The spark….

We sat by her pool, my girlfriend and I, comparing story after story of what we had experienced in our careers as my 4 year old son belly flopped repeatedly from her diving board.  Two female military pilots with over 15 years of flying a piece under each of our belts, realizing we had almost the same experiences in our careers in isolated worlds. It was surreal. We had never met before this assignment but we had received the same kind of treatment in our past and reacted in many of the same ways to it. We started to think “how many other women have gone through or are going through what we have experienced ourselves?”. How do we find them and get them to share?

 Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered all the women she had met that pushed her to do more because “they didn’t have the same opportunity”.  We realized in that moment that we had to do more to create more opportunity for even more women.  More more more. Why is the AF still hovering at 20% women? Why are there only 713 women pilots in our service?  What are the obstacles? Why did we stay and others didn’t? How do we make a difference?

So we created The Milieux Project. A place we envision that creates comraderie, empowerment, inspiration and encouragement for all in the human experience.   We invite anyone to write about their experience as a minority or with minorities in career fields that need more of us. We seek the milieux we can affect to inspire and encourage others. To be the change.  We hope you join us!

Valerie Andre: le General helicopter pilot

A little known piece of history is that one of the earliest proponents of modern day helicopter rescue and medical evacuation is credited to le General Valerie Andre, a French doctor and highly decorated helicopter pilot.


le General Valerie Andre began her career in 1948, entering the service as a pilot, parachutist and army surgeon.  During her service, she connected the utility of a vertical lift platform to urgent medical care.  In 1951, she piloted an aircraft during a conflict in Vietnam to pick up casualties in urgent need of care. She is credited with 165 more sorties in that conflict and a total of 365 combat missions in Algeria and other nations and was promoted to general in 1981 for her actions and service.

Thanks to pioneers such as le General Andre, we have modern combat casualty evacuation and combat search and rescue.  While le General never earned a pilot certificate, she has over 4000 hrs in helicopters and 7 citations of the croix de guerre.

Watch her flying here– what an incredibly courageous and visionary leader.

Khutulun: It’s normal to be a badass girl

One of the challenges of our modern western milieu is the implicit bias that, despite numerous examples otherwise, steers us into believing women are somehow not athletic or strong, competitive or political.  Laypersons make sweeping generalizations about women (uhhhh…. Google guy James Damore), and through confirmation bias, deceive themselves into thinking they are righteous or right in their characterization of us.  These generalizations limit young girls and women, intentionally or unintentionally stovepiping our youth into thinking they are not what they could be.  Being encouraged to “get along with others” further cements these limiting characterizations on those girls who might otherwise have tried to strike out on their own.  Its time for that to change.

In  the first of a series of badass girls of history, I would like to introduce, Khutulun, Mongolian Princess.

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Princess Khutulun was born to Kaidu, decendent of Ghengis Khan, and most powerful ruler in central Asia in the second century.  She had 14 brothers, was undefeated in Mongolian wrestling, accumulating 10000 horses in wagers otherwise, and grew up to be her father’s trusted right hand general in battle.  In his travel journals, Marco Polo marveled at Khutulun’s beauty, strength and athleticism.  He chronicled one of Khutulun’s favorite tactics in war; riding her horse hard toward her enemy and “plucking” a soldier from the battlefield like a hawk and laying his dismembered body proudly in front of her father.  I’m sure old google guy would crack under the anxiety of possibly being the victim of her assault.

This is truly an example of nurture over what some presume to be nature.  There is only one chromosome difference between men and women.  All fetuses are women until the genetic code of that chromosome is activated.  Let us not forget that no one of us is inferior to the other.  We are all equal, capable and have the potential to be badasses of our own right.  With the right mixture of support, opportunity and encouragement, we could tap into a whole power we did not allow ourselves to imagine existed.  Sure, not everyone is fit to be a certain ideal, but Khutulun is just one example of many that broke the mold.  I can’t wait to share more with you.

khutalun

 

It’s not “too”

Sheryl Sandburg, author of Lean In, has been a great advocate for women’s empowerment and equality but there is just one small thing that is off about her message. It’s not that girls should be taught they can be “great leaders, too” but that that they have amazing talents and they need to take risks.


This is her message, that girls should be taught to be great leaders, too, in her newest article in Fortune Magazine

There should no longer be comparison or measuring one gender against the other. One gender doesn’t have the market cornered in the art of leadership- even though we have been taught that they have.  Both genders are capable of amazing things.  We just have to encourage everyone- men and women- to be our best. 

Girls should be encouraged to lead.  Period.

