LIVE Updates from #NWVLDC23

The 2023 National Women Veterans Leadership & Diversity Conference has officially begun! We are beyond grateful to all of our sponsors! Our Presenting sponsor, USAA, has supported us for the better part of a decade. Words cannot express our gratitude for USAA’s belief in our mission and commitment to women veterans. Thank you, USAA!

If you couldn’t join us, but you’re curious just what amazing things happen at the NWVLDC, check out our live updates below. And let us know – will we see you next year?

November 12: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Boat Cruise

It was a BIG morning for WVIF – not only did we gather for the final event of the conference, but we celebrated the official “adoption” of our signature empowerment event with a ribbon cutting ceremony. We extend our heartfelt thanks to Windsor Group, LLC, for becoming a dedicated sponsor for our boat cruise, which is now named the Windsor Group Women Veterans Empowerment and Unification Boat Cruise!

Before she cut the ribbon, Windsor Group President Diedre Windsor said of her decision to sponsor, “I want more women veterans to know about WVIF. I want more women veterans to feel supported and empowered by WVIF.”

WVIF President and CEO Ginger Miller is proud and honored to have Windsor Group’s sponsorship.

After the ribbon cutting ceremony, the boat cruise began. Women in attendance enjoyed brunch, dancing, music, and most importantly, the community and camaraderie. Many commented that the entire experience filled their cup, restored them, connected them to new friends or re-connected them to friends from the past.

Throughout the weekend, and on the boat cruise, Miller took many opportunities to publicly recognize and honor women veterans who have contributed in meaningful ways to the community. The boat cruise was no exception. These recognitions put a spotlight on the volunteers, the leaders, the innovators, and the selfless servants that make up the Women Veterans community.

When one observes the ways that these recognitions add spirit, life, and joy to the experience, it’s not difficult to see why women keep coming back to WVIF, to the NWVLDC.

They come because of “that feeling.” It’s a feeling of belonging, of connection. It’s a deep sense of “being in the feels,” like a number of women reported. It’s a feeling of empowerment, of motivation.

But most of all, it’s a feeling of coming home.

November 11: Sisters in Service Awards Gala

The attendees of the 2023 National Women Veterans Leadership and Diversity Conference put on their finest, and gathered for the prestigious Awards Gala, the Sisters in Service Awards. This gala recognizes and honors Women Veterans for their contributions to their communities, to the Women Veteran population, and to their nation.

Super Bowl Champ and Guest Host, Kyle Arrington, said, “I am honored and proud to be here for the Sisters in Service Gala.”

He went on to express gratitude to Women Veterans for “your service, your commitment, your dedication. You wear multiple hats, serving our country and also being amazing wives, moms, sisters, aunts, friends. Keep leading the way. Keep showing us the way, and we’ll follow.”

Among the many awardees, Mary Jordan received the Pillar of Strength Award. Earlier this year, Jordan launched a fundraiser to raise money for Operation Safety Net, a crisis relief program with WVIF. To raise money and build awareness. Jordan “jumped out of a perfectly good airplane” on her birthday (and landed safely with the help of her parachute).

Diedre Windsor, owner of Windsor Group LLC, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for her persistent and tireless work on behalf of Women Veterans. President and CEO of WVIF Ginger Miller recognized Windsor for her dedication and commitment, and for working alongside WVIF for years to meet the needs of Women Veterans.

Finally, retired Command Master Chief April Beldo-Lilley, delivered a keynote address. Her empowering message praised WVIF for its 10-year legacy of service and urged Women Veterans to continue engaging in organizations like WVIF, where they can find community, sisterhood, access to critical resources, and a lifeline when they need one.

To close out the night with a smash, there was dinner, there was dancing, there was cheering and applause – the perfect way to celebrate Veterans Day!

November 11: Power Hour and Fireside Chats

Best-selling author and VP from Octo, an IBM Company, Pamela Meadows, delivered a keynote address that empowered and enlivened the audience. Ms. Meadows told her own story of persistence, drawing relatable and inspiring life lessons.

She spoke about the incredible responsibility that women have, both personally and professionally, and urged attendees to dig deep and seek their highest ambitions. Success will look different for everyone, she said. And, although many will draw from common experiences, when they are combined with unique talents and skills, the outcome is a completely individual accomplishment.

Ultimately, Meadows urged the women to stop living by other people’s expectations and instead to write themselves a permission slip to get what they dream of and deserve out of life.

After Meadows concluded her speech, she welcomed for fellow co-workers from Octo, an IBM Company, who are all Army Veterans. Meadows moderated a panel with the four women.

The panel discussed issues like transition, dignity, identity, and personal power.

Each of the four women, Maria Hallett, Whitney Miller, Chyanne Thomas, and Jawanda Becton, spoke about the challenges of transitioning from the military, agreeing that one of the most challenging parts was re-defining their identity outside the military and finding a community who understood and shared their experiences.

Their stories from the heart combined empathy and empowerment, and sparked numerous questions from the audience.

