A few weeks ago, I had the honor of attending the Coast Guard’s 2016 Bay Area Women’s Leadership Symposium. Celebrating its fourth year, the Symposium focuses on improving the female experience in the Coast Guard through education, career development, networking, and mentoring opportunities. The itinerary included keynote speaker Captain (retired) Andrea Marcille, two panels on seizing opportunities to lead and how to find success after your service, as well as lunch with small group discussions. There was a record number of 200 Coast Guard members in attendance.
Like much of corporate America, the Coast Guard faces a skewed ratio of men to women enlisted, especially in the upper ranks of the organization. The Symposium is their way of acknowledging this disparity and providing a positive space for female members to share their experiences and ideas for future improvement.
To begin the programming, Vice Admiral Charles W. Ray provided opening remarks on how important this issue is within the Coast Guard. He noted that while 20 years ago this “was a tough place to be as a young woman,” he also acknowledged that “we’re not there yet” and that it is critical “to come together to make the Coast Guard more representative.”
Next up, keynote speaker Capt. Andrea Marcille spoke to how she was able to find balance within her career in service as a woman and the everyday actions she took to help herself succeed. She challenged all the women in the audience to “live a life by design as opposed to default,” and to “be your best advocate” when shaping your career even when that sometimes means saying no.
Sitting in the audience as a mere civilian, I was struck by how much her words resonated with me! I have 100% been in the position where I felt like I couldn’t say no, even though I should have for my own work-life balance. Her final point, which I loved, was “there’s no comfort in the growth zone, and there’s no growth in the comfort zone.” You go, girl!
The following two panels allowed for some great sharing of personal experience from both men and women in the upper ranks of the Coast Guard. They answered questions about how they became leaders, what it means to be a leader, and how to succeed when your enlistment ends.
A favorite anecdote that Special Agent Kristin Lindsay (pictured below, on the far right) shared was, “Be you! Bring what you have to the table,” because when “you play to the strengths in your leadership box” you will become a powerful team member that people will want to follow.
Between the panels, I had the opportunity to speak with a few young women about their decisions to join the Coast Guard. I also asked them for their advice to Metiza girls on how to find success as women in a male dominated field. And I have to say, I learned so much!
When I was applying for college, it never occurred to me to look at a military academy. After hearing these women’s stories, I wish that I had. How cool would it be to travel the world for work or save lives everyday or have your college degree paid for by the government? The Coast Guard can give you all three!
Here are their words of wisdom:
Lieutenant Junior Grade Breanna Hite –
Why the CG: I grew up sailing and wanted to find a career on the water. I was attracted specifically to the Coast Guard due to its humanitarian mission. I get to actually save lives everyday! I attended the Academy and have been serving for three years now, though I am considering going back to graduate school.
Advice for Metiza girls: No matter what you choose for your career path, make it a positive experience for you. Find your voice and stand up for yourself. Be comfortable advocating for yourself!
Lieutenant Hillary Adams –
Why the CG: You know that show Deadliest Catch? I remember watching it when I was in high school and thinking I want an adventure like that. I joined the Coast Guard as a way to pursue that sense of curiosity. The best thing I’ve gotten out of the Coast Guard by far is the travel experience!
Advice for Metiza girls: My advice would be that I wish my 17 year old self realized that when you are thinking about joining an organization with a long commitment you have to be mindful. You’re reputation will proceed you, so make sure to put in your all from the beginning.
Petty Office 3rd Class Lydia Greenfield –
Why the CG: I joined the Coast Guard because my husband was stationed in Atlanta and there was a boot-camp near our home. I decided I wanted to enlist myself since I loved the idea of serving my country while being a part of small organization focused on saving lives as opposed to taking them.
Advice for Metiza girls: I would say that female mentors are huge, I cannot stress that enough. No matter the good or bad days, they will be there to help steer you towards success.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Catherine Walker –
Why the CG: I decided to join the Coast Guard because my dad was in the Marines, so I was familiar with the benefits of going into military service. I also knew I wanted to become an engineer and I really enjoyed the engineering project I completed for the Academy’s introduction mission. I love that the Coast Guard allows me to both serve and become an engineer.
Advice for Metiza girls: My advice would be to stand up and set goals for yourself. Once you know what those goals are, make sure to communicate that with your boss. It’s important to also let them know why what you want is what you want. Saying your goals out load will help you achieve them!
Corporal Roxana Pilot –
Why the CG: I actually first served in the Marines, enlisting right after high school, as a way to pay for college down the line. After 6 years of active duty, I decided to go back to school on the GI Bill for my Bachelors in biology. After I got my degree, I wanted to go back into service and chose the Coast Guard due to my area of study.
Advice for Metiza girls: I wish I had gotten my degree while I was training for my military service. The Academy is such a great option since you walk away with your diploma as well as your enlistment. That degree will serve you no matter what you do after service.
Cover photo via the Coast Guard, article images by Petty Officer 2nd Class Barry Bena.
Also published on Medium.