The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the Joint Force Headquarters — DOD Information Networks (JFHQ-DODIN) recognized Women’s History Month with a panel discussion featuring female leaders from both organizations.
The panel included women of diverse experiences and backgrounds, and was moderated by Chandra Vickers, director of DISA’s Office of Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion.
DISA’s vice director, Air Force Maj Gen Sarah Zabel, started the discussion, which focused on career development and women in leadership roles, by sharing her definition of leadership.
“Leadership is presenting a vision and seeing something that is not there but could be,” she said. “It is also about inspiring, motivating, and enabling your people to go in the direction you are leading them to.”
“I believe that a self-aware leader is an effective leader,” said Katrina Brisbon, DISA’s vice procurement services executive and vice chief of the Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization.
She explained that there are many tools available to help individuals gain self-awareness and to better understand others, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
“[Being self-aware] facilitates better working relationships simply because you began to understand your own tendencies as well as the gifts that others bring to the team,” she said.
Dr. Cynthia Islin, chief of the Workforce Development Division in DISA’s Resource Management Center, said her team is working to bring a 360 feedback tool into the agency. The tool would help employees gain self-awareness by receiving confidential, anonymous feedback from their managers, peers, and direct reports. The tool would allow employees to focus on development areas and track their growth over time.
Islin also recommended that individuals participate in DISA’s formal Mentoring Program, through which people can select a mentor of their choice based on similar backgrounds, desired career path, or other attributes.
“You should select a mentor that has similar life experiences and that can relate to your experiences, and also one who will be honest with you,” said Idalia Rodriguez, chief of the agency’s Facilities, Engineering, and Installation Services Branch.
Army Colonel Maria A. Biank, director of operations for the JFHQ-DODIN, pointed out that being self-aware can sometimes be limiting.
“When we become aware of our own weaknesses, it sometimes puts us in a situation where we won’t lean forward and make ourselves available to take on more complex projects or to be the spokesperson or stakeholder for a specific initiative,” she said. She urged attendees to take risks in order to grow professionally.
Melisa Simpson, a computer scientist in the Joint Interoperability Test Command, agreed that taking risks and doing things that make you uncomfortable are the surest ways to learn more about yourself and to expand your horizons.
Simpson said she looks to other female colleagues for motivation and inspiration.
“When I do see women in higher-up positions, I take notice and I stand a little taller,” she said. “It makes me want to support that woman and what she is doing and I find that other women want to support me as well.”