NEWS | April 12, 2021

Women Evolve Into Leadership Roles at NSWC Dahlgren Division

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Stephanie Hornbaker, Shellie Clift and Robin Lacy are reflective when they talk about the evolution of women in leadership roles at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD).

Women are leading in various capacities at Dahlgren, senior leadership positions include three of seven technical department heads, Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Clift, Senior Scientific Technical Manager (SSTM) for Warfare Systems Software S&T and Development Candaice Deloach, and Chief of Staff Terri Gray. Hornbaker is the Gun and Electric Weapon Systems Department head; Lacy is the Integrated Combat Systems Department head; and Shellie Clift is the Strategic and Computing Systems Department head. In early March, DeLoach joined Jennifer Clift, Hornbaker, Lacy and Shellie Clift as an SSTM.

The overall percentage of the technical department workforce is 73.74% male and 26.6% female as of January 31, 2021, with a 1% increase for females since Jan. 31, 2016, according to data provided by the NSWCDD Equal Employment Opportunity Office.

However, the number of women in leadership roles in department head, deputy department head, division head, and branch head positions across the seven technical departments has increased as follows from 2016 to 2021:

  • Department head: 16.67%  to 42.86% 
  • Deputy department head: 0% to 42.86%
  • Division head: 34.48% to 53.57%
  • Branch head: 26.83% to 35.25%

When discussing how women have evolved into leadership roles, Shellie Clift said, “I just think that’s incredible.”

Shellie Clift serves as the NSWCDD senior diversity champion for federal women’s programs.

“As the senior leader champion for federal women’s programs, I feel like we’ve put a concerted effort into it,” she said, noting Lean In Circles established in 2019 as one example that has helped grow women’s confidence to compete for jobs. 

“It is about making women aware that they’re capable,” she said.

She explained the importance of the women knowing the jobs were available and that it was unnecessary to meet every single criterion to apply.

“I just think it’s changed the dynamic and the conversation around women going after those jobs,” she said. “We did have some men participate and I think their input to the process and their support was invaluable.”

Shellie Clift was grateful to Lacy, Hornbaker, and other female leaders who participated and  took upon themselves the role of mentors.

“It was just bringing females together to talk about the obstacles they faced in the workforce and bringing men into those conversations … and making them aware of how females were feeling in the workforce,” she said. “I think it just raised awareness to females across the board because it gave them strategies for overcoming it and they knew they had a network of people that were there to help them overcome those obstacles.”

Hornbaker, who arrived to NSWCDD as a math technician in 1984 as part of a pre-co-op program prior to her freshmen year in college, has watched women evolve into leadership roles.

“When I started in 1984, there were not as many females here,” said Hornbaker. “It’s absolutely grown. For the first portion of my career, there were a lot of times where I was the only female in the meeting or the only female at an event.”

The environment was also different, noted Hornbaker.

“The environment at a shipyard is not necessarily the same as an environment where you’re in a college classroom with a mixture of half males and half females,” said Hornbaker. “I think the world has gotten a lot more conscious of how a negative environment impacts morale, productivity and team cohesiveness.”

Lacy highlighted her experience with studying engineering at Virginia Tech.

“I was one of a handful of female engineers in aerospace engineering,” she recalled.

She credits those ahead of her, such as her mother who was a tenured professor at Virginia Tech, as trailblazers.

“She was paving the way and she told me stories about some of her challenges and interactions,” she said.

However, Lacy’s experience was different from her mother’s.

“I had all of these people ahead of me who were doing the trailblazing, so it never occurred to me that I couldn’t or that I shouldn’t pursue something like aerospace engineering or a technical field,” said Lacy.

Today, women continue to progress in technical fields.

There are fewer female mechanical engineers than males graduating. However, it’s different in computer science and math, business fields, or other areas, according to Hornbaker.

Regardless of the numbers, it’s about inclusion – not diversity, according to Shellie Clift.

“It’s not about what you have. It’s about what you do with what you have,” Shellie Clift said. “It isn’t about the numbers, the diversity numbers. It’s about the environment that we have and how we capitalize or benefit from those numbers. If we don’t have an inclusive environment then it doesn’t matter how diverse we are.”

Clift, Lacy, and Hornbaker agree it takes a team of women and men to accomplish the mission.

“It’s a whole village mentality. Nobody does it by themselves,” said Lacy. “There’s a phenomenal team that is leading this organization. We work together. We’re mutually supportive and working toward a common goal.”

As the data demonstrates evolution at NSWCDD, it may boil down to one conclusion, according to Hornbaker: “The world has changed.”

Just as Dahlgren has evolved in 10 years, it will continue to do so.

“Dahlgren was a proving ground for testing and the first place that was using super computers,” Hornbaker said. “Now, we put lasers on ships.”

Continuing to learn.

As employees do, they will continue to step into leadership positions. As Dahlgren does, it will continue to be a leader in warfare systems development and integration for the Navy.

“We don’t want to be doing the exact same thing we were doing five years ago, 10 years ago – today. That’s part of our heritage and what we need to continue to push,” said Hornbaker.

Above all, it’s about supporting the warfighter.

“The fact that we support the warfighter is what keeps me going. Our job is to bring the Sailors home safely and their job is to protect us and protect our freedoms,” said Shellie Clift. “That’s what keeps me motivated to do what I do.”