ARLINGTON, Va. –
Throughout her decades-long Army career, Command Sgt. Maj. Lynice Thorpe-Noel said she sometimes faced unfair stereotypes while climbing the enlisted ranks.
She thought the treatment may have been because she was black, or maybe that she was a woman. Whatever the reason, she refused to let someone else’s bias control her narrative.
“To be honest, I didn’t let that be an obstacle for me,” Thorpe-Noel said. “I was going to continue to give [my] all and do the best at whatever I was doing.”
After years of determination and embracing various leadership roles, she became the first female to serve as the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Army Human Resources Command last year.
Thorpe-Noel joined other female senior leaders, who also broke barriers in their Army careers, to share their keys to success, as part of a discussion Monday on women’s equality hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army.
Today, women make up about 18% of the total Army and all combat arms jobs are open to females, said Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, who also became the first female to command U.S. Army North last year.
While Richardson said the Army is now more inclusive than when she first joined, there is still more work to be done.
A century after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, a majority of Americans believe the country has not gone far enough in giving women equal rights with men, the general said.
“While this is a worrisome statistic, the Army, on the other hand, wants female Soldiers assigned to positions that provide full and challenging career and promotion opportunities,” Richardson said.
To maximize the potential of young Soldiers, she shared a few tips for today’s leaders that put people first -- no matter their gender.
“We cannot afford any weak links in our organization. The Army is a team sport and we need everyone on the team to be successful,” she said. “Set the example and show your organization what right looks like. That’s how we empower the next generation of leaders.”
Listening is also just as important as leading, she said.
“Take the time to meet with your people in your organization, whether in person or virtually,” Richardson said. “The Army is about people, not planes and ships. In order to be a great organization, you have to know your people.”
Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, who became the first female chief of Army Reserve last month, traces her success back to the mentors she had in her career.
Those mentors encouraged her to pursue graduate school and later attend the U.S. Army War College to help her be promoted to a general officer.
“We must continue to counsel and encourage our young women and men to take advantage of personal and professional development opportunities that they may not have thought of otherwise,” she said.
While her academic pursuits, which include two master’s degrees and a doctorate, made her stand out from others, they were not initially on her radar until her mentors stepped in.
As a way of paying it forward, Daniels told young leaders to always consider where they want to be two positions beyond their current role.
“That may seem like it’s a far way off, but it’s really, really not,” she said. “Just like my mentors did for me, ask your leadership for their thoughts.”
Then “take the tough jobs, the stretch positions and go and do the hard work and make the most of every opportunity,” she added.
And for leaders, mentorship does not have to be formal. Communication can be weekly through a text, call, social media post, email or “just some sort of contact to check in to make sure that person is still on track,” Daniels said.
Although each of the speakers were the first females in their current position, Daniels said she was only part of a series of ongoing changes for women leaders.
“While I’m the first female in this particular position, it means that I’ve opened a door just like the others before me who have opened other doors,” she said.
Now more than ever there are more females in leadership positions at all levels across the Army, Thorpe-Noel said.
Over the past two years, the Army has also gained about 3,000 additional female Soldiers into its ranks.
“The tides are turning in the right direction. We are better than we were 30 years ago," Thorpe-Noel said.
“We stand on the shoulders of the past successes of Army women,” she added. “We must continue to carry the torch. We must continue to show the disbelievers with determination that we can rise to the challenge. I know with hard work we will continue to have success in the future.”