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NEWS | Feb. 15, 2024

Federal Women’s Program workshop teaches NUWC Division Newport employees how to find their power then advocate for others

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs

Retired U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Patti Tutalo visited Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport for the second time in 10 months to speak about “allyship” during an interactive workshop held on Jan. 24.

The presentation was hosted by the Federal Women’s Program, as was the case when Tutalo visited in March 2023.

Throughout the 90-minute workshop, which included short writing exercises and small group discussions, Tutalo taught the audience of about 25 employees how to discover their power and how that power relates to “allyship.”

“People often feel like they don’t have power,” Tutalo said. “That’s often because people focus on just one piece of the power, such as not being in leadership or not having a certain title or not being in the ‘in’ group. We’re going to try to find your power. Everybody has power. We need to find it, identify it, and then eventually we can use that power to advocate for others, which is the allyship portion.”

Tutalo described the moment when she felt a shift in her power while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, and eventually rising to the rank of commander.

“I was in my office repeating to myself, ‘leadership doesn’t get it,’” Tutalo said. “I kept blaming leadership until I finally told myself that if I don’t like what’s happening, figure out a way to make the change. That was the start of me thinking differently and the start of ‘allyship,’ even though I didn’t have a word for it at the time. I asked myself how I can work with people in my organization to get the change I want. If you get enough allies, eventually leadership will come around.”

Tutalo asked the audience to broaden their view of power by considering roles, skills and characteristics beyond one’s position in an organization. Some examples she gave were the power of having knowledge and expertise, the power of interpersonal and networking skills, the power to communicate well or influence others, the power of having self-confidence and resiliency, and the power of having access and control of resources, including finances.

Without discussing it with others, participants were requested to write down five types of power they have and indicate how that power shifts when at home, work, and in society.

In small groups, attendees were then welcome to share what they wrote down if they felt comfortable doing so. After brief discussions, Tutalo solicited a couple of examples from people for everyone in the room to hear. 

One participant shared that at work he’s held positions of authority in which he could get large groups of people to do what he wanted them to do, but at home he couldn’t get his toddler to go to bed on time.

Another participant said that when she’s at work, it’s about “asserting her power,” but at home, it becomes more about developing a sense of power in her 11-year-old daughter.

“That’s a powerful thing in itself, to draw out someone else’s power and instill that in a young girl,” Tutalo said.

After discussing different forms of power and how power can be exercised to benefit oneself or others, the conversation shifted to “allyship.”

“Having authentic conversations is a big deal when it comes to being a good ally,” Tutalo said. “To have authentic conversations, you must have a space where everybody feels like they can be who they are. We could do an entire workshop on enhancing psychological safety, but it’s really about everyone having a voice and everyone’s voice being welcomed.”

Once a safe setting is establish, Tutalo emphasized the importance of how people engage with one another.

Tutalo provided some tools for engaging others in difficult conversations in the workplace. 

“Empathy is everything,” Tutalo said. “Ask the right questions in the right tone, understand that the person might be coming from a different perspective, listen without being defensive, and be present with that person without making it about you.” 

When listening to someone as an ally in the workplace, Tutalo advised the audience to humbly acknowledge that you might not fully comprehend where someone is coming from. 

“We must acknowledge that we might not know their perspective,” Tutalo said. “Each and every one of you come to work with your baggage, with your family stuff, with your friend stuff, with your career stuff, traumas. We don’t know where everyone is coming from, so it’s important to go into every conversation remembering ‘I don’t know’ and they don’t have to tell you. Just recognize that there are times when someone may behave a certain way or do something a certain way and it has nothing to do with you.” 

Other tips Tutalo had for serving as an effective ally in the workplace were to take the time to prepare for a difficult conversation by asking trusted peers for advice or rehearsing what you think you may say, making sure you find an appropriate location, speaking in specifics, allow time for an exchange of questions and responses, and focus on the future by coming up with a positive suggestion to improve the situation.

When identifying someone who could serve as a good ally, some of Tutalo’s suggestions including joining an employee resource group, connecting with another team member, meeting people from other departments, finding a mentor, or looking for someone you have something in common with, such as a cause you care about or a shared hobby. 

The presentation resonated with Cassandra Tompkins, a systems engineer in Division Newport’s Undersea Warfare Combat Systems Department.  

“I have some allies at work, and their help and presence has made an important and positive impact to my life and my career,” Tompkins said. “During some of the most challenging moments in my career at NUWC Division Newport, I almost felt like I needed to leave, but the kindness and empowerment of an ally and mentor gave me the strength to persevere.”

Athena Turner, an analyst in the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department, also related to the topic of the presentation.

“I have allies at work who I feel comfortable reaching out to,” Turner said. “An ally is someone I can turn to for encouragement or clarity, depending on the situation. As people tend to focus on the negative, it can be difficult to be positive to yourself. Being an ally to others, and having allies, is valuable.”

Tutalo was introduced at the workshop by Jennifer Meyen, a human resources specialist in the Corporate Business Office.

“I enthusiastically volunteered to introduce Patti,” Meyen said. “I enjoyed what she said last year. As a member of the Federal Women’s Program, I appreciate that her message ties in with giving women a voice. To have allies at work creates an environment where others feel safe and heard.”

Matthew Souza, deputy director of Division Newport Equal Employment Opportunity Office, expressed how the workforce as a whole benefits from “allyship.”

“When individuals feel like they have allies, they are more willing to bring their full selves to the workplace,” Souza said. “This allows for the greatest diversity of thought and ability to produce the best results.”

A brief video from the workshop is available here:

NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.

Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site-  and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.