#instagramstories #ff #girlsinc #leanin

Because I’m a girl

Everyday our achievements can be diminished by our peers by the simple phrase “you achieved that because you are a girl/woman” or “management/instructors/the boss goes easy on you because you are a girl/woman” or “that was great for a woman”.

Who knows why they say it- but let’s remind ourselves why we keep doing it… 

Because I’m a girl

#girlsinc #diversity #bethechange 

“Up, Down and from all sides”

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In 2015, at about the same time that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg made the above statement about the best number of women on the Supreme Court in an interview, Air Force Secretary Deborah James began her Diversity and Inclusion Initiative; a call for all MAJCOMs (Major Commands) to participate in a week long discussion on diversity and barriers to diversity in the AF.

This was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I was at HQ staff, the only female aviator among 5 male generals, and I was in the room as our commander, Gen Hawk Carlisle, began discussing it with his staff. What a surreal moment. I wish I had read Justice Ginsburg’s quote before the discussion, because after we broke from that meeting, mind numbing analysis of numbers and percentages of women vs men in every career field in every year and every circumstance subsequently ensued unbridled among his staff and I was caught up in the flurry. I wish I had her perspective- that we will not really achieve true diversity until we have all women or all minorities as the majority (and therefore reducing how taboo the idea of women in the military is)- I would not have wasted so much time analyzing statistics as I would have focused on simply increasing the numbers because 20% is still not enough.

After I participated in our whirlwind of panels, and after the intense momentum for diversity waned, a coworker asked me to talk to him more about my thoughts on how to tackle diversity.  This wasn’t just any coworker, this was Gen T. Michael Moseley’s son, Col Greg Moseley, a great American and aviator whom I respect and admire, and someone I believe will one day have enterprise wide effects on the Air Force. He asked me how I thought the AF should increase diversity, I was flattered and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give him my thoughts.

He asked if I thought we should use a top down or bottom up approach to recruit more women? And, thinking of Justice Ginburg’s quote, I said “we should use a bottom up, top down and from all the sides, any way you can squeeze new thinkers in kind of approach”

Of course he thought I was joking, but I wasn’t. I was serious. Why not put a whole lot of women all over the ranks to diversify how we think?

Later, a brand new Lt that I had worked with as a Staff Sergeant said she was asked a similar question at a panel our A1 (personnel branch) held. When she was asked what approach the AF should take when it came to recruiting women, she told me she said “we have to select the best of the best women because we don’t want to fail”.

I laughed and asked why? Why do we as women put so much pressure on ourselves not to fail? It’s like we all think being a woman is a handicap.

In a half joking way I said, “let’s get em all in, who cares? Our recruiters accept males of all creed, efficacy level and competency, along with the best of the best men, why should we limit the women we accept arbitrarily because we are some minority?  She was taken aback, I challenged the status quo and I don’t think she was ready for it : )  but my point was made.

We will never know the barriers women face in the military if we keep choosing women that are strong and resilient and over achievers. These are the women who are willing to push through unequal treatment, bad jokes, and road blocks to meet their goals. They graduate at the top of their classes and far outperform their male peers and the public is surprised and impressed. But we never accept or understand that the institution chose women who will not fail. These women hardly complain- because they are the best of the best and they know they cannot fail.

The women who stay and “tough it out” eventually burn out though. We need women who will fail and fail hard, but not just from the bottom up but from the side and at the top so it becomes less scandalous, less sensational, more realistic, and more acceptable to actually analyze the institutional issues instead of scrutinizing the women who are trying not to fail.

This is what was great about Shannon Faulkner’s fight to enter (and later quit) the Citadel in 1993. Sometimes it is okay to fail in order to bring attention to milieux that are not accepting to minorities.  And attention did follow Ms. Faulkner’s case, the Citadel was forced to truly reckon with its discrimination policies.  I dislike how much society made her a scapegoat, but her decision to quit changed history.

etick_santini14_412 Faulkner

I think about the pressure women feel to be perfect and not fail with every female Airman I meet. Do I bond with them, do I champion for them, do I provide not only a role model but also an advocate for them?  Am I creating the environment that makes them feel like we are a team and accept them as my sisters?  Admittedly, I pretty much come short every time.  But as I work toward improving myself, I work towards growing out of the minority group think and into the majority, not only in my workplace but in my perspective. I think that, once we grow out of the minority mindset and accept that we will one day be the majority, our perceived barriers will tumble down and Judge Ginsburg’s idea will become reality.  And as I share my message, I realize more and more each day that I am not alone in this vision.

