Air Force Featured Stories

Intentionality is key: Perspectives from a first-time JWLS emcee

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Joan Olmo
  • 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing

Tech. Sgt. Joan Olmo served as master of ceremonies during the Air Force portion of the 33rd annual Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium in Norfolk, July 10-13.

The Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium is hosted by the Sea Services Leadership Association.

"I first heard about the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium in 2019 when working on the first iteration of the Women’s Air and Space Power Symposium, but never thought that I would have the opportunity to serve as master of ceremonies for the event. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I was the right person for the job. I questioned, “Who am I to do something as big as this?” I’ve never been considered in the past for such a high-visibility project. However, once I saw the agenda, presenters, and speakers that had been organized, I knew that I really wanted to be on this team.

Maj. Tahina Montoya, JWLS Air Force lead, planned a day filled with presenters and panels that were not only demographically diverse, but also represented a diverse pool of experiences and perspectives. The intentionality of how the day was shaped was apparent. As an enlisted Airman, a Latina, and member of the LGBTQIA community, I knew this was the opportunity to not only represent those communities, but all the Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Groups (DAFBAWGs) with which I’ve had the privilege to work.

The JWLS agenda was structured for all attendees, from those entering the service to those transitioning out of service. I went into the day excited to hear panels focused on topics about currently serving in the military, but surprisingly I actually took the most away from panels focused on transitioning out of the military. I don’t have any plans to leave the service soon, but I learned from those who transitioned out that it is never too early to start learning and preparing for when that time comes. It is so easy for us to assume this uniform is part of who we are, and we often base our social networks, identity, and everyday actions around our profession. I think recognizing the necessity to remain balanced and to start thinking about what’s next were some of the biggest lessons for me.

The panel that most stood out to me was the “With Honor and Integrity” panel. Honestly, I had never seen a panel like it at a military symposium, or at any military event. We talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, but we fail to remember that although diversity is such a crucial part of our mission, inclusion is not a natural consequence of a diverse team. A diverse workforce is not automatically an inclusive one. And I think this was an intentional and deliberate effort to employ inclusion. Inclusion is a verb, and unless we put deliberate action behind the tag of DEIA, like the Air Force JWLS team did, we may miss out on leveraging the widest pool of talent needed to stay ahead of our competitors.

Serving as emcee was definitely a career highlight for so many reasons. Without doubt, my favorite part was how open and willing the community of service members who came to this event were to receive information and learn from a diverse group of moderators and panelists. It was refreshing to see that this team didn’t shy away from spotlighting the strength that comes when we embrace our differences.

Ultimately, JWLS made me feel seen and valued as a Latina and as a member of the LGBTQIA community. It is imperative that we, as leaders and service members, recognize that we don’t bring a team together by ignoring or denying our differences and reaching for a false sense of homogeneity.

A team is strongest when we allow others to come to the table as their true and authentic selves, and that is only possible when we recognize, value, respect, and celebrate the things that make us, “us.” We are not the same and it is our diversity that makes us the strongest Air Force in the world. It is our ability to use our identities, experiences, and perspectives that allows us to approach problem solving with innovation and creativity.

I am my best self when all of me is valued and respected. If you only see my uniform, then you don’t see me, and an inability to see our Airmen would be a detriment to our force. Ultimately, I am thankful that the Air Force JWLS team worked hard to make me and others feel seen and heard.

I can’t wait to see what the JWLS team will bring next year and hope to see even more new faces — men and women both! If you attend, not only will you meet a group of incredible service members who, like you, are trying to be better leaders and followers, but you will learn something. Maybe more importantly, the connections you will make at an event like JWLS will follow you your entire career. At some point in your career, you will reach into your leadership toolkit and something you learned or someone you met at JWLS will be there.