Podcast: Near-Peer Mentors with AEOP's GEMS Program

Jonna: Hi, I’m Jonna Gerken, FY18 President of the Society of Women Engineers, and this is SWE’s Diverse podcast series. Please remember to add this podcast to your iTunes and like or follow us on social media. Visit swe.org for more details.

Joining me now is Steve Cricchi.  He is the Assistant Commander for Corporate Operations and Total Force for the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in Patuxent River, Maryland.  He is responsible for the full array of NAVAIR command business operations including command administration, total force management, military and civilian human resource programs, security, public affairs, business and financial management, and infrastructure business operations.  Mr. Cricchi has over 30 years in civilian service and was selected for promotion to the Senior Executive Service in March 2005. Mr. Cricchi earned his bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Virginia in 1985, and is a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Naval Test Pilot School (Class 97).

Thanks for joining us Steve.

Steve: Hey. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it, and before we get started, I'd just like to say that being at the SWE symposium in October was a fantastic opportunity to engage with the SWE membership, and I reached back to look at some of our statistics, and we ultimately ended up hiring 12 women engineers from that recruiting event. And so, it was a pretty successful event for us. And so, we'll be back for sure.

Jonna: Well, that's great to hear you had such success at our annual conference, and yes. We look forward to having you back this upcoming year. So Steve, can you tell us, how do women engineers fit into the pillars of NAVAIR's diversity and inclusion strategy?

Steve: Sure. So we like to view diversity, obviously, as kind of all of the things that make us different. And those are statistics, and we can certainly cover those, but ultimately, inclusion and belonging, really, is about making sure that all voices are heard and ultimately that we're getting 100% out of 100% of our employees to include women and really anybody that works in NAVAIR. And so, we've got a number of strategies to foster diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We engage with our employees through diversity advisory teams, through a strong mentorship program, and we have a number of leadership development programs at all levels that diversity and inclusion are a component of.

We've also got a commitment by our senior leadership in the organization through our executive diversity council, which includes our most senior leaders, and also through our diversity advisory teams, one of which is the women's advisory group, which I am the executive co-chair of where we pull folks in to do what we can to make their voices heard, to knock barriers down, and to make sure that all of our employees reach their peak potential.

And then, we have a number of communication and training strategies to ensure that our command's commitment to diversity and inclusion and how to implement diversity strategies and inclusion strategies are well understood by our geographically distributed workforce. We've got about 38,000 total force members of our organization at nine different geographic sites. So it's a large organization.

Jonna: You mentioned at the beginning of that section that you have diversity advisory teams. I'm a little intrigued by that. What are they and how do they fit into your diversity strategy?

Steve: So we decided a number of years ago that we should establish with senior leadership championing them diversity advisory teams for our special emphasis program groups. So we have an African-American pipeline advisory team. We have a Hispanic engagement team. We have an individual with disabilities action team, and a number of others, and one of which is the women's advisory group. Those teams are led by a team of executives and admirals. So they've got high level leadership.

And we pull in members who have an interest in that community onto these teams across the organization and they typically are structured similarly--each team--so we typically have a recruitment and retention sub-team. We have a science and technology, engineering and math, and kind of an outreach sub-team. Then, we have development and advancement sub-teams, which are looking at--which look to sort of break through barriers and professional development, and then we have barrier analysis and data teams where we're combing through our organization's data to look for things that we might want to attack from a diversity standpoint.

We look at the statistics for promotion at various points in the organization. We look at our leadership statistics to see if we've got appropriate representation at our senior levels and in some of our leadership development programs. And so, there's a national component to these diversity advisory teams, and then each site locally has an advisory team to tackle local issues, and it's proven to be a pretty effective way for bottoms up visibility and transparency about issues we need to know about at the senior level. And it's also allowed the senior leadership in the organization to get messages down into the organization through these teams.

Jonna: Okay. So it sounds like, for those of us in the industry, it would be equivalent to an employee resource group--an ERG?

Steve: That's exactly right. We actually--and we actually call them diversity advisory teams. We do have some employee resource groups for entry level employees and for our supervisory groups at a slightly different focus, but essentially that's exactly right. It's an employee resource group.

Jonna: Okay. Great. Thanks for sharing. So what does NAVAIR do to combat unconscious or implicit bias against women in engineering?

