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NEWS | March 31, 2022

NSWC Philadelphia Hosts LEADING UP! A Discussion Panel to Propel the Command Forward

By Jermaine Sullivan

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division celebrated Women’s History Month by curating a discussion panel titled "LEADING UP! The Influential Women of NSWCPD Who Propel the Command Forward with their Passion and Perseverance" on March 22, 2022.

Led by Branch Manager for Solid Waste and Hazardous Materials In Service Engineering Allyson Jones-Zaroff, who also chairs the Women’s Employee Resource Group, the panel included women of diverse age, ethnic, and occupational backgrounds, and sought to provide a space for all women of NSWCPD to share their experiences and knowledge with their colleagues.

“For this event we wanted to move towards leaders throughout the organization. Often we look to our chain of command and mangers as leaders, which they are, but we have leaders throughout the command. We need to make sure we are highlighting them and hearing from them,” Jones-Zaroff said.

The panelists included:

• Tania Teissonniere –Almodovar, a Lead Systems Engineer (LSE) for the Combat Support Systems branch

• Keirston Graves, branch head of Labor and Employee Relations (LER) branch.

• Crystal Roach, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints manager.

• Jacquelin Speck, the Cyber Vulnerability Assessment Tool (CVAST) Project Lead Systems Engineer (LSE)

• Sophia Frelke, a LSE for the LPD 17 class Engineering Control Systems

• Jamie Gates, the program manager of the DDG 51 Flight III Land Based Engineering Site (LBES)

• Chelsea Kpodi, the acting LSE for the Littoral Combat Ship class

During the event these panelists discussed topics on workplace challenges, work-life balance, empowering women, and more.

“What motivates me to persevere is that I now understand that every ‘no’ is not a ‘no’, it’s a ‘not now,’” Roach said in sharing a challenge she experienced when she was denied financial funding for her Associate’s degree. “I had to take out $2,170 from my bank account … I used that money to go ahead and pay for those classes myself because it meant that much to me. Later I would realize that would be the final money that I would spend on my education.”

Since then, Roach received three scholarships and obtained two Master’s degrees.

“When you truly believe what you’re doing, you maybe won’t take no for an answer. You’ll be driven to succeed despite obstacles or resistance you may encounter ... It’s really important to have tangible, actionable, metrics that you can measure,” Speck added. “By measuring where you started from you can see how much you have progressed.”

“I think we’re very fortunate to work in an organization with such a strong purpose. I know that has carried me through some rough days,” Jones-Zaroff said, reflecting on her personal experience.

In addition to discussing their challenges, panelists provided insights on their strategies to adapting a work-life balance.

“I have two children under the age of seven so work life balance can be very difficult … What I have found is planning, using your time wisely, and ensuring that you have a plan for the week … requirements change on a daily or weekly basis. It’s always something to juggle,” Graves said.

Frelke noted that she uses her vacation to take breaks from work.

“I ended up having to travel 100 days in 2020 and I think that highlights the need as a leader to ensure that you have a team that you can rely on … if you need to take some leave when you get back to deal with family stuff or just mental health breaks. It’s really important to build your team and support them in a way that they are self-sufficient,” Frelke said.

“I think it’s important to be self-aware and make sure you understand what your needs are in your life and the work environment. Definitely what Sophia (Frelke) just mentioned about relying on your team. Manage expectations and being able to communicate that to your supervisor and your team … You need to take care of yourself,” Teissonniere-Almodovar said.

“I love that … I think women get sucked into it more than men in some cases. In being everything to everyone,” Jones-Zaroff said as she was responding to Teissonniere-Almodovar, then added “work life balance looks different for everyone …We have mothers on the panel and we have non-mothers. We have aging parents.”

Panelists also discussed their tactics to effectively communicate with their team.

“A lot of times I have seen it can be very beneficial to set expectations. Communicate what the limitations are. Everyone has a different perspective. Everyone has a different boss that they are answering to or they have different goals and priorities for themselves,” Kpodi said. “So for me norms and practices may not work for other teams. Learning your team’s structure is very important. Secondly, providing transparency between management and staff produces a great working environment.”

Roach agreed, saying, “Understand that everybody’s communication style is very different. COVID took some people by surprise. Some people were easily able to adapt and others weren’t … In our office, we basically had a new office, I was the last woman standing … Understanding that there are people who really need information from you or need to get it to you.”

Gates followed Roach’s statement by highlighting the importance of collaboration within teams.
“I think [we should be] encouraging collaboration as opposed to communication inside a team …We really have to collaborate with each other, so you no longer have that one person that should know it all,” Gates said. “Sharing knowledge within teams can be difficult because of personalities; however, engineers that obtain more knowledge can be more productive for NSWCPD and the Navy as a whole.”

Panelists expressed the difficulty of becoming a respected leader without alienating people or causing them to be displeased. They also explained that having a transparent decision making process can provide reasoning into your decision making process.

“I think we should level realistic expectations. That’s a part of being a leader too. I understand that people get unhappy and you can’t satisfy everyone. We aren’t completely satisfied ourselves … Leaders are also human,” Teissonniere-Almodovar said. “Providing open dialogue can keep the employee in the loop of the section. Accepting that everyone can’t be happy in a particular situation is helpful as well.”

“Demonstrate that the decision you’ve made is the right one … It has objectively succeeded … I feel like women we are always nervous coming off like that. Men tend to not be nervous coming off kind of stern. If you’re nervous and as long as you’re confident in why you’re making the decision and why you’re communicating what you’re communicating I don’t think you can come off wrong,” Kpodi said. “Sometimes people focus more on the way someone says something rather than the intent. It’s also important to note that women might have to be stern to get the outcomes they desire.”