Next, Anna Blanch Rabe and Latonia Parks combined for a panel discussing entrepreneurship. The topic of entrepreneurship has become popular in recent years, as Women Veterans are the fastest-growing subsection of entrepreneurs. Rabe and Parks discussed their experiences in entrepreneurship, and a number of women asked the panelists questions.

Before the afternoon closed, WVIF President and CEO Ginger Miller reflected on the trajectory of the organization. Beginning with just a simple idea to serve Women Veterans through community and compassion, WVIF grew into a multi-chapter organization with multiple programs and services operating throughout the year. NWVLDC is the culminating event of the year, now running as a four-day conference serving over 200 Women Veterans.

Many Women Veterans comment that the feeling they get from attending WVIF events fills them up, empowers them, and unites them in a strong community. While more opportunities for this feeling are needed to serve Women Veterans, Miller said she is proud that WVIF is here to meet this need and is motivated to continue growing and serving.

Miller welcomed Army Veteran and Owner & President of Windsor Group, LLC, Diedre Windsor for a Fireside Chat to close the day. Windsor Group is also a sponsor of this year’s conference.

Windsor spoke about her experience transitioning out of the military, growing in a career with the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, and ultimately starting her own business, which in 2021 was #191 on Inc. 5000’s list of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies with 2,225% growth. Then, in 2022, the company was listed #17 on the Vet100 list.

Windsor accepted many comments and questions from the audience. Conference attendees expressed gratitude for her sponsorship of the conference, which supports them and inspires them with guidance and practical tools.

November 11: Morning Breakouts

Happy Veterans Day!

Today’s events began with enthusiasm and anticipation for a great slate of speakers and engagement. Conference sponsors and attendees have shared their reflections on the impact of the weekend so far.

J.J. Montanaro, Financial Planner and Military Advocate with Presenting Sponsor USAA, has engaged with WVIF for many years.

“USAA has supported WVIF for eight years,” he said, noting that USAA was founded by 25 Army officers over 100 years ago, with a mission to support each other. That mission has continued.

“One thing that has remained the same is our commitment to the military community,” Montanaro said, adding that Women Veterans are “a unique slice of that community. It’s important that we’re here.”

Morning breakouts began, and Women Veterans took advantage of several workshops.

WVIF Board Members Claudia Kuzma and Nancy Ridge led a seminar about transitioning from military experience to the civilian workforce.

Ridge referred to a recent McKinsey report that said it’s more important than ever to find places for Veterans in the workforce. There is an enormous need for their experience and skills.

While entering the civilian workforce can be a difficult transition, Ridge urged attendees to look past obstacles and focus their mindset on achieving their purpose and executing a plan. Obstacles will be overcome along the way.

Michelle Gardner-Ince, who also presented yesterday, encouraged Women Veterans to open their minds to see opportunities.

Noting that Women Veterans are primed for business ownership, she encouraged women in the audience to enter the marketplace and grow their businesses by proactively gathering information. And, she described practical strategies to do that.

Annette Y. Harris, President and Founder of ShowUp! spoke about the importance of goal-setting. She coached Women Veterans in sharpening their vision and implementing strategies to help them meet their goals.

Women Veterans were also able to attend the VA Women’s Health Reengagement Program, which explains how to access Women’s resources with VA health care.

November 10: Afternoon Keynotes and Fireside Chat

Today’s afternoon of seminars and keynote addresses provided conference attendees resources, practical advice, and inspiration.

Andrea Le, a social science analyst in suicide prevention with the Veterans Health Administration, delivered important information regarding suicide prevention, support, and crisis intervention.

Laurine Carson, who is the acting executive Director of the Office of Equity Assurance at Veterans Benefits Administration, spoke about the importance of women veterans accessing the benefits they earned.

She emphasized to conference attendees that accessing care through VA benefits is an avenue to maintaining strength not just for themselves, but for all the people around them.

She said, “As women, we are the moral compass of our society. When we don’t do well, our families don’t do well, our communities don’t do well.”

She urged conference attendees to seek the care and benefits they earned and deserve in order to achieve post military success.

Carson explained information and processes for getting benefits, filing claims, and following up.

Michelle Gardner-Ince, Air Force Veteran and Director of the Women Veteran-Owned Small Business Initiative at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, sat for a Women Veterans Leadership Executive Fireside Chat with WVIF’s President and CEO, Ginger Miller.

Having spent decades teaching, training, and mentoring service members and veterans, Gardner-Ince is passionate about inspiring future Women Veteran entrepreneurs. During the Fireside Chat, she empowered conference attendees to lean into their unique power to connect, bond, and build.

“I want every woman in here to have a business,” Gardner-Ince said. She explained the three keys to entering the entrepreneurship space, which make up the acronym “S.A.M.”

“Solve a problem. Address an issue. Meet a need,” she explained.

