BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
Airmen across Air Force Global Strike Command came together for the 2020 AFGSC Women’s Leadership Symposium Sept. 1-2, but instead of gathering at Barksdale like years past, attendees signed onto their computers to come together virtually.
The annual event, used to communicate the goal of supporting a diverse and inclusive force, had to change formats due to current COVID-19 regulations and guidance. Leaders across the Air Force spoke on numerous topics to the audience consisting of men and women of all ranks, experience and time in service.
“Every problem we solve, every challenge we come across as an institution and an organization, every promotion that’s tendered, every difficult conversation that has to happen comes back to one very essential word and that’s trust, said Gen. Timothy Ray, AFGSC commander in his opening remarks. “Trust has to be the foundational entering argument.”
“As you look at organizations where trust is low and standards are high, there is a great deal of anxiety. When trust is low and the standards are low, there's apathy,” he said. “When the trust is high and the standards are low, that's a comfort zone...but folks it's a powerful place when trust and standards are both high and that is a world class organization and that’s what we have to go with. I think it's important for us to step back and applaud the ability of our organization to have these difficult conversations; but, they’re most effective when they lead us to a place of trust.”
The three objectives of the 2020 WLS were:
- Enable interactive dialogue on resiliency and retention, with an emphasis on building teams that are innovative, diverse and inclusive
- Provide purposeful tools, resources and leadership for addressing women’s issues in the workplace
- Create new mentoring relationships and networking opportunities to further cultivate talent in our force
Keynote speakers for the symposium were Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass; Lt. Gen. Mary O’Brien, U.S. Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Cyber Effects Operations; Gwen DeFilippi, U.S. Air Force Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services and Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, Air Force Materiel Command Air Force Research Laboratory commander.
“This isn’t a luxury, this is a necessity. It’s important and it has to be done,” said Chief Master Sgt. Melvina Smith, 8th Air Force command chief. “This event builds momentum towards making us a greater Air Force. And when you have momentum, that's an opportunity to put your foot on the gas and not on the brakes; sometimes you have to go full afterburner. That’s what Air Force Global Strike Command has accomplished with this Women’s Leadership Symposium.”
These events allow large groups within the Air Force to have conversations that highlight the importance of diversity in leadership and how that can help further communicate current challenges that Airmen face.
“Events like this validate for some, and confirm for others that every Airman is important,” Smith said. “It presents a unified voice because our representation [as women] is small in numbers. Even though our representation may be small, it is equally important and it’s more powerful when it's presented from a unified perspective.”
The current global pandemic has created restrictions on large events and even caused some of them to be canceled, but the 2020 WLS committee did not want to add this event to the list of postponed gatherings.
“Our first concern was the health and safety of our Strikers. Bringing more than 300 people from across the globe to Barksdale seemed very risky,” said Maj. Kim Rigby, AFGSC A3/6 executive officer and 2020 WLS lead. “However, it was important to AFGSC leadership and to our team to bring the WLS to our Striker community. So we started to look for a work around.
“A lot of our solutions involved using virtual platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Facebook Live so we said ‘why not a virtual WLS?’,” Rigby said. “We knew we had an incredible lineup of speakers and topics planned for March and really wanted to share all their amazing messages.”
It took only but a few hours to hear back from the scheduled speakers confirming their willingness to participate in the newly formed event. However, the switch wasn’t simple.
“Everything changed... so it was really hard emotionally to go from the momentum we had two weeks prior to the live event to... nothing for months,” said Capt. Lindsay Cordero, chief of threats to the AFGSC Nuclear Command, Control and Communication Center and WLS co-lead. “Then we began to figure out how to make it happen virtually, which brought its own unique challenges and a lot of learning. We had completely different tasks for everyone to accomplish. We didn't even know what Zoom was until the pandemic hit in full force!”
This decision to take the WLS virtual not only allowed the event to continue, but bolstered its reach by tripling the WLS community and allowing more Airmen to participate. Each session brought together more than 300 people. It also granted the unique capability of allowing those who could not attend live to go back and watch the archived recordings.
As part of the Striker Culture, AFGSC leadership is working to promote a diverse and inclusive culture while reaching out to listen to the experiences and recommendations of their unit personnel. The belief is that open dialogue is the key to helping Airmen understand and support each other.
“It’s encouraging to be a part of an organization that values the content of my character and my talents,” Smith said. “It makes me proud to serve and be a part of an organization that is open minded, agile and innovative. It's refreshing to know that here in Air Force Global Strike Command, it's not only welcomed but encouraged.
“After 28 years of military service, it’s been my experience that the Air Force tends to be on the right side of history when unprecedented circumstances like this arise, whether it be a pandemic, diversity or civil unrest,” Smith added. “Our cultures evolve; our voices are heard, our representation is appreciated and our perspective is sought after and valued.”