‘Leading the Way:’ Inaugural forum celebrates and inspires women
More than 100 attendees convened in the Conference Center at Leidos headquarters in Reston, Va., on May 8-9 for the company’s inaugural Women’s Leadership Forum “Leading the Way.” Hosted by the Women’s Network Employee Resource Group (ERG), the event aimed to empower, energize, and engage both existing leaders and emerging talents. Diversity and inclusion, peer advocacy, and mentorship were topics of discussion throughout the two-day event.
“What are we doing at the highest levels to engage women? That was a central question we asked ourselves when we began working on the Women’s Forum,” said Vicki Schmanske, President of the Leidos Intelligence Group.
Schmanske sponsored a similar event with a previous company and served as a strong advocate for Leidos to start its own. Women’s Network leadership began planning for the forum in early 2018 and benefited from support and involvement by the Leidos Executive Leadership Team (ELT).
The organizers had a very clear vision for the forum. They wanted to involve participants from all generations, all levels, and all groups at Leidos. They wanted to engage influential speakers from a deep internal talent pool but also mix in quality external voices. And, finally, they wanted to inspire the women in attendance to not only lead the way for future generations, but to help Leidos further ingrain diversity and inclusion into its culture and corporate values.
The event kicked off on May 8 with a special welcome reception followed by ELT-hosted concurrent dinners at various restaurants in Reston Town Center. Both the reception and the more intimate dinners allowed attendees a vital opportunity to meet, network, and connect.
“That first evening was full of inspiring conversations that set the tone for day two. Everyone clearly appreciated and supported our company's prioritization on cultivating an inclusive, collaborative environment rooted in employee engagement,” said Michele Brown, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer.
The next morning, a packed agenda began with a welcome from Brown and Gerry Fasano, President of the Defense Group, who both serve as executive sponsors of the Women’s Network. They were followed by Leidos Chairman and CEO Roger Krone, who delivered opening remarks.
Schmanske participated in the day’s first panel, which included fellow senior leaders Angie Heise, President of the Civil Group, Grant Kim, CEO of QTC, Priscilla Lott-Price, Senior VP and Human Resources Executive for the Defense Group, and was moderated by Marsha Malone, VP and Strategic Account Executive for the Civil Group. Panelists talked about their backgrounds, how they empower female leadership, inspiring others to lead, why inclusion matters, the importance of male advocates, and strategies to engage talent and increase retention.
“I shared this during the panel and it’s something I always encourage my teams to do, but I’m a firm believer in bringing your authentic self to the workplace,” said Schmanske.
Forum attendees were treated to two other valuable panel discussions over the course of the day. The second panel, moderated by Leidos VP and Chief Scientist Julie Rosen, was an impressive group of women leaders in cybersecurity, healthcare, science, and space who shared their expertise and discussed the importance of women in leading STEM roles.
The day’s third and final panel set the stage for a thoughtful group to have an honest and positive talk about the future of women in leadership. Panelists came from Contracts, Intelligence, Legal, and Talent Acquisition, with Tedena Wheeler, Business Manager of the Leidos Innovations Center (LInC), as moderator.
“It’s critical that we take the time to bring together leaders and influencers across Leidos to discuss some of the most important topics and trends for women in the workplace,” said Fasano. “I personally was energized and inspired by the lively discussions, and look forward to continuing this dialogue at future events.”
Before the event broke for lunch, Paul Engola, Chief Human Resources Officer and Head of Business Partnerships, joined Diversity and Inclusion Manager Desira Stearns on stage to talk about how Leidos can leverage, nurture, and foster gender representation across talent pools. Many of their talking points were echoed in the two speeches given by external guests.
Shirley Clark, CEO of The Women’s Center, talked about the concept of intentional leadership and provided advice on how women can build their unique brand. Clark’s organization is a nonprofit which provides mental health counseling, support, and education in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area.
The second external speaker was Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert. She delivered a moving and powerful keynote speech about her own professional journey and why she’s a fierce advocate for advancing women in the workplace. One week after the Women’s Forum, the WNBA appointed Engelbert as its Commissioner effective July 17.
At the conclusion of the forum, attendees pledged to take the insights and momentum back to their teams. They agreed:
- To build relationships and a network of female leaders
- To celebrate the accomplishments of their fellow female engineers, scientists, and technologists
- To understand why inclusion matters and how to incorporate best practices in leadership
- To learn more about the leadership opportunities and resources the company provides
- To inspire others to lead
- To commit to the next steps in the leadership journey for every woman at Leidos
“It was really exciting to be invited to listen and learn about the challenges so that I am able to be part of the solution for the future. The energy was fantastic and I look forward to seeing this event grow,” said Steve Hull, Chief Information Officer.
All of the attendees were asked what Leidos should start, stop, or continue doing to empower female leadership. Virtually every survey participant said the forum needs to continue. The Women’s Network and the ELT didn’t need to wait for feedback to start ‘leading the way:’ plans have already started for 2020 and years beyond.