“Engaging”, “thought provoking”, “inspirational”. This was some of the feedback provided by the Navy and Defence civilian personnel, both male and female, who attended the second Shoalhaven and Fleet Air Arm Navy Women’s Forum.
The Forum coordinator, Lieutenant Julia Gibney, devised a program for the forum that featured Lieutenant Colonel Brad Orchard from the Australian Defence Force Review into the Treatment of Women and commercial pilot Tracy Lamb as guest speakers.
Lieutenant Colonel Orchard shared insights and information on recent workshops, which had been held to dispel myths about women in the Australian Defence Force. Many who attended the forum as participants were very keen to share their own thoughts and experiences with him.
Tracy Lamb’s story of how she pursued and achieved her dream of a career in aviation was a master class in overcoming adversity. As a result of a horrific car accident, Tracy was confined to a wheelchair for 18 months. During this time she separated from her husband and was left as a single mother of an infant son. A friend’s attempt at cheering her up by taking her flying in a Cessna 172 worked even better than planned. After the flight Tracy sold her engagement ring to pay for flying lessons and within six months she had her pilots licence.
“Flying changed my life”, Tracy said. “I saw the bigger picture, I saw the world in a different way,” she said.
Nineteen years later, Tracey is a First Officer for Virgin Australia, a Senior Flight Instructor with Multi-engine Training Approval, has a Masters Degree in Aviation and Business Management and is currently undertaking Doctoral research at RMIT on working with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
One of the key aims of the forums is establishing networks. Tracy spoke about the importance of mentors in her own career.
“I had some great role models in the Australian Women’s Pilots Association and seeing how they achieved their dreams really fuelled me on,” she said.
“Everything we do to make cultural change in the workplace makes that workplace better for our daughters and for younger women. Every little thing you do, just one step at a time, reaching out above and below you makes progress and I strive to take those little steps every day,” Tracy told the Fleet Air Arm personnel who attended the forum.
Lieutenant Gibney said that both men and women had been encouraged to attend the forum.
“These forums are designed for anyone who feels that they would benefit from these mentoring opportunities or who can provide support and assistance. Male colleagues can play a pivotal role in mentoring opportunities and there are also some men out there that could also gain from developing further support networks due to their children’s or spouse’s career aspirations,” Lieutenant Gibney said.
“It’s also important for women in the workplace to know that, in dealing with the challenges people face, if they think the problems are too large or that they are alone, they have support, not just from other women, but from their managers & commanders as well,” she said.
The success of the day was very obvious from the feedback received from many of those attending.
Able Seaman Clare Wheatley described the forum as “awesome”.
“It was really nice to be able to just mingle with other women on base and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Tracy talk about her journey. That was definitely a massive highlight!” she said.
Mrs Jen Leahy of 816 Squadron said she found the forum empowering.
“There are so many interesting people out there that can truly inspire us to reach for the stars. Hearing Tracy’s story has really encouraged me to go that one step further in life. I’m not sure which path I will follow, but I will definitely give it my best shot,” she said.
Sub Lieutenant Ash Wing said he found the debunking of the myths surrounding the Rizzo Reform very informative.
“I believe that the main value of these forums lies in the equilateral communication between ranks, rates and professions,” he added. “Males and females of all backgrounds are given the chance to voice an honest opinion. I’m already looking forward to the next one,” Sub Lieutenant Wing said.
The next forum will be held in mid-October and Lieutenant Gibney promises there will be “even more interaction and involvement.”