NEWS | Sept. 14, 2021

NSWCPD’s Many Voices Initiative Spurs Difficult Conversations

By Brentan Debysingh

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) officially kicked off its Many Voices initiative this past spring to improve the organization’s work environment.

Led by NSWCPD Deputy Director EEO Robert Turner, NSWCPD’s Many Voices is an initiative based upon the 2020 “Many Voices—One NAVSEA - A NAVSEA Forum: Candid conversations on diversity, equity and inclusion”, a response to an annual command climate survey and focus groups constructed to improve the work environment. The program is designed to create conversations around racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion in employees’ professional and personal lives.

The six-month Many Voices pilot program that began in May, consists of six different groups of 12-15 NSWCPD employees meeting for 90 minutes each month and engaging in lively exchanges about difficult subjects. Each session is facilitated by Vitruvian Worldwide LLC, with discussion topics including:

Session 1: Inclusive Diversity
Session 2: Unconscious Bias, Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology and Leadership
Session 3: Psychological Safety and Creating Inclusive Zones
Session 4: Meaningful Conversations
Session 5: Building Trust, Leading Teams, Driving Results
Session 6: Capstone – Strategic Recommendations

The Kickoff

During the program kickoff on April 14, 2021, NSWCPD Technical Director Tom Perotti and NSWCPD Commanding Officer Capt. Dana Simon opened with supportive remarks.

“Our Philadelphia Division strategic plan is based upon the guiding principles of honor, integrity, commitment, service and communication,” said Perotti. “As coworkers, civil servants and military alike, we are accountable to one another for these principles. Our first strategic priority is our commitment to empower and to equip an inclusive and talented workforce that continuously learns. This Many Voices initiative supports just that, as it seeks to strengthen our relationships, among workforce and leadership alike through sharing experiences and learning from one another.”

Perotti continued, “Our Nation’s history is one that includes inequality, racism and social injustices. But our history does not define our future. We do. Today we take another step in our journey to respect, understand, value and to listen to one another and create tomorrow’s history together as one team.”

Capt. Simon’s comments mentioned current and previous societal situations, as well as the role Many Voices program can play in alleviating them.

“While I’d like to think we live in a world where our differences and outward appearances don’t separate us as a society, the events of the past year have proved me wrong,” said Simon. “And while I’d like to think that toxic behavior like racism and sexism don’t exist in our society, some events of the past year have proven me wrong. We can choose to wear blinders to shield the inequality that exists today, or we can choose to admit they exist, openly share our experiences and work to build an inclusive environment where we value our unique characteristics.

Simon added, “Our Many Voices campaign is designed to do just that. Today we begin that journey. These conversations that we will have today are not easy conversations. They are difficult, but they are necessary. We need candid and honest communication if we want to build a more inclusive environment for everyone. Again, these conversations are difficult, emotional and very personal. But we start the dialogue today.”

With four of the six scheduled sessions completed, participants are actively working on Capstone presentations containing recommendations to improve the workplace environment that will be shared with NSWCPD leadership.

Reaction

Participants in the NSWCPD Many Voices Initiative shared their feedback after partaking in the sessions thus far.

NSWCPD Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) In-Service/Modernization Program Manager/Customer Advocate Dimple Amleshvarwala-Thaker participated in the NSWCPD Lean In Initiatives in 2018-19, and when she saw the NSWCPD Many Voices Initiative email knew “right away that I wanted to be part of that body of change.”

She added, “The NSWCPD Many Voices initiative has affected me in an extremely positive way. I am loving the fact that I can be part of something so big backed by extensive research as well as our leadership. Additionally, this has given me the opportunity to also network with my group members comprised of management, engineers, etc. I am hoping this initiative will enable me to become a better Program Manager to my direct teammates as well as adjacent teams.”

“I have found the NSWCPD Many Voices Forum to be very welcoming, and inclusive, but also a powerful vehicle to pause and have the deeper conversations on many challenging and pertinent topics,” said Compatibility Test Facility (CTF) Division Head Matthew Malham. “The most important part has been to widen my understanding and hear the different perspectives of the challenges, roadblocks, and frustrations other employees face. The best way to understand each other’s perspectives is to simply listen to each other. I have found our small group cohort has started to develop some familiarity and camaraderie over time and this has been beneficial to make team members more comfortable to candidly open up to each other.”

Both Amleshvarwala-Thaker and Malham recommend the NSWCPD Many Voices Initiatives to their co-workers.

“First, it is a tremendous opportunity to actively challenge yourself to see things from other’s perspectives by listening to their experiences and viewpoints,” said Malham. “Second, it is an excellent opportunity to network with a broad cross-section of co-workers who you might not normally interface with on a day-to-day basis. You will be able to meet and make allies with other altruistic co-workers who want to make NSWCPD a supportive place to thrive professionally.”

“I recommend everyone to participate in any future NSWCPD Many Voices Initiative sessions,” added Amleshvarwala-Thaker. “As a matter of fact, I believe this can be something mandatory similar to other annual training sessions and valuable to growth of our employees.”

With each session Turner has noticed that progress is happening, saying, “The process is slowly opening up the attendees to think outside of their comfort zones and see things from a different perspective through asking clean questions.”

“The program has been well received and well attended with minimal technical issues in a virtual environment. The Many Voices initiative shows the command’s acceptance of inclusivity, and they are implementing the actions needed to create the environment of the future. The plan is to make the Many Voices Initiative the foundation of diversity and inclusion here at NSWCPD,” added Turner.

Looking ahead, the second rotation of the NSWCPD Many Voices Initiative is scheduled for the beginning of 2022 and will cover the same material as the first rotation.

“The command is committed to creating an inclusive environment and the Many Voices initiative is the chosen path to inclusivity,” said Turner.