April 7, 2016

Last weekend in New Orleans, close to 60 women veterans from all over the country gathered to discuss everything from how to get out of debt, to owning your identity as a woman veteran, to starting a business, to making sure you get the full range of women’s health services offered by Veterans Affairs.

The summit was filled with valuable lessons, professional networking, and leadership training. Attendee Meosha Thomas applauded the summit, saying, “weekends like this help change the narrative of what women veterans look like.”

Suze Orman kicked off the summit with inspirational words and sound advice, saying, “every no leads to a yes, every door leads you to where you should be.” Suze discussed common barriers to success women encounter. She said, “women often want to take care of everyone else, and in the process, neglect themselves.”

She reminded women of the message they heard a few hours earlier while traveling on Southwest Airlines to New Orleans, “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” She used this example to drive home the importance of self-care: You cannot effectively take care of someone if you don’t take care of yourself first.

Our panelists discussed forging your own path through entrepreneurship, how to transfer your military skills into money-earning skills, and bringing your authentic self to work. Kristin Petterson, Sarah Plummer Taylor, Misty Stutsman, and Betsy Núñez sat on panels discussing topics such as these, drawing from their past and present experiences to discuss these common challenges.

Regarding the essential practice of bring your authentic self to work, Gayle Tzemach-Lemmon, author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana and Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battle Field, wittily said, “you can wear mascara and body armor, and one does not make you less effective than the other.”

With Gayle on the panel was Nana Adae who also taught us some valuable lessons. Nana is an Executive Director at JP Morgan Private Bank and also sits on The Mission Continues Board of Directors. Nana told us that she felt invisible for a period of her career. Her honesty resonated with the audience, as women leaders feel they have to appear fearless, confident, and in control, but often grapple with insecurity. Nana encouraged the attendees to embrace the things that make them different, and to be their best authentic selves.

One of our attendees, Kristina Miller, expressed her enthusiasm for speakers such as Nana. She wrote on social media, “Thanks for supporting female veterans and inspiring us to dream it, do it, and be it… Being able to get down to business, serve the community, and be 100% REAL – was refreshingly organic.”

Two of our featured speakers, Brig. General Helen G. Pratt and Michelé Flournoy

Michelé Flournoy, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security and member of The Mission Continues Board of Directors, addressed the challenges women face regarding work-life balance. For women especially, navigating competing priorities of family and career can be tricky, but stressed that neither part should take over the other.

She also touched on the importance of identifying your strengths and areas for development in order to become a more effective leader. Both Michelé and Brig. General Helen G. Pratt touched on these points and both cited their aversion to public speaking. For Michelé, public speaking caused her the most anxiety of all. She knew overcoming this fear was essential, and joined her local Toastmasters for practice. Michele knew she couldn’t let her fear stop her from being the best she could be.

In the spirit of The Mission Continues, everyone rolled up their sleeves to participate in the service project. The Mission Continues partnered with The Edible School Yard New Orleans and City Year New Orleans to make an impact at Langston Hughes Academy, a K-8 charter school in the New Orleans Metro Area.

While there, we renovated the school’s outdoor Dreamkeeper garden and farm space. We revitalized the garden area and created more usable space for growing vegetables, herbs, plants, and flowers, as well as compost stations for the food waste from the cafeteria. The program prioritizes learning about the environment, gardening and sustainability.

Various teams planted new seedlings, cultivated the garden patches, rebuilt the chicken coop and rabbit pin, re-purposed pallets and miscellaneous wood to build exercise and play spaces for their goats, and created signs and crafts for their upcoming fundraiser event. The final large project was creating a usable educational space in the front courtyard complete with a chalkboard and foundation for a deck.

Our speakers, panelists, and participants made this summit an amazing experience for all. Thank you for all you do now and will do in the future. Your work is truly impactful, and inspires us to serve.


Find out more about The Mission Continues and Her Mission, or join the conversation online using #HerMission. The Women Veterans Leadership Summit was sponsored by CarMax, the Schultz Family Foundation, and Southwest Airlines.