November 10: Morning Keynote and Fireside Chat

The #NWVLDC23 began this morning with a smash! Ginger Miller, President and CEO of the Women Veterans Interactive Foundation, opened the morning to the tune of cheers, whoops, hollers, and applause, as hundreds of Women Veterans celebrated the first morning of the conference.

To recognize the conference’s 10 year anniversary, Miller said, “This is the only conference of its kind on the planet for Women Veterans. It’s the only conference of its kind that brings together leadership of all kinds. We’re all leaders.”

Miller emphasized the need for Women Veterans to have gatherings like this that re-energize them within their own community, and thanked the sponsors who share this value and support the conference:

  • USAA
  • Octo, an IBM Company
  • Windsor Group, LLC
  • Northwest Federal Credit Union
  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  • Continuing to Serve Foundation
  • WIAS, Inc.

Many speakers arranged their schedule to specifically be present at the conference. Among them was Jill Castilla, President and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond and Founder of ROGER, who joined Miller for a Women Veterans Leadership Executive Fireside chat.

An Army Veteran, Castilla is ranked #18 of 25 of most powerful women in banking. And as she took her seat beside Miller, Castilla said, “I can’t tell you what emotion I’m feeling right now being with my sisters.”

Castilla reflected on her experience serving in the military, transitioning to the civilian world, and coping with struggles and successes along the way.

“What I love about Woman Veterans is the resiliency, the leaning forward, ” she said. “We take the pain and we turn that into progress.”

Asked how she reflects on her corporate position and her ability to make an influence, Castilla said, “Not having positional power but having personal power… that’s where you make a difference.”

Castilla spoke about the importance of treating every person with dignity and respect. Plus, she encouraged the Women Veterans in the audience to engage with a supportive community of people who understand their experience.

“Find other women, find your tribe,” she said.

Later, a panel of four Women Veterans joined Miller on the stage for the discussion: After the Uniform.

While the experience varied for the panelists, they all had one thing in common: they agreed that their experience in the military challenged them to do tough things, making them realize that they can persevere and accomplish difficult feats.

Ask any of the four what would happen if someone told them ‘you can’t,’ and each one would say, “Watch me.”

Bridget Deary, a Navy Veteran, reflected on her “life on a ship,” saying, “Being put in front of a group, leading, and figuring it out made me realize I could do hard things.”

Deary is now an Associate Partner at IBM Federal Consulting.

Danielle Carosello, VP of Government at BD, and an Army Veteran, who experienced two TBIs in while on active duty, said, “I was brought up tough, but the Army made me tougher.”

Transitioning out of the military isn’t always easy. Deary said that her “saving grace” as she navigated the post-military world was the veterans organization at her school. She encouraged the conference attendees to network with other veterans, find mentors, and then give back. Doing so will help translate military experiences into civilian careers, gain valuable guidance and connect to people with shared experiences.

Giving back is also important. Karen Brazell, Army Veteran and VP at SAIC, said, “There is no better mission than Veterans supporting Veterans.”

Latoya Roberts, Navy Veteran and VP/DEI Lead for Military & Veteran Affairs at JPMorgan Chase, explained that supporting each other’s growth and post-military experience is essential. Corporate mentors are a valuable asset as they can help fellow veterans acclimate to the civilian world, which can be a difficult process. “Our Veteran community likes to stick together. It’s important to step outside your comfort zone, too.”

Stay tuned for afternoon updates!

November 9: Conference Kick-Off

Tonight, Thursday November 9, Women Veterans gathered for a meet and greet at the Falls Church Marriott Fairview Park. Women gathered early, and when the doors opened, any bystander could easily feel the energy and excitement. As hosts welcomed guests, friends embraced, and newcomers formed new connections, there was only one word to describe the scene: Community.

For years, the NWVLDC has been defined by its sense of community, its sisterhood and fellowship. Tonight was no exception. This community and the resources available are what drew a number of first-time attendees.

First-time attendee and Army veteran Theresa Carr said she’s recently realized that a lot of women she knows in her own community also happen to be veterans. And, often her Women Veteran friends need help learning about the benefits available to them.

“I came here because I want to know the info that I can share to help them,” Carr said.

Nne-Nna Carr, an Air Force veteran, is also a first-time attendee, and she came because the WVIF network seemed like a great resource to help her along her career journey.

“I’m in the growth phase of my career,” she said. “I want to make new connections and learn opportunities that are available to me as a vet.”

Throughout the evening, women gathered around tables, snapped selfies, swapped stories, laughed and reconnected.

And, some newcomers found their “aha” moment, realizing their unique purpose for being here.

Jamicka Edwards, an Army veteran whose friend invited her, said she’d known about the conference for years, and was finally able to come. Unsure about exactly what she’d experience, she surprised even herself when she read a WVIF poster, which explained the organization’s mission.

“I am a formerly homeless Woman Veteran,” Edwards explained. “I received services and resources after a divorce. Because of my struggles, I gained hope to better myself and to inspire others to believe that you matter to more people than you would ever know.”

She looked back at the poster and said, “I AM the Who, the What, and the Why, and I continue to serve.”