While the Army is making great strides to achieve gender neutrality, women remain a minority within the military. In 2013, women made up only 15 percent of the Army’s active-duty soldiers.
This is one of the main challenges women face, said Maj. Heather Gunther, communications officer of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
“When (I) first got here, (I) realized that within a brigade combat team formation of over 4,000 soldiers, women were statistically underrepresented,” Gunther said.
It was based on this observation that Gunther began planning the Women’s Mentorship Network, which held its first meeting Feb. 7 at Club Hood.
The network is a program designed to cultivate female leaders within the Army through the power of shared knowledge, networking and strong female role models.
“Some of my best mentors and other role models are men, other male professionals, other male officers and enlisted,” Gunther said. “But there’s a power in role modeling other powerful women.
“When you talk about the power of diversity and being informed by many different perspectives and opinions, the less and less you’re represented, and the more challenging it becomes to contribute to that conversation.”
The program itself is a decentralized network of session facilitators who conduct hour-long mentoring sessions throughout the week. Each session involves different empowering activities that allow each person to play the role of mentor or mentee while encouraging active listening and the discussion of real-world problems.
“It’s creating an environment where everyone can participate,” Gunther said.
The network initially began as a series of officer professional development sessions Gunther held with some of the female officers in her command. She noticed the interactions between the different ranks were having a positive influence upon the group.
“Not just in that traditional mentorship dyad of someone who’s older or more experienced giving guidance and advice to someone who is younger, there’s a lot of reciprocal mentorship there, across the formation,” she said.
Seeing positive results within her own unit, Gunther decided there was a need to expand and pitched the idea to a few other like-minded female soldiers.
“We decided to combine forces and open up the conversation to include the larger population and to really reach out,” Gunther said. “In order to inform this conversation we needed to have all ranks, all branches.”
The core members of the Women’s Mentorship Network vow to keep professional development as their top priority.
“If we’re going to do it then we’re going to do it right,” Gunther said. “We want to make sure ... people will come and feel empowered and safe to participate.”