 

#ruthbaderginsburg #diversity #citadel #sistersinservice #she #leadership #disruption #serviceacademies #femaleaviator

The majority often misunderstand their biases

Are women treated differently? Do we take things too personally? I would argue yes, we are treated differently and yes, we might benefit from taking things less seriously. A short story: While I was in advanced pilot training for HH-60Gs, I began to notice that my older, retired (circa 1990) academic instructors would refer to pilots as “he” and then would look over at me (the lone female) and say “OR she” while pointing at me and smiling. This was 2003, and it began to bother me, I’m sure anything repeated over and over that pointed out a difference between people would irk anyone. So, I did the natural thing, and complained to my fellow students about it one day when I couldn’t stand it anymore while one of the flight instructors from the flight line (i.e., not retired) prepped for a class.
“Ugh, it gets so annoying when the instructors say ‘Or she’ whenever they refer to the pilot” I complained, mimicking the sweeping gesture they always made prior to pointing to me. My classmates laughed, they felt the awkwardness too. But what could I do? It was just a small thing, I didn’t know why my instructors felt this compulsion to say “or she” but I wanted it to stop. We made jokes and made light of it, trying to find easy ways to deal with the situations when the flight instructor prepping for his course turned around and had an amazing idea. He suggested I pretend I was auditing the class for the “or she”. “What do you mean?” I asked. He said “keep a mini notebook in your pocket, and whenever they say ‘OR she ‘ and point at you, pull your notebook out with a big flourish, open it, tap your pencil on your tongue and make a big check mark and then fold it back up and put it back in your pocket… all without saying a thing”. Ha! This was genius. He continued “you don’t know why they are saying ‘or she’ which throws you of your game, throw them off theirs. No matter why they are saying it, I bet they will stop when they see you make any kind of deal about it” (PS- this guy made O-6).
We all enjoyed a few moments of the prospects of this idea and then we continued with our class. I appreciated the ingenuity of my instructor’s idea and it has stuck with me ever since.
The next day, I placed a mini 2” x 4” spiral notebook in my left pant pocket as was suggested by the flight line instructor and walked confidently into class like normal. I sat down and took notes, drew my system pictures, wrote the foot stompers and then when one of my instructors said “OR she…” with a big flourish and a point out at me, I stopped, put my pencil down, pulled out my notebook, opened it with painstaking overtness, made a checkmark as I grinned, folded it back up and put it back in my pocket. The instructor paused to look at me, obviously thrown off by my action, continued, and never said “OR she” again. At least, that was the last time I recall hearing “or she” during my training.
I wonder sometimes if we, as women and minorities, take things too personally when we feel the effects of implicit bias. It is natural for humans to discriminate against things that don’t resemble them, it’s a human phenomenon. I offer that if you don’t believe me, you take the implicit bias test hosted by Harvard. It is revealing how much bias you may have for certain people. Its innate, its cultural, it is reinforced by our confirmation biases. This is especially true for women, as we have all been brought up in a patriarchal society, taught that male traits are more valuable and immersed in a gender role society unconsciously teaching us our skills are inferior.  New research is emerging showing scientific bias research has had against us for at least the last 200 years, from alpha males in wolves (no such thing) to emotionality being purely feminine. I have vivid memories of my instructors at the Academy teaching me that PMS was in the DMS IV and the injustice in that. It just didn’t make sense. And that was after they had removed some other women specific disorders, like female hysteria, that doctors used to take advantage of women.
Yes, this is enough to anger us but anger does not create progress. We cannot let past injustices rule our emotions or our future- being a victim does not provide a path to resolution, it only creates attention and sympathy. Finding paths to highlight injustices without accusing, berating or self handicapping is the goal of The Milieux Project.

Through story telling and antedotes, we can show our individual progress and capability that otherwise might get lost in the milieu. It’s the small things, the small innuendos, discrepancies, failures that we find our challenge in, not the outward and obvious discrimination. And it is in those challenges we can find our sisterhood and efficacy to inspire others to follow us, empower us and replace us.

#diversity #takethelead #skillcrush #teamveteran #stateofagile #follow #girls #work #empowerS & J.JPG

The change starts with us

“Someone with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity.” Brian Walker

If we want to affect change we have to start with the people. Our leadership might make new rules, push for more change, but it takes us.  

This is the purpose of The Milieux Project, to change perspectives, to show ability, to share success, to make a difference. 

We want to make Ruth Ginsburg‘s dream a reality- there will never be enough minorities until they are the majority. 

Talent comes in all forms we hope to make this a reality through The Milieux Project!