Highest ranking female official discusses women in the military

The highest ranking female official in the U.S. military did not even plan on making the military her career.

Lt. Gen. Kathleen Gainey spoke to students and faculty last week at Morris University Center about being a woman in the military and working in a diverse environment.

Lt. Gen. Kathleen Gainey, who is currently stationed at Scott Air Force Base, told SIUE students and faculty when she spoke at Morris University Center last week that she came through ROTC and “kept staying in because [she] kept having fun.”

She graduated from the program in 1978 through Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

When looking at women in the military, Gainey said there is still a “ways to go.”

“[We] always have to make sure we never, never lessen our standards,” Gainey said.

Life was very different for military women in 1978, according to Gainey, who was the second woman in her company upon graduating from ROTC. Cat calls and harassment also occurred, according to Gainey, and her first sergeant told her to not even let the men know she heard them. However, he also told her not to ignore it if she can catch who made the remarks.

“When you see it, you have to stop it… or it’ll fester and you can’t afford for it to fester,” Gainey said.

But regardless of gender, Gainey said it is “all about diversity” in terms of thoughts, skill set and capabilities. She said the most important aspect of diversity is to figure out what each person has that is unique and to leverage that.

“You have to make sure you’re looking at each person as a unique person,” Gainey said.

But she also noted bringing a diverse group of people together for any project is going to spark ideas and knowledge.

“[It’s a] powerful tool when you have a diverse group and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard,” Gainey said.

She also discussed the importance of perspective and helping people understand their part of a larger organization.
“If they can’t buy into that, then maybe they’re not in the right place,” Gainey said.

She also said it is important for students to know – even if they do not go into the military – they will be seen as a mentor or coach.

“All of you are going to be looked to for leadership,” Gainey said.

She also told students they can encourage young people to pursue their dreams.

“You roles as coaches and mentors are going to be very, very instrumental,” Gainey said.

Gainey said she is very thankful for her mentors – all of whom were men – for believing in her.

“I dare say, I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t been pushed by my bosses,” Gainey said.

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