Women’s History Month: You Go, Girls!

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I have been thinking about Women’s History Month since March began. Then, I saw that March 8 was International Women’s Day, an event that has taken place worldwide since the early 1900s. According to its website, it began amid the turbulence of the industrial age when women started realizing their oppressed and subordinate status.

They began to actively campaign for change such as the rights to work, vote, hold office, and end discrimination. From its birth as a women’s rights movement, the day has expanded as a global day for the recognition and celebration of women globally. Women’s History week was designated in 1981 incorporating International Women’s Day. In 1987, Congress expanded the focus to a whole month. This year, in honor of International Women’s Day, I happened to notice an event sponsored by the Navy, which I am very proud to publicize (albeit after the fact).

The event was an interview with Fox news, in which the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, ADM Mark Ferguson, along with Captain Lisa Franchetti, Lt Sarah Flaherty, and ENC (DV) Lynn Rodriguez, discussed the current and future opportunities for women in the Navy.

The panel went on to ring the closing bell at the NYSE after participating in a UN panel on the Representation of Women in Non-traditional sectors on that same day.

Admiral Ferguson has been an advocate for diversity in the Navy at least since his tenure as Chief of Naval Personnel, where told the 2008 Naval Postgraduate School graduating class that minorities will soon become the collective majority in the United States. He said that tapping into that talent is a strategic imperative, utilizing people who can do the job best regardless of race or gender.

Captain Franchetti is a surface warfare officer who joined in 1985, and as a result of opportunities that opened with the rescinding of combat exclusion laws for the Navy, was able to command both a destroyer (USS Ross DDG 71) and Destroyer Squadron 21, which is embarked on USS Stennis (CVN-74) and oversees 4 other DDGs.

Lt Flaherty is a helicopter pilot, who noted that she had it “easy” because of trailblazing of women like Captain Franchetti.

Seabee diver Lynn Rodriguez finished up the panel. Chief Rodriguez, one of only five female Underwater Construction Battalion (CB = Seabee. Get it?) divers has become the face of Navy diving as a result of her navy recruiting video above.

The video targets women, but her leadership is gender neutral. Although not the most senior woman Seabee Diver, that honor goes to Chief Warrant Officer Roseanne Oliveros, a 2010 inductee into the Woman Divers Hall of Fame, Lynn was recently honored with the Master Chief Anna Der-Vartanian Award for leadership by a servicemember whose ideals and dedication further the integration of women into the Navy. “She exemplifies everything the Navy is looking for in leaders,” says Capt. John W. Korka, her CO. “I’m proud to have the privilege to call myself her commanding officer.”

It’s important to note these women leaders. Research has shown that girls, especially, need role models. I recently returned from a speaking engagement at South Texas College for part of their Women’s History Month celebration. As a non-Hispanic military woman, I certainly did not “look” like many of the students, faculty, and members of the community to which I spoke, but I think that my message rings true regardless.

My presentation, “Breaking Through the Brass Ceiling: Women in the U.S. Armed Forces,” focused on women trailblazers such as the first woman flag and general officers in the military, the first women commanders of a ship and an aircraft squadron, and a look at the future for women in the military. I noted that there were not many women of color in this group, and I challenged the audience to “reach for the stars” through hard work and commitment to excellence.

The other thing I told them was to accept any opportunities that come their way and run with them. Most girls do not aspire to greatness, because they are taught to be nurturers, not fighters. But with role models and mentors, women can, and do, make a difference.

I myself have had my 15 minutes of fame as the first woman to command a Navy ship. Even though it was more than 20 years ago, it surprises me how many still find it an amazing feat, and are proud to hear me reflect on the experience. I still don’t feel special, but I just happened to be at the right place at the right time to make a difference. It just takes persistence and perseverance. That’s what Women’s History Month is telling today’s young: “If she can do it, so can I.” You go, girls!