Commands selected more than 200 employees as catalysts for positive change. But everyone has a role in creating an inclusive and diverse workplace. That was one of the clear messages delivered by speakers and panelists at the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Warfare Centers’ third Leadership in a Diverse Environment Event (LDEE) Dec. 14-15.
The two-day event, “Unleashing the Power of Inclusion and Engagement through Intentional Leadership at All Levels,” featured remarks from Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro; Robert D. Hogue, Performing the Duties of Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs; and NAVSEA Commander Vice Adm. William Galinis and Executive Director Giao Phan.
“Culture” is one of the “Four C’s” Del Toro has outlined as strategic priorities, along with China, climate and COVID. “We will build and sustain a strong, diverse, and healthy force, ready at all times and focused on warfighting and leadership at every level,” he wrote in his strategic guidance for the Navy and Marine Corps. “We will treat every individual with respect; those who do not will not be tolerated within our ranks.”
Why is it important for an organization like the Warfare Centers, which develops, builds and maintains systems and subsystems for the Navy’s ships and submarines, to embrace diversity as part of its mission?
“Because the ships we build are manned by Sailors, Marines and civilians of many different backgrounds,” Del Toro told attendees. “To understand challenges from their perspective, you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes.”
Del Toro was one of the speakers who encouraged participants to not wait for someone else to make a difference.
“Set the example yourself,” he said.
Similarly, in his remarks opening the event, Warfare Centers Executive Director Dr. Brett Seidle, SES, encouraged attendees to “be the change you want to see, as opposed to waiting on others.”
“This kind of change doesn’t happen from the top,” he said. “It needs to happen at all levels of the organization.”
The Warfare Centers Strategic Plan highlights having the “right culture” – “inclusive, engaging and one in which we all excel together” – as one of the organization’s strategic goals, and lays out foundational values of honesty, integrity, unity, empowerment and service.
Recognizing the importance to reflect diversity across all levels of the workforce, Warfare Centers launched in 2017 the Leadership in a Diverse Environment initiative. The coronavirus pandemic halted plans for a third LDEE. However, in-person events were held in 2017 and 2018. Two virtual “teaser” events were held earlier this year as organizers worked toward the goal of being able to convene again in-person, but with COVID-19 restrictions increasing, the decision was made not to wait any longer and hold the event virtually.
The event was hosted and hosted by the LDEE cochampions, Naval Surface Warfare Center’s (NSWC) Carderock Division Commander Capt. Todd Hutchison was joined by Dr. Angie Lewis SES, the Technical Director of NSWC Crane Division. In addition to guest speakers – who also made the time to answer questions from the audience after their remarks – the event featured panel discussions and breakout sessions, tackling topics including “Multicultural Leadership,” “Listening for Empathy,” emotional intelligence, psychological safety, “Appreciative Leadership” and “Mastering Civility.” It also included a “lunch and learn” session featuring a video on “Courageous Leadership in Action: Looking through the LGBTQ+ Lens.”
Another theme that was prevalent throughout the event was the importance and respect for basic civility.
“We are in a real competition for talent,” Galinis said. “It’s important to build a culture where people feel what they do is valued, their opinion is valued, their experience is valued.”
“Each person is built a little bit differently,” Warfare Centers Commander Rear Adm. Kevin Byrne said, in response to a question after his opening remarks on the second day of the event. “But it is incumbent on us as shipmates, as teammates, that we can lean on each other during stressful times … and lift each other up.”
Participants were reminded by speakers that creating a welcoming and equitable environment requires effort. There will be mistakes along the way but the important thing to do is keep trying to improve.
To that end, Hutchison encouraged participants – who are charged with being “change agents” at their home commands – to stay engaged, check in regularly with each other, look back on their notes from the event, visit the LDEE resources site, and “make sure we stay just as fired up as we are right now.”
Lewis stated that LDEE participants will engage with their Division leadership. She and Hutchison also will be reporting to the Warfare Centers full leadership team, and will be developing focus areas and actions.
“We are not done with this effort,” she said. “This is a continuous, evolving journey and we need everyone engaged … so that collectively we foster the Warfare Centers culture of full diversity, equity, and inclusion.”