“I had no expectations before joining the Navy, but I soon realized that it was the best decision I’ve ever made. It opened me up to a world I never thought I’d be familiar with,” Yeoman 1st Class Shaqwala Vega explained. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with high-ranking officials early in my career, I knew that I wanted to be in those positions because of the examples I had from inspiring women already serving in those positions like Retired Fleet Master Chief April Beldo. Looking at the impact she made at her level I aspired to one day be in her shoes.”
Vega, along with Lt. Maxine Robinson and Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Serrano, are representative of the women playing an integral role in the MyNavy HR Force Development mission of recruiting, training and retaining Sailors within the Navy. As leaders, they also each have an individual role as the Navy pursues a “Culture of Excellence.”
An overarching movement underway within the Navy, the Culture of Excellence aims to develop toughness, trust and connectedness in every Sailor, civilian and family member. This proactive approach to making the Navy a better place to live and work relies in part on leveraging diversity through inclusion.
Vega, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, works for Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) at Naval Air Station Pensacola as the Executive Assistant for the Force Master Chief. She graduated from Sanderson High School in 2011. After attending Wake Technical Community College for two years, she decided that she wanted a change and chose to enlist in the Navy to purse a better life for herself.
Her mother and aunts supported her decision to enlist and have been by her side through every accomplishment, big or small. She described them as the reason she takes so much pride in her Naval career.
“I am a 24/7 Sailor and mother,” she said when asked how she finds the balance between her job and motherhood. “I adapt quickly and would say one of my strengths is multitasking and being hands-on.”
Vega believes that having confidence in yourself is one aspect to success in the military.
“Don’t be intimidated by being in a male-dominated workplace,” she offered. “If you find yourself in a male-dominated field, don’t feel less than. If you know your rate and you know your craft, be confident in it. Always make sure you’re on point and don’t be a shadow. Have confidence and keep your ducks in a row. Women are awesome.”
Her current goal is to possibly become a Fleet Master Chief or a Limited Duty Officer to make an impact through inspiring Sailors by adding to the number of African-American women service members serving in high-ranking positions.
One aspect of the Navy’s “Culture of Excellence” is developing and retaining Sailors by ensuring an inclusive culture across the workforce in part through coaching and mentoring programs.
For Lt. Maxine Robinson, a human resources (HR) officer, her father’s military service in the Air Force inspired her to serve. She is from Newport News, Virginia, and a 2011 Lowndes High School graduate. She earned her commission in 2015 after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy.
“I thought I would have to lose my femininity or that I would have to harden coming into the military, but that is not the case,” said Robinson, who serves as the manpower officer at Naval Service Training Command for all Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps units across the U.S.
“You just need to find the balance,” she said as advice to women serving or thinking about it. “I bring my femininity into the military and into the workplace. Don’t think you have to lose who you are and transform into a different person.”
A Culture of Excellence also means valuing and integrating each individual’s perspectives, ideas and contributions into the way an organization functions and makes decisions through inclusion.
She also stresses the importance of confidence and feels strongly that her high emotional intelligence and being able to bring a different mindset allows her to see from various perspectives. She encourages all women thinking about joining the military to be assured that they will not lose who they are and to remind themselves that they belong there.
On reflecting on her career as a woman in the Navy, Robinson wishes that there were more women mentors out there for young Sailors. “If you are in that position of being a mentor, make sure your door is always open.”
Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Serrano, another HR officer, also stresses the importance for women to seek out and pursue a good mentor as part of a well-rounded support network.
Serrano, who serves as a manpower analyst at NETC, is a mother as well and has found that, like Vega, motherhood is the most challenging part about being a woman in the military. She takes pride in her ability to multitask, a skill she has found that came with motherhood and one that is an advantage in leadership positions.
“Compassion and empathy for the people that work for us is a strength of mine,” she shared and expressed that this is key in her recruitment role.
Serrano is from Fairmont, West Virginia, where she graduated from East Fairmont High School in 2000. Inspired by her brother’s naval service, she decided to attend the University of Pittsburgh where she commissioned in 2004. After growing up in a small town, she wanted to be a part of something bigger than herself, see more of the world and serve her country.
“Rely on people you love when things get difficult and challenging and never stop learning or educating yourself,” she said, when asked for her advice to women.
Today, women serve in every rank from seaman to admiral and in every job from naval aviator to deep-sea diver. The Navy team is a mosaic of America comprised of a diverse mix of Active-duty and Reserve Sailors, Navy civilians and families – with a rich history of service, sacrifice and success. Vega, Robinson and Serrano all speak the same narrative while each pursuing different paths to their service. They each describe the importance of supporting other women and encouraging future leaders to do the same.
For more on the history of women serving in the U.S. Navy, visit https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/diversity/women-in-the-navy.html
For more on NETC, visit https://www.public.navy.mil/netc/ and for MyNavy HR, follow https://www.facebook.com/MyNAVYHR/ to stay up-to-date on how MyNavy HR Transformation is changing how HR services are offered throughout a Sailor’s entire “Hire-to-Retire” lifecycle and improving fleet combat readiness.
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For more news from Naval Education and Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/.