Good morning, everyone.
It is my honor and privilege to take part in this important and powerful Symposium.
First, Secretary Austin and I could not be more grateful for your service, and for the sacrifices that you and your families make to defend our nation and ensure our safety.
This month is Women's History Month, and an opportunity to commemorate the contributions women make each and every day to this country. It's also an opportunity to celebrate how women are leading change.
With the careers that you have embarked on, none of you is a stranger to this—making enormous contributions to this country and leading change by virtue of getting up and going to work each day.
And that's because each of you has answered what I consider to be one of the highest callings—the call to public service.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of racial integration of the armed services. When President Harry Truman signed that executive order that ended segregation in the military, he ushered in the promise of full equality and expanded opportunity. At the Department of Defense, it is our responsibility to ensure that we continue to live up to that promise; to ensure that the sky is the limit for you and your families… that the opportunities are the same for you as for anyone else.
And that means ensuring that women in the workforce feel equipped, supported, and used—that we're rightfully taking care of our people well, so that you know how much your contributions matter and that you're prepared to succeed.
You know, the reason that the United States military is the best force in the world is because of our people. It is our greatest strength, especially in this new era of strategic competition.
Our ability to tap into the diversity of backgrounds, interests, and talents represented in our nation and among our all-volunteer force gives us an asymmetric advantage over our global competitors.
But it's important that we knock down any lingering barriers if we are to maintain this unique edge.
I learned some important lessons along the way that contributed to my success. I'd like to share them with you today.
First, be confident and bring your best.
Career opportunities are often a matter of timing, luck, and preparation. And being prepared helps you become confident with your own abilities, your own judgment, and yourself. Bringing your best each day is good practice. It demonstrates your meddle, and reinforces self-confidence.
Second, be true to yourself.
No two people bring the same knowledge, skills, and perspective, and great teams are borne from the right blend of all of those.
Over the past 30 years, I've had different jobs in and out of DoD. And the truth is, we're stronger when we have people who bring their expertise to bear from all sectors—from industry, academia, non-profits, other parts of government—all aspects of their lives.
Your background should not be a barrier, but should boost you to where you want to go and what you want to achieve.
Third, live out your values.
I knew early on that I wanted to align my career to a mission and a purpose bigger than myself. At the Department of Defense, we are serving a mission that is second to none. And that's what attracts so many people to careers here—whether it's serving in uniform or as a civilian, or by joining ther.
Military service develops critical skills and a deep sense of purpose.
In exchange, our responsibility as senior leaders is to make sure your workplace is safe and fair, so that you can grow, develop, and thrive.
Not long ago, I was walking into a meeting and a colleague pointed out with great joy how many senior military aides waiting outside in the hallway were women.
The department has come a long way in terms of diversity and inclusion, and it's visible in the Pentagon's busy hallways and corridors. It's something to be proud of, and we are.
But even as we celebrate those successes, we need to acknowledge there is so much more work to do, and more barriers to break down and overcome.
Because as much as I want to see accomplished women in those plum aide assignments, I want even more to see them inside the meeting room, seated at the table.
And I especially look forward to seeing more women at the head of those tables.
It should be normal that in those meetings women are leading and making decisions.
That's our charge—building and expanding opportunities today and for future generations. Normalizing what leadership and service is supposed to look like—as diverse as the makeup of the nation is the answer.
So, I thank you for your service and your many contributions. By simply being who you are, and to so many people, you have already become the giants on the shoulders of which future generations will stand.