The challenges of balancing work and life demands, the importance of meaningful mentoring opportunities and the value of establishing a network of female role models were a few of the issues explored at the inaugural Shoalhaven and Fleet Air Arm Navy Women's Forum which was held at HMAS Albatross last week.
The Fleet Air Arm’s Lieutenant Julia Gibney RAN organised the forum with the aim of providing a supportive environment to discuss women's issues in the context of the Navy Women's Leadership Strategy.
Addressing the Forum, Commander Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Vince Di Pietro RAN said the program would support and promote the intent of New Generation Navy.
“The key message is that we have come a long way but there is a lot more to be done to achieve a truly diverse, inclusive, and flexible workforce. This forum will generate momentum and lead to more connection and interaction, discussion and support between the servicewomen, and public servants in our Fleet Air Arm and the broader Shoalhaven workforce.”
Guest speaker, HMAS Creswell Executive Officer, Commander Tish Van Stralen RAN said an important aspect of the event was the realisation that, regardless of rank and experience, women all share similar challenges in their careers.
“The forum gave us an opportunity to share our experiences and to have some of the younger and more junior females understand that through options like mentoring and networking we can assist each other in achieving career goals.
“Another important aspect of the networking opportunities provided by the forum is that they assist us to better understand the challenges we face, but more importantly to understand that these challenges are not insurmountable and as Defence members we can fully integrate into the work environment and still maintain our identities as women”.
As the senior female Aviation Engineer in the Fleet Air Arm, Commander Natasha Burney RAN was also invited to speak to the attendees about her experiences.
“Balancing career and family, especially since having my two daughters, and allowing myself to not always get it right, has probably been my biggest challenge”, she said.
“So activities like this forum have been a great way to learn from other people who are going through the same experiences, and to share my own lessons.
“Females joining the Navy today are fortunate that there are senior female mentors and role models who are available to support them throughout their careers; this hasn’t always been the case and whilst I’ve been privileged to have some strong male advocates throughout my career the opportunity to discuss issues with women, who generally have a different way of approaching situations, is invaluable.
“Even the seemingly most successful members of the workforce have had to overcome their own challenges, we need to celebrate our successes more and be more supportive of each other and the Navy will benefit from a more diverse workforce, increasing our recruitment pool at a time when we are seeking to substantially improve our capability. We all have a role to play in promoting workforce diversity.”
All agreed that the forum was a success. “I know those who attended found it very beneficial”, Natasha said. “It provided an avenue for them to identify women who are available to provide guidance when dealing with issues and to advise them on progressing their own careers.
“The forum is as much about the experiences we are able to share with other women, to help them on their journey, as it is about what we can personally take away.
“I believe that those of us who have been successful in our careers have a responsibility to assist other people, the more people we have at these forums the greater the flow-on benefits for everyone involved."
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