TSA honored some of the agency’s outstanding female employees, promoting the advancement of women and equity in the workplace at a ceremony for Women’s Equality Day. The celebration was in keeping with the Administrator’s Intent strategic priority, “Commit to our People,” which supports diversity and inclusion within TSA.
Women’s Equality Day commemorates the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. This day also pays tribute to the commitment and struggles of heroic women who fought to secure equal rights and respect for all women.
The TSA Trailblazer Award honors female TSA employees who exemplify effective leadership, personal and professional excellence, and contribute to the advancement of opportunities for women. This year’s Trailblazer Award recipients are Surface Operations Regional Security Director Mary Leftridge Byrd and Training and Development Assistant Administrator Kim Hutchinson.
The Rising Star Award honors a female mid-level employee for unique and outstanding contributions to the equity and inclusion of women in the workplace. The inaugural Rising Star Award winner is Julie Comeau, Assistant Federal Security Director (AFSD) for Law Enforcement at California’s Hollywood Burbank Airport.
The award winners were asked to discuss the significance of the awards, advice on career progression and how to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce.
What advice would you give to those who are at the beginning of their career or mid-career and want to work toward obtaining leadership positions?
Kim Hutchinson: I’m always going to promote training as part of taking on a new position or getting a promotion. TSA has training programs at every level that are announced annually. One advantage now is that we have many more virtual options and some will not require you to travel. Our leadership programs provide the tools and confidence to take on a new role and send a signal to your leadership that you are looking to grow and develop. Training is also a way to meet people across the organization and make connections that can last a lifetime.
Why do you think the Trailblazer and Rising Star Awards are important to TSA employees?
Julie Comeau: At TSA, we have historically had male dominant leadership. We have seen improvements, but we still need to encourage women to advance into senior-level positions. We have experienced the benefits of having women at the table when important decisions are made. They offer different perspectives to help arrive at solutions that are better suited for everyone. The Trailblazer and Rising Star Awards encourage female employees by displaying the accomplishments of powerful leaders. Seeing women achieve great things within our own organization inspires other women and makes leadership goals attainable for them.
As a leader, how do you promote an equitable and diverse workplace?
Mary Leftridge Byrd: By keeping the question out front – by moving beyond saying it. By not allowing inclusion to be something else we have to do as a task or to “check a box,” but something that is demonstrated as having organizational value when done. In an environment as dynamic and challenging as TSA, it is just smart to have, on staff, varied experiences and backgrounds. There should be a cross-section of expertise sufficient to address or respond to any issue with which the team is confronted.
If all staff look like you and have parallel professional experiences, strategic approaches will be the same – even when a question calls for and will benefit from a different point of view. The team won’t be able to aptly respond because it will be paralyzed by being one-dimensional. Leaders have to be deliberate about disallowing “tunnel vision” and narrowness.
TSA recently included a 10th Leadership Principle in the Administrator’s Intent called “Caring for Our People,” showing the agency’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Christine Griggs, Assistant Administrator for Civil Rights & Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement, closed the ceremony by thanking the highly accomplished group of women “for telling your stories and sharing your insights and reflections as to how you got to where you are today.”