Reflections on Women Leaders During Women’s History Month

I’m speaking at the US Navy Weapons Station Earle this week, and in preparing for my talk I have uncovered some tidbits about women's military history that have helped me reflect on the strides women have made in leadership over the past few decades.  First of all, in the Spanish American War women served as nurses, but it wasn’t until World War I that women were allowed to serve in non-nursing roles.  Loretta Perfectus Walsh was the first woman to enlist in the military (non nursing), joining the Navy in 1917 and within days became a Chief Petty Officer. Yet even today with 20% of the military being women, there is still a lot of ground to cover. We embark on the 21st century with choices to make. We can focus on appreciating men and women or emphasizing our differences. One of my colleagues, Carlotta Tyler said, “During the past three decades, increasing numbers of women have joined men in mainstream workplaces and, in the past decade, in responsible professional and managerial capacities. There can be difficulty understanding one another and the rules of engagement.  There can be clarity and comfort, creativity and productivity interacting.  It's a choice”. You can read below a soldier’s story. From the blog Military Women Veterans Yesterday Today and Tomorrow:

Dear Capt. Barb I was a Marine in Desert Shield/Storm. I was assigned to MWSS273, out of Beaufort, S.C. My unit flew out on Christmas Eve, and landed in Jabail, Saudi Arabia on Christmas day. Of 500 in my unit, 17 were women. Myself and 5 other women are among the 100 Marines that built the larges/longest mobile runway in the history of organized military WORLDWIDE, and we did it twice! I am now 10 years into a police career, and know a lot of former Marines who give me the credit earned. Still, no one understands that I was THERE! I captured an Iraqi soldier. I had another Marine die in my arms, from Nerve Gas poisoning. Still, most credit only goes to the men, God Bless them too though. Thank you for this site. I cannot say it didn't bring back some hard memories, but at least, it recognizes that we were there. And we live with hard memories too, and we are proud too, and we would do it all over again...too. On a side note, even though my unit took fire...a lot...we were not afforded the Combat Medal, because women were not "in combat" so the records show. All 17 of us were bussed south when the IG came AND the unit records were changed to reflect only male Marines. My only hurt is not to have been awarded the Combat Medal, when it was earned. Thank you so much, again, for this site. Tracy Abernathy-Walden"

Furthermore, Hilary Clinton, the strongest female presidential candidate to date, was still treated somewhat differently than her male counterparts in the last election. To hers and President Obama’s credit, she serves on his cabinet (see this article I co-authored for a more thorough analysis: But Can She Type?). We’ve come far and yet still have a long way to go. Regardless, I am hopeful we will see a woman President of the US in my lifetime.

Other news that may be of interest:

According to Maureen Dowd’s column this morning in the NY Times, President Obama applied pressure and Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed to get the health reform bill passed.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/24/opinion/24dowd.html

Fortune Magazine has an article about how companies are hiring returning military officers, many of who are women.   The attraction is their ability to deal with ambiguity, uncertainty and to lead.  They are being enrolled in executive leadership programs at GE, Walmart and Pepsico.  http://money.cnn.com/2010/03/04/news/companies/military_business_leaders.fortune/index.htm?postversion=2010030509