Fort Belvoir, Va –
-- For more than 20 years, Lt. Col. Melissa Johnson, Product Manager for Soldier Maneuver Sensors (PdM SMS) within Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, has proudly served in the United States Army. In that time, she’s seen the Army rapidly evolve its policies and during Women’s History Month, reflects on life in the Army as a female leader and how far women have come since she joined in 2003.
“Being a woman in a leadership position in the Military is often frustrating, annoying, rewarding, and humbling. Sometimes being a woman in the Military means people seeing you and not knowing what to make or think of you; questioning the rationale of why you are even there. Other times, it means being seen and people knowing who you are, but in their unconscious cognitive construct, you don’t fit the picture of who should be at the table. But those types of perceptions and people believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself continues to fuel my passion to serve,” said Johnson.
As a leader, Johnson says she feels it’s her duty to help inspire the next generation of Leaders to take her place long after her retirement.
“Being transparent and my authentic self is very important, and I’ve heard from many that me doing that is what inspires them. I’m not always going to be here and I feel like if I’m not doing my part to facilitate the growth of others, I’m doing a disservice to every other woman who may look up to me and want to be in a leadership position. So, I take that seriously and try to be an advocate for other women. I actively take the time to ask others how their day is and try to find out what they want to do in the career and how I can help get them there. That’s my purpose,” said Johnson.
During her time in the Army, Johnson has seen many policy changes that provided more opportunities and a better quality of life for female Soldiers. She recognizes the progress women have made in the Army and sees opportunities for continued growth.
“The Army has done a remarkable job in the last 20 years in terms of giving women more leadership opportunities and diversifying formations. I could highlight several changes just within the last five years that I never would have imagined witnessing during my career. Today women are graduates of the US Army Ranger School, serving as Commanders in Combat Arms formations and progress in Uniform standards have authorized improvements to hair and grooming policies.”
We have done a great job, but we’re still extremely underrepresented. We’ve made a huge amount of progress, but we still have a significant amount of work to do in terms of women in leadership positions. I’ve almost always been the only female leader in many organizations I’ve served. I see myself and I know who I am. I know going in that not everyone is going to see me the way I see myself, and that’s okay. But the Army is continuing to make a concerted effort to change and make sure we’re diverse because there’s value,” said Johnson.
Johnson suggests to those who aspire to become leaders, to believe in themselves and take a leap of faith when it comes to pursuing new opportunities.
“Never be afraid of a challenge. Take every challenge as an opportunity to learn and become a better version of yourself. I think it’s human nature to sometimes believe we don’t have enough experience, education or even charisma to assume some of these leadership roles. I was one of those people for a long time until I changed my mindset. You have to define success on your own terms and once you remove those mental barriers, you give yourself nothing but space and opportunity to excel,” said Johnson.