In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) Women’s Employee Resource Group (WERG) sponsored a virtual Women’s Career Panel on March 11.
With 80+ attendees tuned in, the WERG career panel sought to provide advice that would benefit anyone seeking to advance both professionally and personally.
The event theme was “The First, But Not The Last,” which echoed the country’s first female Vice President Kamala Harris, who said those words during her victory speech in Wilmington, DE in November 2020. A group of accomplished women from NSWCPD in leadership roles across many departments comprised the panel:
• Susan Carter: Sail, Hull & Deck Machinery Systems Division Head
• Karen Dunlevy Miller: Propulsion, Power & Auxiliary Machinery Systems Department Head
• Diane Fricker: Ship Fuels and Lubricants Engineering Manager
• Adanne Nduaka: Program Manager, DDG 51 Class SCN Machinery Control Systems
• Alicia Sasso: Machinery Research, Logistics & Ship Integrity Deputy Department Head
• Andrea Vigliotti: NSWCPD SEA 21 Portfolio Manager
• Colleen Westenberger: Ship Controls DDG-51 Class Branch Head
After welcome remarks provided by WERG sponsor and Machinery Research, Logistics and Ship Integrity Department Head Dawn Ware, the panel session host Allyson Jones-Zaroff, NSWCPD WERG Chair, facilitated a variety of career-related questions among the panel who shared insights based upon decades of experience.
Over the 90-minute session, panel members doled out an abundance of advice on topics including career progression, mentorship, navigating indirect career paths, supporting each other, and more.
When speaking about how women should support one another, Dunlevy Miller said, “Be proactive. Don’t wait for people to reach out to you. Reach out to women who are taking risks, offer guidance and lessons learned. Encourage women to take the lead. Be accessible to others. Take personal risks. Push yourself to bridge your gaps. Be collaborative, a guide, and a sounding board.”
Fricker added, “Find another female and amplify each other and support each other. Now there’s strength in numbers. Now someone who maybe would not have spoken up feels a little stronger, because they know someone has their back and will support them.”
Theresa Steck, Corporate Operations Department Head with many years of experience as an engineer in both the technical and business competencies, provided advice as well, saying, “Nothing is impossible. My mother was a working woman well beyond her time, and she always told me ‘Nothing is impossible if you try.’ The self-doubt and the apologies, while part of human nature for many women, you have to put that in the back of your brain and move forward to accomplish the impossible. The Navy has very much progressed since my early years in my career.
Females are now in leadership positions. Take a look at our organizational chart. Count how many females and others of diversity are there in leadership positions and achieve high-grade status as the Navy’s expert in critical technologies. Also, focus on acquiring multiple mentors both at work and in your personal life. Collectively, they provide a more holistic perspective in your decision-making of next steps for your career.”
The subject of mentorship brought about much discussion about how it has helped panel members’ careers.
“Throughout my career I’ve always had a mentor,” said Sasso. “When you’re a young engineer in the tech code, your mentor is the GS-13 that you will replace when they retire. My team lead in the tech code was a mentor to me for a long time, he is now a division manager (in Code 50), and I’m still in touch with him when I have questions or need career advice.”
“There is a lot of peer mentorship around me too. If I notice that someone is struggling in their job, I try to hook them up with a mentor or someone who can help,” she continued “I want to stress the importance of peer-to-peer mentorship. We really help each other navigate our jobs and our personal lives. Having someone to talk to is really important. I also have two SES (Senior Executive Service) mentors, and they provide a holistic view of why things happen the way they do, things that we don’t always notice at the working level.”
Nduaka added, “Mentoring also includes knowing people who know different things and how to move forward. When I transition from an ISEA (In-Service Engineering Agent) in the tech code to program management, I had to learn the financial aspect as well. I found a colleague who has expertise in that and literally moved into her cube as she taught me the financial side for our projects. If you need help, find a knowledgeable person to ask questions.”
When discussing indirect career paths – ones where you don’t always progress in the ordained order and timeline -- Carter shared her wisdom.
“There’s not a defined path. You will naturally gravitate to the fields you’re interested in. For me, not growing up in a technical code was a little unusual. I worked in the carrier office,” she said. “But you’re always learning to take the next position. I did the smallest jobs to all the way up. Personnel are changing and you need to be learning more. How are you navigating those changes and are you ready? Are you ready to do something totally different?
Carter continued, “Next step of my career was learning about contracts. I knew they were important, and to be a good ISEA (In-Service Engineering Agent), they needed to be one of the tools in your bucket, but I didn’t know a lot about how they worked. I reached out to two knowledgeable contract reps, learned about what they do, and did a lot of homework before applying for a new position.”
NSWCPD employs approximately 2,700 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel. The NSWCPD team does the research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service and logistics engineering for the non-nuclear machinery, ship machinery systems, and related equipment and material for Navy surface ships and submarines. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.