The Naval Academy Vegetarian
Author’s Background: U.S. Naval Academy
Analysis: This author takes us through a chronological journey through some of her academic and professional milestones as she encounters gender challenges in a male-dominated environment – the Navy. The author makes sure to illustrate how this gender battle drove her to take on more responsibility and leadership roles throughout her time of Service. The author then draws the connection between her experiences and grit as a female leader and the impact it will have no the HBS community as well as in the male-dominated business world.
28 June 2002, United States Naval Academy, [U.S. City/State #1]
“You are a woman AND a vegetarian! You will never make it at this place”. As a senior midshipman screamed those words at me from across the table, I instantly decided to change the one aspect of that statement within my control. I scarfed down Stouffer’s meat lasagna during my first dinner at the United States Naval Academy and wracked my brain, pondering how the females before me had survived. After leaving the comfort of my childhood home in [U.S. Eastern City/State], I found myself blindsided by a brutal indoctrination into the male dominated military. My initial strategy, beyond ceasing vegetarianism, was to outdo at least one guy in my 10-member, all male squad. I figured as long as I could outwork and outperform one of the guys I would survive. Fortunately, early on I realized survival wasn’t enough—I was capable of much more. I no longer intended to outperform just one of the guys; my goal was to excel by outworking and outperforming all of the guys. Although that strategy failed as many times as it worked, my four-year journey at [U.S. City #1] culminated in my selection as Company Commander. Competitively selected over the other 39 senior members of my company, 35 men and four women, I was in charge of the daily organization, discipline, and performance of 120 fellow students. After a successful semester as Company Commander, I promised to never again question my ability to succeed and lead based on gender.
13 July 2007, USS DECATUR (DDG-73), [U.S. City/State #2]
“Good luck Ma’am!” I will never forget the sarcastic tone of those three words that my supposed senior enlisted ‘mentor’ uttered to me moments before addressing my division for the first time. Standing in front of 17 Sailors I quickly realized that not one of them was a woman. My first day onboard that guided missile destroyer, I had an equally powerful, yet different reaction than my first day in [U.S. City #1]. I saw this challenge as my opportunity to apply everything I learned at Annapolis to a real-world situation. I knew I had the capability to succeed, but the challenge would be proving to these men that I was equally as capable as my male counterparts. My male peers automatically received the benefit of the doubt from their Sailors while mine waited for me to fail in order to prove their initial instincts correct. That first week I spent hours observing my Sailors work and learning the technical jargon associated with maintaining the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile weapons system. I said little, but my constant presence was soon noticed. By week two, none of my Sailors cared one bit whether I was a man or a woman. They cared that I worked hard for them, that I recognized how hard they worked for me, and that I took a genuine interest in their success as both individuals and as a team. This experience taught me that respect of your subordinates has very little to do with your gender and everything to do with your ability to lead.
18 June 2010, USS CARL VINSON (CVN-70), [U.S. City/State #2]
“How cool! Our division officer is a female.” As I turned the corner of the 5,000 person nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, I overheard two of my 48 Sailors, the only two females, talking about their newly-arrived boss. It was once again daunting to stand in front of 48 Sailors who, this time, I would lead in the operation and maintenance of two nuclear reactors, but after hearing those words I did not for one moment question how fortunate I was to be a woman. That day I knew I could be a great example of a leader and furthermore, I recognized what an influential role I would play, not only in the lives of those two female Sailors, but in the lives of their 46 male peers. My goal was to not only to excel and earn the respect of my Sailors, but also to build a team that took pride in their work and respected the contributions of their fellow team members. The Sailors I worked with onboard [Naval Vessel] were the most intelligent and hardworking group of people I ever had the fortune to work alongside and they taught me that subordinates are willing to work tirelessly for a leader they respect. In turn, it is the responsibility of the leader to cultivate that respect and, in turn, recognize the hard work and achievements of those that make the organization succeed. These three vignettes illustrate my growth as a person and a leader. From a wide-eyed female midshipman focused on fitting in and surviving to a proven leader able to adapt to the most difficult situations, I possess a breadth of knowledge that makes me an excellent candidate for Harvard Business School. Regardless of demographics, I know I can bring an added value perspective to any organization or team. As much as I look forward to sharing my own experiences with fellow students at Harvard Business School, I look forward to continuing my professional growth by working with high caliber men and women who have achieved similar leadership success in the private sector. Full disclosure: Although I never returned to my vegetarian ways, I have never been more proud to be a woman and a leader.
Time & Effort: “It was a work in progress for 2 months. Wrote it, edited it, let it sit, edited it again, etc. If you need numbers I would say 5 drafts and 20 hours.“
Word Count: 895