during the mentor networking session, which gave them opportunities to share their life experiences, trials they faced and give advice on various issues. No matter who you are, your position or goals in life, I truly believe gatherings like this help to empower us all.

Seeing the hard work and dedication it takes to become a leader only made me want to strive to do my absolute best every day. Over time, with the advice of my mentors, my goal is to continue to work toward letting others know they can lean on me for support – a lesson learned from this is that your background or what people may perceive about you is not important; every opportunity out there is at your grasp as long as we are willing to break down barriers and work for what we want.

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