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U.S. Department of Defense
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News Transcript

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and founder of LeanIn.org; Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook September 21, 2015 September 23, 2015

Remarks by Secretary Carter and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg following the Lean In Circle with female military servicewomen, at the Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia

PETER COOK: Thanks, everyone, for being here. I'm Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary.

The secretary and Sheryl will say a few words about the Lean In circle they just participated in, and a little bit more about the program within the military, and then we've got some folks who participate in the circle who are gonna make themselves available for questions unilaterally after that.

So thanks for being here, and with that, Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: (inaudible) -- speaker. Thanks very much.

Good afternoon, everyone. Please. (inaudible) -- please. Well, listen, it's a great pleasure and privilege for me, first of all, to welcome once again to the Pentagon Sheryl Sandberg, who's been here before, and takes a strong interest in this place, and has strong expertise in our mission, and I'm so grateful to her for the attention she -- she pays to this wonderful institution.

As you know, Sheryl and I sat in on a Lean In circle with about a dozen servicewomen earlier today, and let me say, first of all, how incredible these service members are.

It reinforces the simple fact that the people are the strength of our military, and frankly, for the all-volunteer force to stay the strongest, for us to attract and retain the best people in the years ahead, we need to draw the top talent from the largest and most complete pool of Americans that we can. And the simple fact is that women make up half of the American population.

Whether here at the Pentagon or on a mess deck or on a corner of an airplane hangar, Lean In circles made up of servicewomen and men are taking place around the world. These small groups are getting together to learn, to grow together, and to encourage one another to work towards their ambitions.

One of the things I'm proudest of about this place is that DOD is fundamentally a learning organization. We try to face our problems and surmount them, and Lean In circles give us a way to do that best in an area where we need to learn and improve. Learn through mentorship, peer-to-peer and bottom-up, by brainstorming with colleagues, and by being able to let our guard down.

Lean In circles were pioneered by my admired friend, Sheryl Sandberg, herself a distinguished former public servant and business leader, and a staunch friend of the military. These circles have a proven record of empowering women throughout our ranks, and giving men a way to lean in also and support their female colleagues, and improve themselves.

That's why I'm pleased to announce DOD's support -- unconditional support -- for Lean In circles, through providing service members and civilian employees space and time to participate in their own circles. I highly encourage our people to take advantage of DOD spaces made available before, after, or during work hours to take place in these peer-mentoring relationships.

Lean In circles are voluntary, they're open to all, and have been organically springing up throughout the military. That's what makes them so effective, and we don't seek to change that. We simply want to provide our people flexibility and support to Lean In if they so please.

Our people make us the best. To stay the best, we need to keep up with current trends in talent management. We need to ensure we are recruiting, retaining and readying all Americans who step forward to serve. that's what I call 'the force of the future.'

Lean In complements those efforts to match a 21st-century force with a 21st-century personnel system. It's not just the right thing to do, it's the right thing for the military.

The department will continue to work with Lean In to feature our military circles online so others may join or learn how to start their own, and that information will be regularly updated.

As we consider a range of upgrades to personnel policies throughout the force, I hope our brave female service members and leaders will look to Lean In circles as a model way to champion success, build confidence and inspire those of all ages and ranks.

Now it's my pleasure to pass to my friend Sheryl to make a few comments.

Thank you.

SHERYL SANDBERG: Thank you, Secretary Carter, for inviting me here today, and for your leadership.

It is a -- a real honor for me to be here in this room with you, but also with these incredible, incredible women. I have great admiration for the women and men who serve in uniform, or are part of the Department of Defense civilians. I have special admiration for the women, because you fight for equality with every step you take, every day you come to work.

Today is an important day, because today is about Secretary Carter and the Department of Defense and everyone here recognizing that a more diverse force is a stronger force. We know that diverse organizations get better results, and that means using the full talents of our population.

The United States military has a huge role to play. Largest employer in our nation, and also, historically, the leader in a lot of social change. If the United States military can get this right, other industries will follow, and today is part of that.

