‘Next level leadership’ apparent at first AALN Conference
Leidos Headquarters in Reston, Va., hosted employees and senior executives on Feb. 12 for the inaugural African American Leidos Network (AALN) Leadership Conference. Titled “Next Level Leadership,” the gathering focused on career growth, leadership, and inclusion and diversity.
AALN is one of seven Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at Leidos, with an eighth, Allies and Action for Accessibility and Abilities (A4), launching next month. Conference attendees and members of the Leidos Executive Leadership Team connected at a speed networking event the night before.
Priscilla Lott-Price, a Senior Vice President and Human Resources Executive in the Leidos Defense Group, kicked off the half-day conference. An executive sponsor of AALN, Lott-Price called the gathering a “history-making moment” for the company.
Chief Human Resources Officer Paul Engola, also an AALN executive sponsor, followed with a presentation about the company’s six core values. He highlighted inclusion in particular, explaining the company’s newest addition to its value set. AALN Chair Tedena Wheeler presented next, expressing her gratitude to attendees.
“As we celebrate Black History Month, AALN is honored to host this event and have you here,” said Wheeler, a Business Manager in the Leidos Innovations Center (LInC). Wheeler also acknowledged past and present Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) STEM Conference honorees, including the 15 Leidos employees recognized this year. “Our leadership conference and deep involvement with BEYA serve as tangible examples of the Leidos commitment to its Inclusion & Diversity Program.”
The conference then dived into talent acquisition and professional development. Diversity Talent Acquisition Program Manager Cina Nguyen outlined the company’s approach to inclusive hiring. Sarah Roberts, Vice President of Talent Development and Inclusion, followed and delivered an overview of the Leidos Leadership Program.
As the audience prepared for a scheduled break, Desira Stearns said something that captured everyone’s attention: “As a woman of color, I wasn’t always able to show weakness in the workplace. I was groomed to never say ‘I don’t know.’”
A former engineer, Stearns is now Senior Manager of Inclusion and Diversity at Leidos. Her remark ignited an impromptu conversation on the realities minorities face in professional settings. The discussion was captivating, honest, and raw.
Attendees went back-and-forth, sharing personal experiences and advice on professional development. One of the more compelling statements came from Marsha Malone, Vice President and Strategic Account Executive supporting the Leidos Civil Group.
“The conundrum is that if you don’t take risks, you can’t learn. If you don’t take stretch assignments, you can’t grow,” said Malone. “Every time I walk into a room, I feel like I have my entire race on my back and I’ve felt that way since my mother and grandmother told me that.”
Leidos Defense Group President Gerry Fasano, who was recently named to FCW’s Federal 100 list, asked what he and other allies can do to help. Attendees responded by saying that leaders can help by sharing their own vulnerabilities.
“The best allies just show up. They’re always there and always available,” said Malone.
Attendees also stressed the importance of ending the mindset of “taking a risk on an individual” for a leadership position.
“We have to get rid of that notion,” said Allison Manswell, an external talent management consultant focused on diversity and inclusion. “In reality, everyone is a risk when it comes to a hiring decision.”
Leidos General Counsel Jerry Howe agreed and helped close out the insightful dialogue, adding, “If we take the time to admit all the mistakes we've made, we can spare others. There’s a lot of wisdom and learning we can pass down.”
Malone then took the stage to moderate a panel discussion on leadership and how to seek and meet professional challenges. The panel featured Vice President of Business Development Ed Benjamin, Senior Scientist Roy Jones, Cyber Engineer Katea Murray, Vice President and Enterprise Solution Architect Derrick Pledger, and Vice President of Global Payroll and Corporate Travel Pamela Saunders.
Manswell closed out the conference with an engaging keynote session. She challenged attendees to continue mentoring others while raising the bar on their own performance.