Steve: I think the first thing is we have to foster an awareness that it exists. Unconscious bias is a fact of life with humans, I think. And so, we have to be aware that it does exist. And then, one of the things that we do inside of NAVAIR is we have developed some training and education and some strategies about how to combat it. One small example, we have a very--we sort of have our crowned jewel leadership development programs. Very competitive. You must apply. It's a fairly comprehensive application package.

And so, one of the things we did to combat unconscious bias was we took all the names off of the applicants. It's an auto generated number. And so, the people that are reviewing these packages have no idea whether it's a male or a female or any other demographic. It's just a number. And so, we try to do things to--where we can--acknowledging that unconscious bias can exist to weed it out. And I think, you know, the specifically with women, we are--we have about 25% of our workforce are female. And it's a smaller percentage, depending on how you count them in the engineering and technical field. It's about 20% of our workforce are--our technical workforce are women.

And so, you know, when we develop our training programs and when we onboard new engineers, we, at that stage in their career, day one we're talking about diversity, inclusion, and belonging, and getting folks to appreciate the value that diversity brings. It's a business outcome. There's a business case for inclusion clearly when you have a diversity of points of view. And so, we start on day one of an employee's onboarding talking about the importance of diversity, making sure that all voices are heard, and that we're getting the value out of each individual employee.

Jonna: And I have to ask, have you seen any improvement in diversity of the leadership program since you've removed the names?

Steve: You know, it's hard to say exactly. We have--we do do an analysis each year on the demographics of who gets in and who doesn't get in. The people that were reviewing the applications are our most senior leaders, and I'd like to think that at that point in their careers, they wouldn't be subject to unconscious bias, but it was--I don't think we have enough data cause we've only started--we started this two classes ago. So I don't know that we have enough data yet to conclusively say whether it's made a demonstrative change in our demographics.

Jonna: It's definitely a step in the right direction though.

Steve: We're trying.

Jonna: Yeah. Well, so, since we have you here talking to us, what can men do to be better diversity partners?

Steve: That's a great question. In fact, that was the panel that I was on at the SWE symposium was men as diversity partners, and the first thing I said was, hey, how about we're equal partners in this? This is--if we're going to partner and have a partnership, it should be about--the partnership implies equality. And so, you know, the first thing is to recognize that. The second thing you can do, really, is listen. Listen to your peers. Listen to subordinates. Get a female mentor. I know one of the things that I did when I was--became a member of the senior executive service was I reached out to a colleague, a female executive, a good friend of mine, and I asked specifically. I said, "Do I have any diversity blind spots that I just am not aware of?"

She's known me for a long time. She's observed my behavior in meetings and professionally. And she has since then just been a mentor to me on a number of different topics, but I frequently kind of check-in with her on my diversity status, if you will. And so, having a--if you're a male engineer, get a female mentor. Ask how they see you operating and see if you've got any blind spots. I think all of us have them, and it's nice in a mentoring relationship where you can be open and honest hopefully and transparent that you can get that kind of a feedback.

Jonna: That's great advice. Thanks for sharing that. And changing organizational culture is tough. I think everyone would agree. But in order to be more diverse, what's been your biggest challenge in combating that culture shift?

Steve: Yeah. You know, we tend to sometimes be a little too reactive to things. If something bad happens, we'll attack that particular symptom or that particular event. If a trend in maybe our diversity demographics aren't trending in the correct direction, we'll look at that particular area, but I think proactively trying to move the needle, just trying to be proactive too and predictive in what your strategies are, I think, is where we need to head, but it is a challenge. You know, sometimes you'll hear--you'll feel a sense in your organization if you start talking about diversity and inclusion and belonging, occasionally you feel a resentment against it. And that's cul--that's just culture, right?

And so, you look for opportunities in those cases to address them head-on, proactively, that you want the organization to understand this is about business outcomes. This is about, in our case, we're delivering capability--naval aviation capability--to sailors and Marines on the frontline of defense of this country. And the more diverse ideas that we have, the more diverse voices that come to the table to support that business outcome, the better we're going to deliver it. And so, that's really been our message. Diversity is great. Inclusion is great. But bottom line is it all is in support of and necessary for the mission that our organization is here to perform.

Jonna:   For SWE, I'm Jonna Gerken. For all of us, thanks for listening.

To hear more of our podcasts, check out our Men As Diversity Partners series playlist on SoundCloud:

This content has been contributed by NAVAIR as as part of a promotional digital content program.