We have a leadership gap. We have it in corporate America, we have it in every industry, we have it at the -- in the military. Nine percent of our generals are female. Less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female.

The bad news is that it's not clear that we're on a path to fix this. We have a lot more to do that we are not yet doing. There are institutional barriers we discussed in the circle. There are cultural barriers, because our expectation of leadership is so overwhelmingly male.

There are pipeline barriers. If you look in corporate America, and you look where the women are, one level under the C-Suite, they're often in support roles, roles that are less likely to get promoted into the CEO job.

Same thing is true in the military. If you look at the pipeline, a lot of women who are serving, and are fighting for our nation every day, are not necessarily in the roles that make it easy to get those promotions to general.

And what we discussed with all these incredible women, from a midshipman and a cadet all the way up to the secretary of the Air Force, and the secretary himself, is that gender's hard to discuss. It's hard to bring up any issues about gender in the military, or anywhere, but particularly the military, for fear of retribution or seeming like you're asking for special favors, which is certainly not the case.

This is also true of race. All these unconscious biases we have about gender are also true of race. I was invited to give a speech at the Pentagon not so long ago, and I gave one to a room filled with people on unconscious bias.

When I was meeting afterwards with then-Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Spencer, he sat me down. He said, 'I could have given that exact same speech all about being black in the Air Force.' We know that unconscious bias affects us on every level. Gender, and race as well.

The good news is that we can change this. With leaders like Secretary Carter, who recognize that a more diverse force, a more diverse leadership, is a stronger force, that this is mission critical -- mission critical -- if we are going to have the force that we need to defend the United States and our values around the world.

I'm really honored to be here, to partner with Secretary Carter to show the department's support for Lean In circles. Lean In circles sprung out of the research that said that small groups of peers can help people advance their careers, help people reach for their ambitions.

They start organically. We now have over 24,000 on every continent, in 120 countries, and most importantly, in every branch of our military. There's no place more important than the military for this kind of work.

The first time I ever used the words, 'lean in,' was at the Naval Academy, when I gave the Forrestal lecture in 2011, many years ago. And Lean In circles, as the secretary said, have (sprung ?) up organically in all of the military branches, and we know they're working.

When I was with Lieutenant Colonel Cashin at the Air Force base in St. Paul, I heard from some of her colleagues -- and this shocked me -- that they thought it was less scary to jump out of an airplane than they did to bring up gender issues on the base.

I heard from other military circles I've met with that the circles provide the kind of support to get women and men engaged in the biases -- engaged in changing the biases and acknowledging the biases, and, importantly, in a military that is so dominated by males, those moments where you no longer feel like you're the only woman in your unit.

Today, we take this to the next level. With Secretary Carter and the Department of Defense rolling out official support for circles, open to all women and men, able to use official spaces to meet, encouraging senior leaders in our military -- and you can't get any more senior than the man I have the honor of standing next to -- to champion the idea -- champion that equality makes us stronger.

That if we want to achieve the unbelievable, important objectives of protecting our democracy, protecting the values we hold as Americans, we have to do that with leaders that fully represent the population they serve.

I believe we get to true equality.

I want to thank from the bottom of my heart the women that the secretary and I had a chance to meet with today, because your work and your leadership is what will make the difference, and I want to thank Secretary Carter for not just talking the talk, but walking the walk today, and showing that he believes that a more diverse force will be a stronger force.

Thank you.

SEC. CARTER: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Whoops. How about a round of applause for these folks here you're gonna get to meet with? (Applause.)

Thank you, guys. I appreciate it very much.

MS. SANDBERG: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

MR. COOK: Again, for those of you in the media, some of the folks who participated in the Lean In circle are gonna remain behind here, and you're free to engage with them as they see fit. We'll do it informally, here, as the -- as we wrap up here at the podium.

So again, thanks, everyone, for being here, and -- and again, some of these folks are gonna stick around and be able to answer some of your questions.


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