West Bethesda, Md. –
The Maritime Technology Information Center auditorium at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division was packed on March 1 for the 21st Century Workforce Leadership in a Diverse Environment Event (LDEE), hosted by Carderock’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility Employee Resource Group (IDEA ERG) chaired by Danielle Gerstner, Materials for Advanced Systems and Sensors Branch Head. In addition to the Carderock team, there were virtual attendees from the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Headquarters and all the NAVSEA Warfare Centers in greater Washington D.C.
The exciting all-day event delved into the themes of the multi-generational workforce, accessibility for the disabled, working in the new hybrid environment and enabling everyone in our workforce to feel safe to be themselves.
The crowd was in for a treat when keynote speaker Travis Mills bounded onto the stage on his prosthetic legs, gesturing with his prosthetic left hand and his right arm missing from the shoulder down. He is a retired 82nd Airborne Staff Sergeant who survived the impact of an Improved Explosive Device (IED) on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2012, but unfortunately, lost all his limbs. He immediately made the audience comfortable and had them nearly forgetting he was a quadruple amputee. Through his good-natured jokes and exuberance folks were swept up in his story of overcoming tremendous adversity and the joy he takes in living life to the fullest every day.
His message came across loud and clear - while you can’t change your circumstances, you can change your attitude.
“Life is easy for me,” he said. “Because life is about perspective.”
In September 2013, Travis and his wife Kelsey founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization, formed to benefit and assist post-9/11 veterans who have been injured in active duty or as a result of their service to our nation.
Former Denver Bronco running back, Reggie Rivers was the next guest speaker. He regaled the crowd with stories of how the game of football relates to life and leadership skills. He used his experiences getting tackled again and again as a metaphor for failing and getting back up again in the workplace.
“Go out and fail and learn from those experiences,” he said.
In his experience with head coach Mike Shanahan, he learned that a successful leader nurtures his team members. He listens and learns what motivates them.
“A good leader gives you things that help you grow, and you are drawn to them because you see a future in yourself,” he said. “This way you are recruiting people’s voluntary effort.”
After the speakers came the 21st Century Workforce leadership panel, comprised of some of the Navy’s top leaders, who discussed pressing diversity issues. The four panelists were: Dr. Brett Seidle, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation; Giao L. Phan, Executive Director, Naval Sea System Command; Rear Adm. Kevin P. Byrne, Commander, NAVSEA Warfare Centers; and Dr. Daramia T. Hinton, Associate Director for Strategic Programs and Policy, Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Services. Steve Ouimette, Carderock’s Deputy Technical Director moderated for the panel.
When asked about the challenges of working in a diverse environment, Seidle was the first to respond with an inspiring message.
“The human condition is the same,” Seidle said. “Everyone desires to be loved, needed and useful and wants to work for an organization that has a mission and a purpose. We want to be in an environment that welcomes our whole self every single day. We have to be very intentional about our workplace environment and culture regardless of the changing dynamics.”
The office philosophy has to agree with that to make it work.
“It’s about creating the right culture and the trust that goes along with that,” Byrne said. “We have to look at those different approaches and backgrounds and bring those forward. We have to embrace different backgrounds and different thoughts.”
What about the challenges of working in a multigenerational environment that spans five generations – from Traditionalists, born before 1945, all the way through to Gen Z – born as late as the early 2000s?
“In the first half of my career I was always the youngest specialist and the only black specialist among the group of labor and employee relations specialists in the civilian personnel office at every duty location I went to,” Hinton said, who started her career in her early 20s while she was a military spouse moving to 10 duty stations in 19 years. “That wasn’t okay then, but I didn’t take it as a negative … I was eager. Those more mature specialists took me under their wings and poured into me everything they had. But they also listened to me coming in with new and fresh eyes and new ideas I had about better ways we might be able to do things. Every voice matters, and every person should be valued.”
These thoughts were reiterated in the breakout session, “Thriving in a Multigenerational Workforce,” hosted by Lesley Gibson Boseman, EAP field consultant. She discussed the stereotypes and challenges of every generation as well as tips on how to work together.
“We must appreciate the differences and similarities,” she said. “We must share our knowledge and come to an agreement in order to achieve our goals successfully.
When the panel was asked about work/life balance everyone agreed that it is very important to maintain that balance.
“I’ve been that guy. Go home, have dinner with the family then open your computer,” Seidle said, adding that schedules two hours of "down time" in his calendar each day. "Control your workday – that’s how things get done.”
Work smarter not faster seemed to be the golden rule among the panelists.
“It’s not about the number of activities,” Phan said. “It’s about the result and outcome. Focus on what matters most. That will give you the most return on your investment.”
Another new situation in today’s workforce is the number of people teleworking. This was discussed in the breakout session “Teaming in a Hybrid Environment” hosted by Sue Rossi, of Carderock Division’s Labor and Employee Relations department.
“A sense of belonging is essential for success so that must be kept in mind when planning a hybrid environment,” Rossi said.
There were two other breakout sessions: Feeling Safe Everywhere, which focused on actionable allyship, providing proactive steps to support our shipmates, and Navigating the High-Grade Hiring Process.
At the end of a very fruitful day, Byrne gave his closing remarks by video.
“Many individuals make up our team,” he said. “War fighters count on us for solutions.”
Carderock’s Commanding Officer Capt. Todd E. Hutchison gave the closing remarks.
“I was significantly impacted by today’s event,” Hutchison said. “We must not only respect, but celebrate our diversity, we will be stronger to meet the needs of our warfighters.”